The DeKalb County Indiana Genealogy Society (DKIGS) regrets to have to reschedule the Ask A Genealogist event that was to be held on Saturday, January 13 from 9:30-11:30 am at Willennar Genealogy Center due to inclement weather.
If you are not a member of DCIGS and would like to receive information on when the event will be rescheduled, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll let you know.
The answer is a definite maybe! Here’s what I did with one of my brick walls and Chat GPT. This story revolves around a stolen identity of John A. Long who served in the Union during the Civil War. After his death someone in Marion, Indiana assumed his identity and received a pension. The scammer resided in the Home for Disabled Veterans there and is buried in their cemetery. Interestingly, the man’s tombstone is for a John A. Long that served in New York. But no man by that name served in the regiment written on the tombstone. I asked ChatGPT for some help in solving this dilemma and here was the results:
Cross-Reference Census Records: Look for any John A. Longs or John Longs in the state where the scammer lived, especially around the time the identity was assumed. See if any disappear from the records or have inconsistencies in their details.
Local Newspapers: Scour local newspapers from that era for any mentions of John A. Long, especially in the context of veterans or obituaries. Sometimes these articles can provide clues not found elsewhere.
Military Records: Since he was buried near a home for disabled vets, there might be admission records or logs that could contain discrepancies or additional information.
Check Neighboring States: Given that he switched the infantry unit to New York, it might be worth checking records from neighboring states as well.
Land and Property Records: If he lived in a home for disabled vets, there might be land or property records that could provide more information or even list next of kin.
DNA Testing: This is a long shot, but if there are any living descendants who are curious enough, a DNA test could potentially link them to the scammer’s real family.
Consult Other Experts: Sometimes two (or more) heads are better than one. Maybe consult with experts in Civil War history or forensic genealogy.
Legal Documents: Wills, marriage licenses, or other legal documents might have been altered or faked. These could contain mistakes that reveal his true identity.
Local Lore: Sometimes, stories get passed down that never make it into official records. Local historical societies or elderly residents might have stories or records that could provide clues.
All sound ideas but unfortunately, DNA wouldn’t be available as it looks like the man had no children. Supposedly had a wife in Michigan but no woman found with the name he provided on the intake form. Can’t find them in the 1880 US federal census either. I then mentioned there was a connection with the Odd Fellows and the Grand Army of the Republic in Michigan, California, and Indiana and asked AI for some out of the box ideas to find records. Here’s the response:
Wow, Lori, you’ve really dug deep into this mystery! 🕵️♀️ It’s like you’ve hit a genealogical brick wall made of steel. The Odd Fellows connection and the financial advisor being part of the Grand Army of the Republic are intriguing leads.
Given what you’ve already done, here are some more “out-of-the-box” ideas:
Fraternal Organizations: Since you suspect he was an Odd Fellow, have you tried reaching out to the current Odd Fellows organization? They might have historical archives that aren’t publicly available.
Medical Records: You mentioned he was admitted to a Disabled Vet Home and had dementia. While it’s a long shot, medical records might have additional information, like next of kin or previous addresses.
Railroad Employment Records: Many Civil War vets worked on the railroads. These records sometimes contain personal details and could be another avenue to explore.
Church Records: If he was religious, baptismal, marriage, or burial records from local churches might offer clues.
Military Buddies: The scammer had to get the details of John A. Long’s service from somewhere. Could he have known someone who served with the real John A. Long? Maybe look into the men who served in the same unit.
Pension Fraud Investigations: Given that he was scamming the pension system, were there any investigations into pension fraud at the time that might have records on him?
Check for Alias: Since he was so good at assuming identities, it’s possible he used more than one alias. Look for inconsistencies in other records that might indicate another assumed identity.
Foreign Records: It’s a stretch, but could he have immigrated from another country and assumed a new identity upon arrival? Immigration and naturalization records might be worth a look.
Consult a Criminal Historian: Someone specialized in the history of crime might have some unique perspectives or resources to offer.
Social Network Analysis: Map out the known associates like the financial advisor, and see if any patterns emerge that could lead to the scammer’s true identity.
All great ideas. If you’re stuck, try AI. Let me know if you solved your brick wall with their help.
Last week I mentioned I had gone Boots on the Ground to Mercer County, Ohio to try to uncover some family mysteries I had – where John Duer and the Landfairs were buried. Although I got closer, I hadn’t found the location yet.
I decided after spending the day in the library to stop by the courthouse to see if I could solve some other mysteries. The first was to try to pin down when Great Uncle Charlie Landfair left Mercer for Adams County, Indiana. He is my black sheep uncle and I am just intrigued with the things that man got away with. I am contemplating writing a book but I am far from extensive research for that.
I could tell by the looks on the 3 clerks’ faces how they felt when I showed up at 3:15 pm on a Friday afternoon asking for a divorce record I wasn’t sure existed for Charles and Rebecca Landfair sometime between 1885 and 1890. The clerks silently looked at each other so I volunteered that a crazy genealogist just had to show up late on a Friday afternoon, right?!
