Monday, March 23, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Josh Groban

It seems like I'm always running behind lately.  I was desperately trying to finish my write-up about last week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? just hours before this week's was set to air.  I obviously was not able to make it this time.

This episode was about Josh Groban (another celebrity I had not heard of!).  The teasers said we would be researching his mother's side of the family and going to 17th-century Germany, there to witness brilliance and the torment of prediction.  Groban is a multiplatinum singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer.  He graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.  He has sold more than 25 million records and has been nominated for numerous awards.  He started his own charity, Find Your Light, to bring music, the arts, and cultural awareness to school children.

Groban was born and grew up in Los Angeles.  He lives in Los Angeles just a few miles from the home he grew up in.  To start his research, he goes to visit his parents, Jack and Melinda (Lindy) Groban; he has a brother, Christopher, who does not appear in the episode.  Groban says that both of his parents are intelligent and that they took their sons to music performances.  His mother was (is?) an art teacher, and education was always important in the family.

From a family history perspective, both of Groban's parents were only children, so he didn't grow up with any aunts, uncles, or cousins, and family trees never came up in conversation.  That said, someone apparently has done research on his father's side of the family, because he says it has been documented.  No research has been done on his mother's side, however.  He knows that his mother was born in Los Angeles and that his grandmother lived in L.A. for many years.  His maternal grandfather, Grandpa Lee, died before Josh turned 1.  He is curious because he doesn't really know much about him.

Lindy (Melinda) says that her father was one of five children.  The Great Depression had a big impact on the family, and her father had to quit school to go to work to help support the family.  Her father's father died when she was very young, and doesn't know much about the Johnston history.

Groban says that he is doing this research mostly for his mother.  He would like to find out when and why the relatives on her side came to the U.S.  The research will be a gift for the whole family but especially for his mom.

Groban begins his fact-finding mission by heading to the main branch (downtown) of the Los Angeles Public Library, where he meets professional genealogist Kyle Betit (pronounced "Beatty"; we have seen him previously on WDYTYA, on the Trisha Yearwood episode, where he was able to show off his French research specialization).  He had asked Betit to research his mother's father's side of the family "as far back as possible" (oh, I love requests like that!).  Betit explains that he used wills, deeds, newspapers, and other records to help create the tree that he obligingly has posted on  What struck me immediately was that Groban's mother is listed on the tree with her married, nor her maiden, name, which is something you should never do.  I also noticed that Groban was squinting at the screen.  He went back and forth during the episode between wearing glasses and not, and when he didn't, he squinted.  Vanity, thy name is Josh Groban!

Lindy's father is shown on the tree as Merril L. Johnston (Grandpa Lee; 1909–1982), who was married to Dorothy Z. Blumberg (1906–2001).  Lee was the son of Merrill Willis Johnson (1882–1954) and Lulu Christine Winslow (1888–1969).  Groban comments on the spelling difference between Johnston and Johnson (very observant of him, but he didn't say anything about Merril [one "L"] versus Merrill [two "L"s), and then the subject is never brought up again.  (Does that mean the Ancestry researchers couldn't find out when or why the spelling changed?)

Betit clicks on great-grandpa Merrill Willis Johnson for more details.  He was born July 6, 1882 in Algona, Kossuth County, Iowa and died August 30, 1954 in Oakland, Alameda County, California.  Moving up the tree, his parents were George M. (maybe Merrill?) Johnson (1844–1899) and Mary Ann Zimmerman (1845–1914).  Betit clicks on Mary Ann, and we see that she was born in January 1845 in Cass County, Iowa and died in Algona, Kossuth County.

After showing Mary Ann's details, we jump from to the floating family tree in the sky.  On this tree, Grandpa Lee was Leander Merrill (two "L"s) Johnston, instead of Merril L.  We then fly through several generations:  Mary Ann's father was John Zimmerman; his father was Samuel Zimmerman; his father was another John Zimmerman; his father was Jacob Zimmerman; and his father was Jacob Christopher Zimmerman, Groban's 7th-great-grandfather.  Jacob Christopher is shown as being born before 1694 and dying in 1759 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.  He was married to Sibilla Van Fossen (1691–1745). When we arrive at Jacob Christopher Zimmerman, Groban jokes that he was the "original Jay Z."

Groban asks if there's more, and Betit shows him an index entry on that has Jacob Christoph Zimmerman arriving in Pennsylvania in 1694 (which actually means he was born before 1695, because without more information, he could have been born in 1694 and been a babe in arms).  The entry says that he arrived with the primary immigrant Maria Margaretha Zimmerman.  Groban wants to know what that means, and Betit explains that Maria Margaretha was the main passenger and that Jacob Christoph was traveling with her.  Some discussion ensues about how Maria Margaretha was probably Jacob Christoph's mother, making her Groban's 8th-great-grandmother. Groban wants to know where her husband is:  Did he take a hike?  Did he die?  Were they divorced?

Betit points out that what is displayed on the screen is only a transcription.  To learn more, they need to go to the source of the information, which is the book William Penn and the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania.  Groban wonders why they would have gone to Pennsylvania, and Betit explains that people of many religions were going there because it was a haven for freedom of religion.  Groban wonders whether Zimmerman would have been German or Dutch.