One clerk laughed and added that she was just getting ready to leave. That left two, neither of whom was excited about this task. The youngest got an old index from a backroom and began to look for a Landfair record. I was peeking over the counter and realized quickly she had the wrong volume. I knew this because I spied my great-grandmother’s name and the record I was searching for was 30 years earlier. I asked what years the volume contained and she told me to 1890. I then told her that wasn’t the right book. She turned to the front but no date was written. Ignoring me, she continued searching for the name.
The other clerk had heard me and asked how I knew it was the wrong volume. I replied my great-grandmother‘s name led me to believe this was a volume from about 1909. The second clerk told the younger clerk to go back and check the closet. Yep, here comes the correct volume, and Uncle Charlie was found quickly.
His name in the index was found quickly there was a new issue and that was no one wanted to go into the basement to retrieve the documents. From the numbers listed, it appeared that there were a lot of documents. I offered to leave my name, phone, and address in case they wanted to do this the following week but it seemed to me they never wanted to do this. I get it; if you aren’t a genealogist why in the world would you want to climb around a dusty dark basement to find a 130+-year-old piece of paper?
The second clerk informed the younger clerk where the documents would be in the basement and she reluctantly left. Meanwhile, the second clerk asked me why I wanted the documents.
I told her that, as a genealogist, I was fascinated with the man. I knew where his horses had been buried as he had special coffins made for them but he never bothered, as a physician, to fill out a death certificate for his second of four wives. He had gone to prison for malpractice but then been pardoned by a governor. He was a nasty alcoholic who happened to walk out of jail once and no one went after him, figuring it was safer to let him sleep it off wherever he went and bring him back in the following day. He claimed to have completed medical school in Cincinnati but even the state of Indiana felt that never occurred yet they continued to let him practice. And boy, did the townsfolks love him. He had a large and thriving practice.
By this time the young clerk had returned with no papers. She had a blank look on her face and kept repeating, “It’s a mess.” I assumed she meant the basement but it turned out she meant the court case. After repeating “It’s a mess,” several times she shook her head and said she’d have to give it to me at some later date. I then left my contact info.
As I left I asked if the courthouse held tax records between 1850-1860 as I wanted to find out when John Duer and family arrived. None of these records are online. I was told that microfilm was made years ago but they are held in Pennsylvania and no one can access them. The clerks told me to ask in another office.
I went downstairs and found the clerk with her head in her hands at her desk. I told her what I wanted and she asked why I needed the records. After explaining she said, “But they’re in the basement.” Here we go again…
She did agree to allow me to go down with her after obtaining the key from another room.
The basement was the neatest, cleanest basement I’ve ever been in! Metal shelves line the walls and down the center. There is adequate lighting. The maintenance man had a neat workroom there, too.
This clerk took me over to the north wall and pointed to a set of books marked Duplicates. She said they would contain a duplicate property record as the bill is due in April, say 1850, but the assessment was made in fall 1849. If the property was paid on time then it was denoted in the Duplicate books. She tugged at a volume, ripping part of the spine. I suggested we pull a volume out from the end of the shelf. Once it was out she told me she didn’t know how I was going to page through and I asked if I could take the volume to a table we had just passed. She hadn’t noticed it. We walked to the table, and she said, “Good luck” and quickly left.
I didn’t find the Duers but I found several other ancestors listed and took as many photos with my phone as I could before the battery died. I had taken way too many pictures that day at the library!
By the time I left the basement, she was not back in her office so I couldn’t thank her. What a treasure trove that basement was! I will definitely be back but next time I’m bringing hubby and a back up camera. So many ancestors, so little time.
And those divorce records…two weeks later I got a call that they found them but they couldn’t figure out how to copy them. I asked how they copy them for others and was told no one has ever asked for a copy before. I knew that wasn’t true as I had asked for my great-grandmother’s records several years ago. I suggested that they turn the book on the copier and get half a page at a time.
Later that day I got a call from another clerk in accounts who asked me for a credit card to charge my record request. I gladly gave her the numbers.
Keeping my fingers crossed that the documents arrive soon!
While I was in Celina, Ohio, as I mentioned last week, I found another hint about John Duer. I had blogged twice this year about my search for his final burial site.
A year ago in June, in a book in Allen County Public Library, (Editors. Mercer County, Ohio Cemetery Inscriptions Volume VI. Celina, OH: Mercer Co. Chapter OH Genealogical Society, 1990, np.) I had discovered that he might lie in row 15 of Kessler Cemetery in Ohio. The transcription simply noted “John Duer, unreadable.”
Kessler’s trustee had years ago sent me a copy of their records but row 15 was missing. Both of John’s wives were buried at Kessler, along with some of his children, so it seemed logical that the book was noting his burial location.
My husband and I went out to the cemetery in March and found what we thought might be his grave but it wasn’t in row 15. The rows are not straight so it might have been, depending on how someone counted from the newer section. I thought it looked more like 14 but there was no stone in what I considered 15 so I could see how someone might interpret the rows differently. I was overjoyed anyway with the find.
Except, it wasn’t John’s burial place. When we returned in May with cleaning supplies it became apparent that it was for a child with the same name and who just happened to die the same year my John did. Sigh.
At the Mercer County Public Library, I found another book, and this transcription was clear about what was recorded on the stone in row 15. That stone is no longer standing in Kessler. You can see the top pic of the page.