Betit conveniently has a copy of the book at hand and has Groban look up Maria Margaretha.  The reference is for page 409.  (Betit does not mention that the book is also only transcriptions.)  The entry for Maria Margaretha shows she came from Bietigheim (east of Pforzheim), Würtemberg [sic], now part of Germany.  (Betit is surprised that Groban pronounces Bietigheim correctly.)  She was the widow of John Jacob Zimmerman (Groban's 8th-great-grandfather) and came with four children.  John Jacob died in or after leaving Rotterdamn, en route to Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, page 409 of the book is not shown in the preview on Google Books, but I did find two other references to Zimmerman:

(William Penn and the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania, William Isaac Hull, originally published Swarthmore, 1935, as Swarthmore College Monographs on Quaker History, Number 2; reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1970, pages 337 and 338.)

But they couldn't show the first section this early in the episode, because it would have given away some of our "surprises" later.

Now, of course, Groban wants to know how John Jacob died.  He also asks why Zimmerman would have wanted to leave Württemberg and go to North America.  Betit tells him he'll need to look in Germany and says the best archive is in Stuttgart, the capital of Württemberg.  From this point on, the episode is focused on this one ancestor and his story.

In the outro to this segment, Groban says that something is telling him that Zimmerman must have had a desperate need to make his journey.  Unless he's psychic, I don't know how he could have gotten that from the information Betit provided him.  But since WDYTYA is always heavy on foreshadowing, we can take that as a sledgehammer hint that not everything goes well for John Jacob.

After arriving in Stuttgart, Groban meets archivist Peter Rückert at the Württemberg state archive (Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart).  Prof. Dr. Rückert was subtitled throughout this segment, though I did not find him difficult to understand.  After Groban says he is there to find information about his 8th-great-grandfather John Jacob Zimmerman, Rückert pulls out a book of marriage records covering 1630–1749.  He has Groban put on conservator's gloves, but then lets him page through the book until he reaches page 1671.  If you're that worried about the book, why have him page through it?  Anyway, on page 1671 they find the marriage of Johan Jacob Zimmerman, the only words Groban can read on the page.  (They go through some pronunciation gymnastics here, as Groban says "Jo-hon" and Rückert is polite and says that's ok.  Later Groban correctly pronounces the name as "Yo-hon.")

Rückert kindly provides a translation of the entry, which says that on February 22, 1671, "Mister M. Johan Jacob Zimmerman, Deacon at Bietigheim, legitimate son of M. Mattheus Zimmerman, citizen and hospital cooper at Vaihingen on the Enz, married Maria Margaretha, legitimate and left behind daughter of Mister M. Philipp Henrich Schaal, late faithful Deacon here."  (I'm guessing that "left behind" is a poor, literal translation that should have been "surviving.")  Groban asks what religion this is for, which Rücker says is Lutheran.  Groban then latches onto the word Deacon, totally ignoring the fact that the entry also identifies his 8th-great-grandfmother's maiden name and the name of his 9th-great-grandfather on that line.  (Maybe he did ask about it but it ended up on the cutting-room floor.)  Rückert says that a deacon handled marriages, burials, and baptisms in the church.  He also explains that a hospital cooper was a craftsman who worked at the hospital (pretty vague, I know), and that Mattheus' father and grandfather probably also did the same kind of work.  The abbreviated title of "M." stands for Magister or Master, indicating that someone had a university degree.  (But does that mean Mattheus had a university degree, since his name was styled the same way in the translation?  If so, why was he still a hospital cooper?  Or was this another translation error?)  Johan Jacob studied Lutheran theology for his degree.

Rückert next produces a book recording visitation protocols, which were visits made by higher-ups in the church where they checked on your work and how everything was going (Big Brother looking over your shoulder).  The book is for Bietigheim from 1601–1809, and this time it has a bookmark.  An entry in 1676 for Deacon Johan Jacob Zimmerman indicates his birthday was November 25, 1642.  He had one little son and one little daughter.  The entry continues that Zimmerman had studied well and was a good preacher, and that the family was "holding themselves" very well.  (Ancestry really needs to hire better translators.)

Johan Jacob studied at the university in Tübingen, Württemberg, for eight years.  Usually four years would be enough, but he apparently was a great thinker and believer.  Rückert says that if Groban is interested in learning more about his ancestor's education, he can go to Tübingen, as the university is still there and has lots of great records.

As he is leaving, Groban comments that history repeated itself in his family.  His mother is a teacher, and her father had worked with his hands; she had broken the cycle.  (Guess what?  That's a common theme in lots of families.  Nothing special here.  In fact, since Johan Jacob had a university degree, the family had gone backward and then regained ground.)

Tübingen University Old Hall
And on we go to Tübingen.  Groban walks through the town and to the university, where he finds head archivist Beate Martin.  She points out that one of the buildings is a student dormitory where Johan Jacob lived while he was there.  They then go to the archives, which look cramped and which Groban calls very "cozy."  Martin says that the archive has documents for all the students who studied there.  She has a book for 1624–1748 which has a bookmark on a page with candidates for Master in 1664.  Johan Jacob is second on the list, which she explains was his ranking in the class.  Groban asks what he studied besides theology.  Martin has a document that is essentially Zimmerman's "report card" from 1668.  He had been a math and music instructor, in fact the only music instructor.  The report says he "supervises music with care", which Groban says gives him chills, and "not just because it's cold down here."