What had me totally floored is that this book has the exact same title page as the one I found in the Allen County Public Library but the contents of the book differ. One must have been updated but it doesn’t note that anywhere in the volume I found in Celina. Here’s what the page looks like for the volume in Allen County Public Library:
At this point, I decided to call it a day at the library and I headed for the courthouse.
Meanwhile, this wish remains, too, but with every find I get closer to solving this mystery.
Next week I begin my Creepy October series. By the time that concludes I can’t wait to share my courthouse experience AND the weirdest identity theft I uncovered from 1891. Stay tuned.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to find much in the Celina, Mercer, Ohio library. I spoke with one of the librarians in August and she mentioned that the collection was held in a small room, the local volunteer didn’t come to help out researchers anymore, and there had been no response from the local historical museum contact in the past year so no information on the contents of that museum was available. Not very promising information to hear and besides, the location was 1 ½ hours from my home. Still, I’ve always wanted to visit as my paternal lines were in Mercer County from the 1840s through the 1940s so I hoped that some secrets would be given up.
Hubby was off on a trip of his own so I decided to take the day to research. I wasn’t sure how long I would spend at the library and depending on what I found, I might also visit the courthouse. This was the courthouse I contacted years ago when I was searching for a divorce record for a great-grandmother. It took me 9 months to get them to send me the record and it was only after, at Christmas time, I had sent a reminder email that I had been a good genealogist all year and all I wanted for Christmas was the record. I finally received it.
I had planned to arrive at the library when they opened at 9 AM but my crazy GPS took me to a lake, instead. It was a beautiful lake but definitely wasn’t going to help me locate records so I pulled out my phone and used an alternative GPS to find the library, about 10 minutes away.
I was amazed at the wealth of the information that I discovered! Some kind soul had compiled an obituary collection of 3 x 5” cards and they were stored in the old wooden card drawers. Remember those? Arranged in alpha order by author, title, and subject. What I found was surprising as I had looked for the burial location of John Duer and Peter and Catherine Lanpher/Landfair for years and wasn’t able to find it. The obituary card listed an obit for Catherine. Wow! But there was a problem – it listed no source. So whoever typed the card likely had found one once but where did it now reside? I looked through every piece of paper in the file cabinet by surname. Scanned each shelf book by book looking for a cemetery book, church record, death index, and family genealogy – nothing was found for Catherine.
I went to look for a librarian to see if they knew what the sources for the obit cards were and was told they came from a newspaper that was on microfilm. The librarian set it up for me but alas, going forward 4 weeks for this weekly local paper, no obit appeared. The obit did not list a cemetery, which was the main interest, but I also was interested in seeing if the obit had other information that might have been left out of the card. Struck out again but I know that somewhere out there one resides and so this item remains on my wish list.
I’m not sure if it is my location or if you, too, are experiencing difficulty in finding local archives open for use.
I blogged last year about my problem in locating someone who has a key to unlock a mausoleum where one of my husband’s great uncle is buried. I have yet to find a way inside.
I’ve tried to visit two local museums but they, too, are always closed. One has been under renovation since before the pandemic. No response when I sent a few messages on Facebook requesting information about their holdings. Another claims to be open between Memorial and Labor Day but it hasn’t been. There is a sign on the door that provides an email and a phone number for more info. The email is non-deliverable and the phone doesn’t allow for messages. I have repeatedly stopped by; a few weeks ago, a person was leaving the building as I drove up. I asked how I could arrange a time to visit and was given a different email to make a request. It happened to be a member’s work email. This individual said they would also email the member to let them know how I obtained their email address. Never got a reply. I got a tip last month that a group uses the basement weekly so I showed up and found the door open. A woman was at the entryway and I asked for information on the museum. Was told she didn’t have any. Asked for a particular individual I was told would be at the site that evening. She didn’t respond but the man did hear his name and came from an adjoining room. His story is that my email doesn’t work and couldn’t explain why he hadn’t tried the phone number I had also provided which is local. Claimed he’d contact me and would arrange for me to come and look at the archives. Still waiting.
Last week I blogged about visiting the Wells County Public Library. I tried to contact their historical museum to arrange a day/time I could visit as I’m trying to gain more info about my Great Uncle Charles Landfair. Their website directs folks to send a message through Facebook. No response.
Last summer I visited a small museum in Mercer County, Ohio. The docent recommended that I call and schedule a time to meet with a more knowledgeable area historian. The number is out of service. No one responds to the website form filler request for information.
If you are a long-time reader you know I do not give up easily. So, after a while, I try again. After a few more days I reached out to the local library; the response is usually, “Good luck with that.” They have no additional information. I then contact the Chamber of Commerce. They often don’t have any information, either.
Yes, this is frustrating but there is a bigger concern than poor Lori not finding records. What is happening to these small communities’ history? Without access, the stories of the past are being erased.
Sure, the pandemic took a toll on all of us. Membership declined. Folks got used to staying at home and haven’t got back into volunteering. Younger people weren’t always welcomed into historical groups. Many of them are too busy raising families and working to get involved.
We shouldn’t be letting roadblocks become dead ends!
Reactivating historical organizations and societies is vitally important. If the area has little interest in stepping up, then the archive holdings should be transferred to an organization that is willing to preserve the artifacts.
I know firsthand how hard it is to let go. Last year when I relocated and downsized I had no room for my family’s heirlooms. They have been passed on to family members who can use and enjoy them. I know that giving them to the next generation was wise as they are in good hands. Museums need to do the same if they do not have support to maintain the collections.
John A and Elizabeth “Betsy” Troxell Long, Photo by Lori Samuelson
Last week I mentioned I combined a cemetery tour of ancestors with my husband’s 50th high school class reunion. Today I want to go into depth about planning a whirlwind cemetery tour.
Most family historians have a list of places they want to visit – to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps, see the sights, and reflect at the site where their family permanently rests.
I know I was surprised when I learned that in many European countries, remains are dug up if the family did not continue paying rent to the church. The remains are then gathered with other deceased whose family didn’t pay up and reinterred together in a common grave. Sometimes, the tombstone is placed as a pathway or wall around the cemetery. Other times they’re destroyed. I’ve even heard that occasionally, the stone is bought by construction crews to reuse.
That also happens in the U.S.; my husband’s Harbaugh family left Waynesboro, Franklin, Pennsylvania for St. Joseph County, Indiana after the Civil War. They left behind two deceased children in the Old Union Cemetery. That church cemetery was sold and for those who did not claim the graves, the bodies were interred in a mass grave in Green Hill Cemetery as the new church did not want to care for the cemetery of another church’s former parishioners. The tombstones were transferred to the new cemetery and supposedly reside in the same order they were originally in but are now laid flat instead of upright.
I have a few family members I still don’t know where their remains are located – Daniel Hollingshead likely on his farm in Somerset, New Jersey, John Duer probably with a missing headstone in Kessler Cemetery with the rest of his two wives and most children, and Mary “Polly” Dennis Hodge Adams Elder Search somewhere in Mercer County, Ohio. I may have even missed a husband for Polly! More research is needed for those folks.
While my husband and I returned to our childhood home area we decided to visit the graves of family in that location. We happened to arrive earlier than expected and were only 10 minutes from Oak Hill Cemetery where my mother, maternal grandparents, and great-grandparents are interred.
I had routed the distance between cemeteries with the plan to save time and gas by going directly from one to the next. I had also contacted the cemeteries for maps but not all complied. If it is a large cemetery this is an important first step.
Come prepared as you don’t know what you’ll find. I was saddened to see that my mom’s flat stone was covered with dirt. It had sunk somewhat and the grass hadn’t been trimmed which made it appear even lower. That, and the remains of dried cut grass covering it, didn’t help.
Luckily, I had brought a shovel, garden gloves, D-2 which still didn’t work, Krud Kutter, bottled water, a soft scrub brush, and rags. I should have brought garden shears to trim the grass. Learn from my mistake! It is not fun to try to pull the grass out with your hands.
My great-grandfather is buried in the old section of the cemetery as he died young in the 1919 flu epidemic. Funny how I remembered exactly where his grave was located. My grandmother would tend it when I was small and I often accompanied her. Um, yes, she had a cemetery gardening kit she transported in the trunk of her car and it did include shears. I thought about it when I didn’t have the shears with me.
I am so thankful that Find A Grave had photographed that cemetery years ago as the stone is now unreadable. Vandals had destroyed the photo it once held and removed the top, which I believe was a cross. I also have a rubbing from years ago which I’m glad I saved.
The next stop was where my husband’s maternal grandparents and great-grandmother are buried, about 10 minutes farther away. We had never been there before. He attended her funeral but not the burial at the cemetery.
I knew the section but had no map of Ridgelawn. This hasn’t been the most friendly cemetery I’ve corresponded with over the years. They refused to provide burial information for years until I discovered a book in the Germany Library in Tampa that stated his great-grandmother was buried there. Another call only gave me the grave section. I didn’t bother to try to get a map as I hadn’t planned on visiting at that time.
Luckily, I happened to just park the car directly across from where the family is buried. I LOVE coincidences! Saves so much time. Car is on the left, the stone is where that little bit of red (my husband) is showing to the left rear of the large upright stone in the middle:
The following day we were going to visit where my husband’s parents and my dad and paternal grandparents were interred as it was in the next county over and on our way home. The cemetery had sent me maps of the sections but not a map of the cemetery itself which became problematic. The signage was down in many areas and we could not find the Memory Section. Turns out we were close but it wasn’t until we returned home that I wrote back to get specific directions did I realize we were just steps away. Sigh! Will use the map for an upcoming visit.
Why do cemeteries bury people in all different directions? Between upright and flat stones going north, south, east, and west we gave up. We did find his parents and had to clean the graves. Like with my mom’s they were weed-infested. We also realized that his dad’s death date was not inscribed which we had paid for years ago. The cemetery was supposed to send pictures when the engraving was done but had one excuse after another. I put in a request for Findagrave but no one went out so I gave up.
We had considered this cemetery as our final resting spot since it contained both our families but after seeing the condition and getting the response we have from the office staff, decided to look elsewhere.