Martin then shows Groban a book she says that Zimmerman used for teaching music.  Groban revels in the fact that he is holding a book that his ancestor actually held.  He flips through pages showing music theory and some practice pieces.  (Wow, 17th-century music theory!)  Groban is excited that his ancestor was passionate about music, as he is.

Martin says that the library also has other documents and shows a book that Zimmerman wrote.  This is not about music but about the theory of movement of the planets.  From this they extrapolate that Zimmerman was studying the planets and could effectively be called an astronomer.  He was studying the planets to be closer to God and to understand God.  In all, he wrote twelve books about astronomy.  (And I looked on Google Books,, HathiTrust,, and WorldCat but couldn't find a single one of them online.  There are several variations of the spelling of his name, however, and I didn't search under all of them.)

Martin also shows Groban a copy of Newton's Principia, in which Newton mentioned Zimmerman.  Zimmerman witnessed a comet on Novemeber 23, apparently in 1680.  Since Zimmerman seems to have spent quite a bit of time studying the stars, Groban wonders how he managed to do that and have time to be a deacon.  Martin says he can visit the church in Bietigheim to find out more.  (I've commented before that WDYTYA reminds me of those computer games where you have to find one piece at a time before you are led to the next . . . .)  Groban wonders why someone who seemed to have everything going for him would want to leave and says that something must have happened.

The Duke of Württemberg
to whom Zimmerman wrote
And so we finally head to Bietigheim, where we have already heard the Zimmerman family was living before they began their journey to Pennsylvania.  Dr. Jonathan Clark, a historian at Concordia College, meets Groban at the church where Zimmerman was a deacon.  Groban says he has asked Clark to research Zimmerman's work at the church.  Groban starts here by asking why Zimmerman would go to America when he was so involved in his studies and being a deacon.  Clark shows Groban a document from January 28, 1678 with Zimmerman's signature.  The translation shows that the document is a letter addressed to the Duke of Württemberg, imploring the Duke not to transfer Zimmerman elsewhere but to spare his family; his wife was pregnant at the time.  Clark explains that the cause of the tension was that Zimmerman had rubbed his pastor the wrong way and had previously been warned.

Clark then shows Groban a book, Neue Comet Stern, from 1682.  Zimmerman saw Halley's Comet in 1682 and was profoundly affected by it, and wrote the book.  He believed the comet foretold future calamaties on Earth.

Another book, from 1684, has an author's name of Ambrosius Zehman von Caminiez.  Zehman means "seer", and the name is a play on words with Johannes Jacobus Zimmerman's name.  Clark says that the two names have the same number of letters (I think he said 27?), but I count 24 in Zimmerman and 26 in Caminiez.  When you remember that I and J could be substituted for each other, all the letters from Zimmerman's name are accounted for, but you end up with a V and a Z left over from Caminiez.  Maybe it works with a variant spelling of Zimmerman's name?  Either way, Caminiez was a pseudonym of Zimmerman.  He didn't want to use his real name because the book dealt with heretical predictions that the church would fall.  Many people, including Newton, have seen comets in religious contexts and as signs from God.  Zimmerman actually put his predictions about the destructions of buildings and Christ coming to earth in writing, however, and then he was caught.  Groban was amazed and said that Zimmerman was "mad by candlelight", a phrase I've not heard before.  (It only shows up six times on Google, so it isn't common.)

Some of what Zimmerman wrote in the book was that something would destroy the churches and that it would be the "fault of the ordinary ministry."  Zimmerman was part of a movement called Radical Pietism, which emphasized a personal relationship with God and a belief that the church was unnecessary and corrupt.  This was obviously not looked on kindly by the established church.

Zimmerman prophecied that 1693 would be a year of real change.  He apparently believed that the stars had revealed that date to him.  Historically it was not uncommon for people to believe that astronomical events could foretell tragedy.  A comet in 1618 was believed to have presaged war in Germany.  Zimmerman would have made his astronomical observations from the steeple in the church the two men are standing in.

Groban quite reasonably wants to know how Zimmerman could have maintained his decorum in church if his beliefs had become so radically different, and what would have happened if these heretical materials had been found in his possession.  Clark says he should go to the Evangelical Lutheran Church archives in Württemberg to see what records might exist.

The Evangelical Lutheran
church in Bietigheim
Groban has had an extraordinary experience being in the church where his ancestor worked.  He goes up to the steeple to see the sky as Zimmerman would have.  He wonders if Zimmerman's heresy is the reason the family left Württemberg.  Maybe they had feared for their lives if they stayed.

Groban now goes to Stuttgart, where the archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg are housed.  He heads to the central library (Zentral Bibliotek), where he is met by Jan Stievermann, a church historian at Heidelberg University.  Groban asks why Zimmerman would have begged the Duke for permission to stay if he no longer liked the church.  The answer is simple:  He had a family to support.  Stievermann has records from the Württemberg consistory, the ruling body of the state church.  If something official had happened to Zimmerman, it would be in those records.  It's possible he could have been called in and interrogated about his beliefs.