After a week and a half got a return call from the cemetery stating they hadn’t noticed the engraving wasn’t done. Um, right. Of course, no proof of payment in the file. Re-paid as it wasn’t worth the time to look for the canceled check from years ago. Will be following up next month when we swing by that cemetery after a lecture I’ll be giving nearby.
Then it was an hour and a half drive to Fair Cemetery in St. Joseph County, Indiana to visit the graves of my husband’s maternal great-grandparents, George Frederick and Margaret “Maggie” Long Harbaugh. A half mile from the cemetery we hit a dead end. The road was closed. No detour. We were in the middle of the country with fields on each side of us. The car and phone GPS wouldn’t reroute us. So close, yet so far!
We decided to go to the next cemetery on our list, Porter Rea. We thought the GPS might start working for an alternative to Fair if we were approaching from a different direction.
When planning, look up the cemetery address online but I want to warn you that it is not exact and often wildly wrong. GPS coordinates would be wonderful but often they are missing in these remote locations.
Porter Rea is now a part of Potato Creek State Park so you have to go through the ranger gate to access it. The Rangers gave us great directions and the signage to find it was wonderful. They also had a nice paved parking lot, a water pump (that needs priming), and this cemetery was beautifully maintained. The stones you see at the top were repaired sometime in the past. They are in remarkably good shape, likely because they face west so most of the algae gets burned off in the summer sun and the north wind doesn’t blow snow on the stones, further preventing their deterioration.
We found the stones in seconds as the former trustee told me to find the pump, look for the white mausoleum, and walk 100 feet back. How he could remember is beyond me as he has given the records to the new trustee. Wish all cemeteries had someone like him.
I had read in the diary of Mary Ann Eyster Johnson that she had planted a white rose bush on Betsy’s grave in the 1880s as that was Betsy’s favorite flower. Find A Grave photo showed no flowers so I brought a white Snow Drop rose to plant. Actually, hubby planted it and we decided it was best to put it between the two stones to make the mowing easy for maintenance.
Mary Ann Johnson was a friend of Betsy and related distantly to her through marriage. Mary Ann’s sister, Sarah had married George Henry Harbaugh. One of their sons, George Frederick, married one of Betsy’s daughters, Maggie Long. Maggie was buried at Fair Cemetery, the one we had been unsuccessful in reaching.
GPS gave us an alternative route so we were now backtracking from my original plan. The distance was about 10 minutes. On our way, we passed a beautiful old white church and I told my husband to stop. Yep, it was St. John’s Lutheran and that was where George Frederick and Sara Eyster Harbaugh were buried. We found their graves quickly as the cemetery is small. It needed a mowing but we had heavy rains at the end of the week and that likely messed up the lawn schedule. The stones were clean so after a short visit we were following GPS to Fair Cemetery.
The car told us we had arrived at our destination but there was no cemetery; it was a field across the street from the Pine Creek Church of the Brethren which the family had attended. Interestingly, the address was the only location of the family’s 1880s farmhouse which is long gone.
No one was at the church so we drove down the road and luckily, found two women in the front yard of their farmhouse. One said she’d ask her husband because she knew of no cemetery close by. A few minutes later she returned to our car with her adult son who offered to drive us to the cemetery, a short drive (2 roads) away. We hated to bother them but she insisted saying he needed to drop items off at his uncle’s house who lived the way we were going.
He kindly got us there; honestly, we would have never found Fair Cemetery without their help. This cemetery was also well maintained and we found the graves quickly. We also found many other graves of both my husband and my family. Our families have followed the same pioneer trails in many places over the past 1000 years so I guess that’s not surprising.
We were quite tired by this time but I had one more cemetery to visit in South Bend as I had promised a distant family member I would check on his grandmother’s grave.
Once again, GPS routed us to the wrong cemetery but it was easy to find where we needed to go as it was across the street, Highland Cemetery. We had the section and found it quickly but the sections were HUGE and without a map, we were not successful in finding the grave. The storm had left down trees and knocked over stones. The ground was soggy and uneven. My husband went to the middle of the section and I started at the road walking in circles as graves went in every direction. I knew what the stone looked like from Find A Grave but so many stones were of the same shape and color, we gave up after an hour when it began to thunder.
What we did discover was this historical marker:
How cool is that?! We don’t often think about the folks who once walked about the ground where are relatives are now interred. The Native Americans and LaSalle, sitting under the now-dead tree, I could picture.
As summer comes to an end, we plan a few more cemetery stops. Next time, I’ll be prepared with shears!
The link was sent to me by Carla Mans who is involved with the Fields of Honor, a non-profit in the Netherlands. Check out their memorial pages and if you have a photo of a serviceman to contribute, please share it with the organization.
Last month I attended a Findagrave presentation by a local volunteer, Chuck Johnson. I have been a member of Findagrave for over 14 years and have blogged about hints using the site in the past. I learned from Chuck, about an option I didn’t know was available and might be helpful to you.
After logging on to your free account at Findagrave.com, click on “Cemeteries” on the ribbon. On the new page, shown above, look at the middle right side and you’ll see a link called “My Virtual Cemeteries.” I never noticed that link, nor the one above it, “Favorite Cemeteries.”