The book Stievermann has contains minutes from consistory meetings for 1680-–1688.  On page 577 the name of Johan Jacob Zimmerman of Bietigheim appears, from an action in 1684.  He had been discovered.  Even though he had published his book under a pseudonym, Stievermann asks, "How many troublesome theologians with astronomical training were in Württemberg?"  I guess it didn't take long for them to figure it out.  After Zimmerman was summoned, he confessed that he had written the book.  He pled that his conscience should not be constrained and said that he would quit rather than recant his words.  He believed that all European state churches were so corrupt that they would fall when the judgment of God came.  He was unequivocally a radical, which Stievermann says meant he could be expelled from the state.

Interestingly, the researchers lost track of Zimmerman in Württemberg after this.  (I guess that means he left before the church kicked him out?)  They don't know where he was; he just seems to have disappeared for several years.  The next mention of him was found in a letter from the St. Petersburg archives.  The letter was written by Zimmerman and was dated February 1688.  He was writing from Frankfort, but it was not stated which one.  He had been relying on his Pietist connections.  One child had died, and he was in debt.  He "recommend[ed] everything to the divine power."  (No explanation was given as to how the letter ended up in St. Petersburg, which I was really curious about.  Stievermann also didn't say to whom the letter was written.)  He was really hoping his beliefs would carry him through.

Groban asks if there would have been a community to help him.  Stievermann explains that other Pietists would have helped as much as possible.  They gathered in private homes, outside church authority.  Everything would have been very clandestine.

The last item after the letter from Zimmerman was one from a pastor in Hamburg, who wrote that Zimmerman had died in September 1693 and was buried in Rotterdam, where the family had gone to board a ship to Pennsylvania, but there is no information about how he died.  So Zimmerman actually died the year he had predicted would be a year of change; he just hadn't realized exactly what the change would be.  Other people hadn't wanted him to leave, but Pennsylvania would have acted as a magnet, as it was a safe haven for people with different faiths and unusual convictions.  The translation of the pastor's letter ends, "May God have mercy on his widow and children."

Groban is fascinated by what he has learned about Zimmerman.  He says that Zimmerman was honest about having written the heretical book (but conveniently forgot that he only did so after he was caught), even though he had everything to lose.  Zimmerman had seen a beacon of light in Pennsylvania and committed to taking his family there.  It was sad that he hadn't made it himself, but Groban sees it as a triumph for his ideas that his family did.

Walking in his ancestor's footsteps has obviously been a special experience for Groban.  His ancestor has gone from being a name on a page (one he only just found out about, no less) to someone he learned about as a person.  Because Groban himself is a musician, he particularly identifies with the fact that Zimmerman taught music "with great care" (gotta love those translations), but also appreciates that Zimmerman studied math and became a scholar and someone great.  He of course ties this into his own beliefs that education is important.  He appreciates the opportunities that he has had and is glad he is able to offer opportunities to young people.

I'm kind of surprised that is still airing the commercial where the woman says she found her grandfather's World War I draft registration but the image displayed is from World War II.  Personally, I think it makes them look unprofessional.  Would it be that difficult to edit it?

And of course, since I mentioned in my post about the Julie Chen episode that I found Long Island Medium questionable looking, when I tuned in to TLC to watch this episode, what were they talking about on Long Island Medium, which was just ending?  Genealogy!  Apparently they're getting into family history also!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Recap of Tony Burroughs for the AAGSNC Meeting

At today's meeting of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, those members who had presented talks the previous Saturday at the Sacramento African American Family History Seminar were invited to give short synopses of those talks.  My talk had been on how valuable of a resource the Freedmen's Bureau records are in black family history research, particularly in identifying the last slave owner before Emancipation.  But I also gave that talk to AAGSNC last November, so I didn't think everyone wanted to hear it again so soon.  Instead, I chose to give a recap of the keynote from the seminar, which was delivered by well known genealogist and author Tony Burroughs.  Mr. Burroughs' points were well taken, and I think they bear repeating.

The title of the keynote was "The Next Phase of African American Genealogy."  Burroughs began by explaining the six phases we have already been working through:

• oral history:  Collect stories from family members and record that information to preserve it and to share it with future generations.

• research family history to 1870:  To research family members who were enslaved, it is necessary to find them in 1870, almost always the first census in which former slaves were enumerated by name.  Their locations in 1870 become the springboard to search for them in pre-Emancipation records.

• identify the last slave owner:  Identifying the last slave owner is critical, because then you know where you should look for records that mention the family member by name.

• research the slave owner:  Researching the slave owner and his family helps place your ancestor in time.  You want to learn when your ancestor became associated with the owner, what happened to him, where he was before that, and whatever else you can find.  You may be able to identify family units.  Researching slavery can sometimes help you undertand why an owner might have moved with his slaves, might have hired his slaves out, why one owner treated his slaves differently than another owner did, and more.  Gaining a better understanding of the institution helps you understand how all the players acted in it.

• back to Africa:  Not everyone will be able to accomplish this, but with more original manifests of slave cargoes being discovered and publicized, some people have been able to identity their ancestors on specific manifests and definitively learn their original names and from where they came in Africa.

from the Library of Congress
• research the Caribbean:  More than 90% of Africans kidnapped for the slave trade went to the Caribbean and South America.  Many/most of the slaves who came into North America came here from the Caribbean, not directly from Africa.  Understanding how the slave trade and migration routes worked will help inform your research.

Before Burroughs moved on to the next phase, he talked a little about what he says is not research, and I have to say I agreed with every point.  He finds that too many people are not actually doing research nowadays:  They're just following twitching little leaves and hints on large Web sites and taking them at their word.  People are relying too heavily on online information only and don't look offline in archives and other repositories.  Others are taking DNA tests and letting the results define who they are related to, even if they can't tell you what the relationship is.  According to Burroughs, if you don't analyze the documents you find and take the time to understand what those documents are saying about your ancestors, you aren't doing research.  If you have a DNA "cousin" but don't know how you're related, that doesn't count as research either.  He even mentioned "Skip" Gates — apparently DNA tests show they're related, somehow, but they don't know what the connection is.  So is that research?  A resounding no!

I found his comments about the DNA companies to be spot on.  He pointed out that the information we receive from those companies when we have them test our DNA is not peer reviewed, so nobody but the people selling it to us vouches for it.  (How much do you trust salesmen?)  He explained that only population geneticists are doing research that is actually valid in describing how ethnic groups are related.  And he didn't make exceptions for any of the consumer DNA companies, not even African Ancestry, the one often touted as being the only "reliable" one for people with ancestry going back to Africa.  His commentary resonated with me and made me think yet again of Judy Russell's use of the phrase "cocktail party conversation" as the best description for the autosomal results these companies send us.

So what is the next phase?  The big one is to collaborate with historians.  People did not act in vacuums.  They were part of what was going on around them.  We need to gain a better understanding of the historical circumstances and situations that occurred during our ancestors' lives in order to understand how our ancestors fit into their times, and also to help us determine what the records from those times can tell us about our ancestors.  Studying history can also help us make better decisions on what we can take as "next steps" and where we might be able to find more information.

As a corollary to working with historians, his second comment was that we need to study slavery more, and in particular to study slavery before starting to research ancestors who were enslaved.  We really need to understand this institution, how it worked differently in different areas, how people worked with and against it.  Understanding why actions were taken again helps us make better decisions when directing our research efforts.

Burroughs then told us the records he has on his wish list to be digitized.  Even though he had earlier commented that too many people rely on finding everything online, even he had to admit that having information more easily available to more people can improve research.  The list was:
• historical black newspapers (hooray for newspapers!)
• plantation records
• slave trader records
• Caribbean migration records
• Cuban archival records

All of these records tend to be difficult to find and use.  Having them digitized would logically help many, many people make serious advances with their research.  But on a practical level, I suspect it will be a long time before any of them are digitized on any significant level.

As he was wrapping up his talk, Burroughs made a couple of interesting observations.  The first was the benefit of doing real research versus relying on oral history, which many people do when building their family trees.  I have seen people discount historical records because they didn't agree with what Grandma had said.  He talked about research conducted on traditional African griots, the keepers of oral history for many tribes.  After some quantitative study, it was learned that the best trained griots, those who were the best at their work, could reliably remember information going back 125 years.  For Americans with slave ancestry, 125 years does not even take you back to Emancipation.  So relying strictly on the oral history in your family can't get you all the answers you want.

The other interesting tidbit was almost a throw-away right before the end of the talk.  Burroughs said that in all the research he has conducted, he has found that only about 15% of former slaves took their former owners' surnames.  Only 15%!  So if you are trying to find the former slave owner by looking for everyone in the county with the same last name as your ancestor, 85% of the time you will not be successful.  I don't like those odds myself.

Keep in mind, these are my take-aways from Burroughs' talk.  I admit that in my case he was preaching to the choir, because I agreed with almost all the points he made.  But I found the talk educational and inspiring, and I know I'll keep it in mind during my research in the future.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Julie Chen

The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? has just started, and I already feel behind.  Although I am a linguist, I do not know any Asian languages.  I had to rewatch this episode several times to try to ensure I had the Chinese names correct.  (I'm sure I'll still get something wrong!)

The teasers had said we would go to rural China and learn about danger, courage, and a reversal of fortune.  Julie Chen was chosen as the celebrity to lead off the new season.  She is known as a television host, producer, reporter, and news anchor.  I recognize her as being one of the hosts of The Talk (even though I've never watched it), but apparently she is better known for Big Brother.  She is married to Les Moonves, the president of CBS, and has a five-year-old son, Charlie.

Chen's parents are Yen Chun Chen (father) and Yuan Ling Liao (mother).  Her father was born in Beijing and came to the United States as a graduate student.  Her mother came officially for graduate studies but really was following her father, as the two had fallen in love as teenagers.  Chen was born in Bayside, Queens, where her family had a "very modest" household.  Her first language was Mandarin, which made me think of my grandmother, whose first language was Yiddish; her parents were also immigrants, and she didn't learn English until she started going to school.  Chen's family was the only Chinese one in the "melting pot" of a community.