When I lived in Florida I often volunteered for this organization to fulfill photo requests for individuals who wanted to see a tombstone picture but lived too far or were unable for health reasons to visit the cemetery and take a photo. I haven’t yet done that in Indiana and learned from Chuck that there are a number of volunteers in my new locale who have been fulfilling photo requests.
If you are a volunteer, you may be interested in adding the cemeteries which you frequently visit for photos under the link “Favorite Cemeteries.” You’ll save time that way when you need to access the cemetery info.
What I found most fascinating about Chuck’s talk was the option to create your own virtual cemetery. Why would you do that? Like me, you probably have relatives buried in a number of different cemeteries in several states and countries. By using the My Virtual Cemeteries link, you can create a cemetery for each of your ancestral lines, thus, connecting your family memorials in one location. For example, my Duer line goes from Devonshire, England to Bucks, Pennsylvania, to Sussex, New Jersey, to Trumbull, Ohio, to Mercer, Ohio. By creating a virtual Duer Family Cemetery Line – I could have the individual Duer memorials for those who are buried in those locations listed together so I can readily access their information without having to remember their assigned Findagrave number, how their names were entered in the database, or where they were buried.
Initially, I wasn’t sure this was a great idea as I didn’t want to confuse other users who might come upon my virtual cemetery and think it was an in-person burial location. Chuck emailed me after the lecture that the virtual option can be either public or private, sort of like Ancestry.com does with family trees.
This leads me to another reason why you might want to use this feature . . . it costs to have an Ancestry.com subscription and I’m not sure, after I’m deceased, my adult children would pay to continue accessing all of the information I have placed in my tree there. Sure, I have it also saved to RootsMagic, however, as I’ve blogged about, the software updates have been problematic and the version I’d be using at my death might not be available for my future family to be able to open. I also save to Legacy Family Tree; I haven’t blogged about their issues but since they were bought by MyHeritage.com, I’ve been unable to update that software.
Findagrave is now owned by Ancestry but it has remained free to use. I have no crystal ball to know if it will always be free but I’m fairly confident that Ancestry realizes they have a cash cow with the Findagrave website – lots of volunteers putting info there that Ancestry links to their other paying site. So, Ancestry.com is getting a lot of info for free and then charging others for the work that the volunteers did.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wish I had thought of that!” but you can cash in by using the Findagrave feature on a memorial you control by putting information in the bio section. If you don’t have memorial control, you can click on “Suggest Edits” and hope the owner agrees to your suggestions. You can also contact the memorial creator and ask that they turn the rights to the memorial over to you. If they don’t respond, contact Findagrave. I have personally known of a couple who died and had created memorials for some of my family. Findagrave turned the memorials over to a cousin who was closely related to the memorials created by the deceased volunteers.
Once you have updated the bio info on Findagrave and you’ve created a My Virtual Cemetery, you have the genealogical information for a line available to you for free. This means your family can also access it by 1) creating a free account on Findagrave and you giving them access to your created cemetery or 2) you making your created cemetery public so they can just go to Findagrave.com and view the information.
Sure, you could do this for free on FamilySearch.org, however, your information may be changed as it is a world tree so everyone has access to making changes that you might not agree with.
Also, keep in mind that Ancestry.com will be charging others to use your bio information. Personally, that does not bother me as I make my tree on Ancestry.com public. You may have another opinion, however.
A special thanks to Eckhart Public Library and Chuck Johnson for providing information on this Findagrave feature.
Today’s blog is the last in my Croatian series and it adds to the family stories I have previously written about. My maternal grandmother, Mary Koss, was a dramatic storyteller. As a child, I loved her tales of the old country. As I aged, I wondered about the content and began researching for facts. Boots on the ground enabled me to check out the truth in ways I could never do online.
The picture above is of a typical Croatian nobleman house from the beginning of the 19th century. This one was built in 1806. The family business was housed on the first floor with the family living on the second floor. The homes typically were furnished with artwork, porcelain collections, a stove for heating, and a piano. We always had a piano which my mother hated taking lessons, porcelain knickknacks, and art. I never thought of my family as owning those items in the old country as nothing was brought with them to the U.S. The families entertained often and a sign noted that guests of this home, constructed by Petar Modić, were the Kusević and Pogledić families. Those names were of interest to me as my grandparents had friends in the U.S. with those surnames and I knew they had been from nearby villages in Croatia. And yes, my grandparents entertained often. I had no idea, that all these families had been considered noblemen nor that the families had been acquainted for more than a hundred years before their emigration. I was also surprised to learn how much land those titled people, known as PL, owned. Dr. Antonić’s dissertation was on land deeds from the 1200s in the area so our next visit was to the castle my grandmother recalled our family protecting.
Due to earthquake damage, we couldn’t get up close to Castle Turopolje. I was astounded to discover how close the site was to my ancestor’s villages. Running downhill from their homes through the woods would not have taken more than ten minutes. Like in my grandmother’s story, the castle had a moat which you can see is now weed-filled. This castle is a replica, built in the 1900s, of the one that stood in the same location where my relatives defended against the Turks. You can read my blog about the original event here.
Another surprise was the discovery that not only my Kos line but my Grdenić line was also titled PL. How I missed that information as a kid is beyond me! Unfortunately, the volume with the Kos information was missing from the Croatian National Archive and I’m awaiting a copy from another organization.