Chen grew up knowing her father's parents, who lived with her family throughout the year, so is more interested in learning about her mother's side.  She knows very little about her maternal grandfather, who died before she was born.  His name was Lou Gaw Tong, and he had a rags-to-riches story.  He started off as a stock boy with no formal education and went on to own his own grocery stores, and then invested in a shipping company.  He indulged in anything and everything.  He had many wives, and many children.  She doesn't feel any emotional attachment to him because she never knew him.

When Charlie was born, Chen's interest in her Chinese heritage was revived.  It seems that at least part of the reason she wants to learn more about her grandfather is to be able to share that information with her son.

Straits Times,
February 12, 1960, page 4
Chen has reached out to her mother and sister, Vicky, for whatever information they might know.  Vicky sends her a message through (I think that ranks as one of the earliest appearances, doesn't it?) and directs her to look at the Lou family tree she has created.  (I wonder if Mom and Vicky were really the ones who set it up.)  It shows Lou Gaw Tong died February 10, 1960 in Singapore but doesn't have a birth date.  He is shown with six wives (Chen's grandmother, Lwee Tan, was apparently the first wife), one of whom doesn't even have a name listed.  (The Wikipedia page about Chen, by the way, says Lou had nine wives!)  Vicky has also attached a document, which turns out to be a short obituary for Lou from the Straits Times, dated February 12, 1960.  The obit mentions the Chip Hwa Shipping and Trading Co. and says that Lou had been ill for some time.  He left a widow (only one?  what happened to the other wives?), four sons, six daughters, and several grandchildren.  It also says he was 68 when he died, so we can approximate a birth year of 1892, even if Vicky didn't put that on the tree.

You see this coming, right?  Since Singapore is the only place mentioned in the obituary, that's where we're going—or as Chen says, "Singapore, here I come!"  She has a lot of questions about Lou's life, like when he was born.  Since he died in Singapore, she "hopes" there's something there.

Our next scenes are of Chen riding in a car through the streets of Singapore.  She goes to the National Library Building, Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, where she meets Jason Lim, a "historian" at the University of Wollongong.  Lim is actually a Ph.D., listed as a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry.  The library is known for its large newspaper collection, which makes it a logical place to look for more newspaper coverage about Lou's death.  Chen asks Lim about the paucity of information in the Straits Times obituary, and he points out that the Times is the English-language newspaper.  To find more information about a Chinese person, they'll need to look at a Chinese-language paper (I make a similar point when I teach about using newspapers for genealogy research).  Lim has Chen look up a newspaper in the library catalog, for some reason choosing the same date as the Times obituary, February 12, 1960 (gee, maybe he found something already).  Lim says the name of the paper, but I could not understand it.

They retrieve a reel of microfilm and sit down at a reader.  Lim scrolls forward to February 12.  Chen admits she can't read or write Chinese and asks Lim if he can read the newspaper and translate it for her.  This newspaper has a more detailed obituary for Lou:  He came from Fujian Province, Anxi County, Penglai village, was schooled in a Confucian household, and had an "improper childhood", which prompts some discussion.  Chen asks if that means Lou's education was not formal, or maybe he came from a broken home.  Lim says he doesn't know, because there's nothing else about his childhood in the obituary.  He continues reading and says that Lou went to Rangoon, Burma, but the obit doesn't say when.  After World War II he went to Singapore, where he was involved in community work and philanthropy.  He was a member of the Singapore Ankway (the Hokkien pronunciation of Anxi) Association, a group in Singapore for people originally from Anxi County (similar to a landsmanshaft).

Chen notices there are lots of holes in the story of Lou's life.  She asks Lim about more information, but he says that's all the obituary has.  They talk about the association, which still exists in Singapore, and whether it might have records about Lou, so we know the next destination.  In the outro to the segment Chen says it's going to be hard to track her grandfather back to his early years, but she's going to try (oh, please!).

At the Ankway Association, Dr. Andres Rodriguez of the University of Sydney (which happens to be a city I used to live in!) greets Chen as she walks toward the door.  (As an aside, even though this seems to be presented as happening right after the library, Chen is wearing a different dress.)  Rodriguez tells Chen that most of the records of the association have been lost, but that he had some online hits when searching for information about Lou.  He has a copy of an article from a Chinese academic journal.  After letting it sit there for a few seconds, he pulls out an English translation, and we learn the title of the article is "Anxi Overseas Chinese:  During the War of Resistance", by Chen Kezhan.  (I think the journal name is Fu Jian Dang Shi Yue Kan.)  The war began in 1937 for the Chinese.  The people of Anxi hated the enemy Japanese because of the atrocities they committed when they invaded.  In October 1938 Lou Gaw Tong was the Rangoon representative for the Southeast Asia Overseas Organization for Giving Relief to Refugees.  He would have been reponsible for relief logistics and organizing propaganda to alert people to danger, an important position.

Later during the war, the Japanese moved further into southeast Asia, which affected the Chinese people in those countries.  In the spring of 1942 the Japanese moved into Burma.  Lou took his family back to China for safety; Chen's mother remembers when they had to flee.  Rodriguez comments that they couldn't stay and that "obviously" Lou would have had a price on his head.  Rodriguez says Lou was the public face of the organization and would have been recognizable.