My grandmother’s paternal side, the Kos family, originated in Dubranec. You can see the forest area where they were granted privilege by the king to hunt for their bravery in defending the castle. Just around the bend, the village of 99 homes begins.
I’m using a Google Maps photo of my maternal side’s ancestral home, built before 1861 as noted in that census. For privacy reasons, I am not showing a current photo as the house has had some changes. I had no family pictures of it and in my mind, I had always thought it would have been a wooden structure, much like Turopolje Manor. I have no idea when the stucco was added over the original wood but many homes began that custom by the mid-1800s. The residences to the right and left had been bricked. My grandmother had her home in Gary, Indiana bricked during the Depression; perhaps she did that because the neighbors had done so in Croatia. All three homes, along with a parking lot and a medical facility, were once the Kos family farm. The family-owned much more land and as the family grew over the years, lots became subdivided to include more dwellings. This I discovered at the Croatian State Archives. My family always had a kitchen garden when I was growing up so I wasn’t surprised to see that there was space for one. My grandmother had mentioned a garden, too. The building is no longer in the family. It had been turned into a tavern but the owner recently died so we could not go inside to visit. There are no Kos’ left in Dubranec according to the neighbor on the left side and Mr. Hrvoj, a distant cousin of mine, who happened to walk down the street.
Around several more turns up the mountain, we found ourselves in my maternal great-grandmother’s ancestral home, the Grdenić’s. The village is small and consists of a few farms. It looks as I thought a village from the 1800s would:
There are no Grdenić’s left in Jerebic according to the farmer who came out to see who was visiting. It is a working farm with roosters walking freely. Although the house now has electricity, running water, and plumbing, it did not when my great-grandmother lived there. The well is no longer used but I can imagine my two times great grandmother drawing water from it:
My grandmother’s middle name was Violet and I was surprised to see all the wild violets that grew around the house.
Records in the archive stated that the family was known for their fine vineyard. I should have known the family grew grapes as I have blogged about their winemaking during Prohibition yet I never thought about that custom coming with them to the new country. I have the family recipes and one of my kids still follows them. Sometimes the hints are right in front of us yet we fail to recognize them. My husband and I laughed when we heard about the vineyards as we have always had a grape arbor and we had just planted grapes a few days before we left for Croatia.
Next, we went back down the mountain to Dubranec to visit Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church which is a 5-minute walk from my Kos’ family home:
The church was badly damaged in the 2020 earthquake and is off-limits. The priest lives in the village but we were unable to locate him. Here is my original family legend about Our Lady of the Snows.
I was hoping to find gravestones for the missing vital information that former leader Josip Tito had destroyed but unfortunately, the cemetery only contains newer graves. Dr. Antonić explained that the Croatian custom is to pay annually for the grave upkeep and if payment is not made, after some time, the remains are removed and stored in a combined gravesite. I couldn’t find that location and will have to contact the parish priest for more details.
The former article mentioned a mysterious pilgrimage site that was identified by genealogist Lidija Sambunjak. We were on our way to Marija Bistrica:
My great-grandmother Anna Grdenić Koss, according to my Great Aunt Barbara, went on a pilgrimage to this site. I had a postcard that was written to my mother when my Aunt Anne Marie and Aunt Barbara visited Croatia in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the name of the site wasn’t written on the postcard. I blogged about solving the mystery recently. I believe Anna made the pilgrimage after losing her first two children at birth. I have records for one of the two, one may have been a miscarriage. I suspect Anna was praying for a child to survive and that occurred after the pilgrimage with my grandmother, Mary. Anna would go on to have three more children, Joseph and Barbara, who survived to adulthood, and Dorothea, who I can find no record of that died as a child. The distance to this church from the villages is an hour by car over steep mountain roads. I know that my female ancestors were strong women but this journey would not have been easy. We did see pilgrims hiking to the church and it reminded me that once, long ago, Anna was one of them. Like most of Croatia due to the earthquake, the church is under construction but we were able to go inside.
Boots on the ground research enabled me to walk in my ancestor’s footsteps. It was an emotional journey that added richness to the family stories that were told to me as a child. I am fortunate to have connected with such knowledgeable women in Croatia who helped me gain insight into my family’s history. This was a trip of a lifetime that I will carry with me forever.
Last week I provided recommendations on best practices for using archives in other countries. This week I’m focusing on making the most when visiting your ancestor’s hometowns.
I always wanted to walk in the village my maternal grandmother had told me about when I was young. She had described the neighborhood church with its cemetery, a family garden, and her maternal side living in the next village.
My grandmother, Mary, emigrated with her mother, Anna, and younger brother, Joseph, in July 1913 when she was 12 years old. She would become a teen a week after arriving in the U.S. My great-grandfather had come 3 years earlier and settled in Chicago after crisscrossing the country working for the Pullman Company.