In 1943, Lou was still working with the resistance and went to Shaoguan, meeting a shipment of carbines and ammunition that had come from America.  He took it into Japanese occupied territory—Jianxi, Zhejiang, and Anhui—and to the Jiangsu front to give to the resistance army.  This was very risky but showed that Lou was resourceful and dedicated.  A sentence that was not completely shown said that Lou helped support funds of the resistance fighters.

Chen asks about Lou's early childhood.  Rodriguez found a book about notable overseas Chinese.  Again we see the Chinese version, and then he brings out the translation.  It says that Lou was from Anxi, Penglai town, and that at the age of 18 (roughly 1920) he went to Burma to work in a general store.  He and his younger brother donated money to the town of Penglai to build the Anshan School.  Chen is still hung up about Lou's "improper" childhood and asks if Rodriguez has any suggestions on how she can find out about it.  He says she should go to Lou's home town, so now we have "Penglai, here we come." Chen comments on the newfound respect she has for her grandfather.

In Penglai, Chen is driven to the Anshan School.  She thinks it will be run-down and is very surprised to see a large, modern, well maintained building.  She meets the vice principal, Li Ju Yuan, and an interpreter (whom she incorrectly calls a translator), Meiling Wu (a professor of Chinese language at California State University, East Bay).  At the entrance to the school is a plaque which has the names of Lou Gaw Tong and his brother, Lou Jinzi, who in 1937 gave money to have this primary school built.

The trio walk into the school courtyard, where many children are playing.  Li tells Chen that the school has 856 students.  Chen talks to the students in Mandarin and asks several how old they are.  Everyone then goes into a classroom on the second floor, where a photograph of Lou is hanging on the wall.  Chen asks the students if they know who the man in the photograph is, and they all respond (almost in unison) that it is Lou Gaw Tong.  Chen tells them he was her grandfather.

The three women leave the classroom and go to an office.  Chen asks if there is any more information about her grandfather.  She learns the school plans to publish a book about the history of the school.  It includes an entry from the Anxi County Gazetteer that says that Lou returned to Rangoon in the 5th year of the Republican era (1916).  He went to sell rice, and later paid to have a new home built in his village.  In the fall of 1937 (the 26th year of the Republican era) he gave money to build the Anshan School.  He carried on his father's desire to strengthen the village through education.  (The article also had something about a Penglai clinic, but the rest of the sentence was not shown on screen.)  At the mention of Lou's father, Chen asks if his name is included.  As a very odd non sequitur, the response is that the house is still standing.  I don't know if that was due to poor editing or something else.

Chen has found more than she expected to.  She's becoming very proud of her grandfather (but what about all those wives?).  She really likes that he wanted education to empower people.

As Chen heads toward the house, she is still fretting about why her grandfather was said to have an improper childhood.  At the house she introduces herself to Ke Yuchai and says that Lou Gaw Tong was her grandfather, to which Ke responds, "I know."  (I thought it was cute.)  Ke says Lou was her uncle.  Surprisingly, Chen immediately says that makes Ke her first cousin once removed.  (I know lots of people working on their family histories that can't figure out relationships that quickly.)  The other surprise was that the on-screen text calls Ke a "distant cousin."  Now, I don't know about you, but I certainly don't consider a first cousin once removed to be particularly distant.  Maybe Lou wasn't really Ke's uncle?  Or maybe the WDYTYA people don't know what they're talking about?  (Naw, couldn't be that . . . .)

Ke has a photograph of Lou Gaw Tong in her ancestor shrine, alongside photos of others in the Lou clan, mostly cousins and uncles.  Ke introduces Chen to her grandfather while Chen burns incense and prays at the shrine.

Lou Rulin appointment plaque
After sitting down for tea, Chen asks if Ke knows about her great-grandfather.  He was a government official, and a record on the wall has his name.  The plaque has the name Lou Rulin and is an announcement of his position.  An imperial decree for Fujian Province in 1903 named him as a school official in the Confucius Academy of Yongchun Province.  He was also an Administrator of the Imperial Examination in Dehua Datian County, which meant he gave exams to regional scholars; those who passed would be able to go to the top schools.  It was somewhat like being the head of the Department of Education.  It is apparent that education was important in the Lou family.  It also sounds as though Lou Gaw Tong had a privileged childhood, rather than anything "improper."  Chen asks for more information, but Ke doesn't know anything else.

Chen wonders where she might be able to find out more about her great-grandfather.  Wu says that there might be something at the Anxi County records office.  Wu says she will go there first, then let Chen know if she finds anything.  And Ke suggests that they can visit Lou Rulin's grave.

Chen muses about how it's looking as though her grandfather didn't have a rags-to-riches story but actually had a privileged upbringing.  His father was obviously highly educated.  Lou Gaw Tong was able to succeed in business because he knew how to use his brains.  But this is causing more confusion about the improper childhood comment from the obituary.  Chen begins to come up with scenarios:  Was Lou abandoned?  Was her great-grandfather a selfish scholar not interested in being a family man?