I had photos of the apartment where they lived in Chicago and the houses they rented and bought in Gary, Indiana, but I had no visual of the home she resided in as a child. Grandma had returned to visit Croatia in the summer of 1960 with her singing group, Preradovic. I have a picture of her with two village women, unnamed, who she said were cousins. Truthfully, Grandma called everyone cousins and she was probably correct as the village in which she was born had only 349 people in 2011. Her mother’s ancestral village, Jerebic, only had 41 people in 2011. If they weren’t cousins, they were called kum or kuma (godfather or godmother). Definitely supports the importance of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ FAN Club! With such small numbers, everyone was connected.
There were 99 houses in town, which one was Grandma’s? For that, I turned to a genealogical report written by Sanja Frigan for my second cousin in 2008. Sanja had gone to the local church and spoke with the priest who shared records. I was able to identify the location as house number 40. This was confirmed through the only FamilySearch.org Dubranec record for my grandmother – her baptism record shows the family living in house number 40. Through the Association of Professional Genealogists, I contacted fellow genealogistLidija Sambunjak to discover if house numbers were altered since the church record was made in 1900. I highly recommend contacting a local genealogist, historian, or archaeologist as they know details of communities that aren’t available online. Lidija was able to find the new house number. She also found a record that showed the home had been built by 1861 when a census had been taken. Lidija also discovered the home was now a tavern so there was a strong possibility I could go inside and even eat in the location my grandmother had taken her first bites of food!
Getting to Dubranec was an issue; it was outside the city limits of Zagreb so no bus was available. I could Uber/taxi but I didn’t want to just get dropped off. I needed a driver who could take me to all the places I wanted to see, wait while I explored for a bit, and answer questions that might arise from what I was seeing. I was not comfortable with renting a car as I was unfamiliar with the area and there were avalanche and flash flood warnings – not something I wanted to tackle on my own. Plus, I don’t speak Croatian well and a translator would be helpful.
Lidija recommended a colleague, Nikolina Antonić, who was a historian and archaeologist. We agreed on a price for the day and in our email exchanges, she shared with me her dissertation which just happened to be in the area my family resided. Finding a knowledgeable professional might take some time so start looking as soon as you book your trip.
I shared with Nikolina my family stories regarding defending a castle, building a church, going on a pilgrimage, and being titled a nobleman. Her dissertation was about the land records for the area beginning in the 1200s so she was an expert with location and history.
Nikolina met us at our hotel at 9 AM sharp. After reading her dissertation I had questions about how my family fit into the culture of those times. Her answers helped me put the records I had found the day before into perspective. Our first stop was a recreated home that would have been typical of a noble family. Although we couldn’t go inside, we were able to walk the grounds, peer in the windows and my husband found pottery shards in the freshly turned garden. Nikolina identified them as the late 1800s. A few days later we toured a castle in Bled and in the museum was an identical pottery piece labeled the late 1800s. It helped me imagine that my two times great-grandparents likely used a similar jug.
Our next stop was a recreated castle where my family tale says we fought off Turkish invaders. I’ll be writing more about this next week.
As we climbed the mountain through a forest I could visualize my ancestors hunting in the woods. It was breathtakingly beautiful – spring green leaves budding on the trees, a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds – a picture postcard.
The village Dubranec was larger than I expected. From the land records discovered the previous day I knew where some of my family’s property began and ended. The lots have been subdivided over the years and now, many more buildings were housed on what was once farmland. I was disappointed to find the home where my grandmother was born that had been turned into a tavern closed. A man walking down the street informed us that the owner had recently died. The picture at the top was from Google; the building has changed somewhat and for privacy, I am not displaying the photo I took.
Next, we went to the village Jerebeic where my great-grandmother’s family was from. It was about a 5-minute drive further up the mountain. The village was exactly what I had envisioned – all old wooden buildings. The well, unused now, was still there, roosters still roamed the yard, and hay was stored in the barn. I was surprised to learn that my family had been known for their vineyards and some very old plants still produced grapes. Which great grandfather had planted them I don’t know but I still have the recipes. We spoke to the farm’s present owner who knew it had once been owned by the Grdenic family. He kindly let me take photos.
Back down the mountain, our next stop was Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church. The earthquake had damaged the structure so we could not go inside. I was shocked to see the cemetery intact and with just a few older stones. I learned that rental needs to be paid annually and when it is not received, after a time, the body is dug up, the bones collected, and placed in a group grave. Nikolina was not sure what happened to the old tombstones. The beautiful day had turned rainy and with thunder and lightning overhead, we did not stay long among the graves. I plan on writing to the current priest to obtain more information.
We then drove miles to visit Marija Bistrica, a pilgrimage site. On our way, we saw a group of pilgrims with walking sticks making their way to the church high on a mountaintop. I’ll write more about my great-grandmother’s reason for the pilgrimage next week. I was amazed to see how far she walked over such difficult terrain. I know I come from a strong line of females but this discovery really surprised me.
It was time to return to our hotel as our Gate1 tour was meeting that evening. I will never forget this emotional experience and I believe I would not have gained such insight into my family’s background had it not been for Nikolina’s expertise.
If you are planning an excursion to your ancestor’s home turf, do your research first, then check out transportation options, and hire a guide who is familiar with the area’s history. Although most people in Europe speak English, if you are going to a rural area it is best if you have someone who can translate for you. Don’t forget your camera or phone charger!
Next week I’ll be giving you some tech tips for your ancestral experience.