Chen goes to the Anxi County records office, where Wu has found some information.  Wu has a copy of the Anxi Gazetteer (maybe the same edition that supplied the information learned at the school?), which has information about historical events in the county.  There is an article on Lou Gaw Tong.  He was the second youngest of seven brothers (which I guess makes Lou Jinzi the youngest).  Lou Rulin, his father, was a Qing official who was appointed by the emperor, which means he had power and money.  Then we learn that the imperial examination was abolished, and Lou Rulin didn't seek a new appointment, but instead went home.  (Maybe he was a family man!)  The family lost its income and prestige.

Chen asks why Lou Rulin wouldn't have tried to get a new position.  Wu explains that he would not have had many options to take up a new career.  His whole life had been spent in serious study for a career as a scholar.  With the abolishment of the examination, the family would have declined in status.

Wu continues to read from the gazetteer.  Lou Gaw Tong lost his father when he was young.  Chen asks Wu to clarify whether that means that Lou Rulin died, as opposed to abandoning his family.  With the loss of income and the death of his father, Lou Gaw Tong went to Xiamen at the age of 13 to work as a shop laborer and was not able to go to school.  (So Lou Rulin must have died about 1904–1905, not long after he received that imperial appointment.  The examination must have been abolished pretty soon after the appointment occurred.)  So we finally learn what the "improper" childhood was, and Lou Gaw Tong's success really was a rags-to-riches story after all.

Before, Chen had thought of her grandfather as just a businessman and a rich playboy.  Now she has more respect for him and what he accomplished.  (But what about all those wives?!)

The closing segment is a visit to Lou Rulin's grave.  Chen meets up with Ke, and several more-distant relatives are there also.  Another person in attendance is Huihan Lie, an expert in Chinese genealogy, who functions as the interpreter.  The group sets off on a hike up a hill or mountain.  After a steady climb, they arrive at a tombstone sitting by itself.  Lie translates the Chinese characters on the stone:  "Our esteemed father from the Qing dynasty, scholar official, Cloudy Mountain."  He says that Cloudy Mountain is Lou Rulin's name on the tombstone and explains that it is an unofficial honorific name, intended to indicate that Lou Rulin was well educated and had elevated knowledge.

Chen asks whether this is a special place to be buried.  Lie says that it would have been specially chosen, as the height and location both indicate the status of the individual.  Ke and the other relatives have brought offerings for Lou Rulin.  There are papers and money, to give him wealth in the afterlife.  The papers have symbols for happiness, respect, and good wishes.  After spreading them around in front of the gravestone, the money is burnt to send to Lou Rulin.  While the money is burning, Ke introduces Chen to Lou Rulin.

Chen feels the privilege of being on the mountain.  She knows it's a special moment and looks forward to taking her memories back to her family.  She has decided that she has an amazing family history.  She thinks of herself as a spiritual person and feels that her ancestors protect her and look over her.

In the final segment, Chen talks about how fulfilled she feels now that she knows her family members had a bigger role in history than she had given them credit for.  She feels more connected to her Chinese heritage.  This is evidenced particularly by her next comment:  that people are destined for who they become, predetermined by their ancestors.  She has a better understanding now of who she is and why she is that way, and even understands her parents better.  Over time she plans to incorporate her heritage and culture into her daily life with her son, for both of them.

I understand why they focused on the stories of Lou Gaw Tong and Lou Rulin, because they were very interesting.  But for all the interest Chen showed in her grandfather's wives at the beginning, I was a little surprised that nothing else was mentioned about them for the rest of the episode.  On the other hand, I know Chinese culture is very patriarchal, and it's possible that the researchers weren't able to find much information about those other wives.  But I was really hoping they would give "Unknown" a name.

Now that the new season has started, more Ancestry ads are being shown than normal.  The one that currently annoys me has a woman talking about how she didn't think she'd find much past her grandparents.  She had a twitching leaf that pointed her to a document about her grandfather and then talked about how the next spastic leaf led her to "another member's tree", which had her great-grandparents, and their parents.  (This is a long version of the ad.)  That one bothers me because she blindly accepts that the information in this other person's tree must be accurate and doesn't even comment about any documentation that the tree has.  Yes, I know, that is how most people use Ancestry.  But it doesn't mean I have to like it.  Oh yeah—and she says she finds her grandfather's World War I draft registration, but what you see on screen is a World War II registration for the Old Man's draft.  Pretty sloppy, Ancestry.

Honey Boo-Boo isn't on TLC anymore, so I thought I would be safe from commercials for frightening shows.  Wrong!  Long Island Medium looks like a classic con woman, and she sounds like a harridan.  Why do people watch these programs?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Two Sites Trying to Return Orphaned Heirloom Photographs

From the "Early Faces
of Queensland" site
Many people doing genealogy research are familiar with Megan Smolenyak's efforts to return orphaned heirlooms.  A lot of people also do research on their own when they find items.  I've been fortunate to find owners of some items myself. Recently I learned about two Web sites that are posting orphaned items for the purpose of reuniting them with former owners or descendants.

Did you ever lose a roll of film while on vacation?  The Rescued Film Project is an online collection of images developed from film from between the 1930's and the late 1990's.  The images, both static and video, come from undeveloped film found at locations around the world.  The site's owners develop the film and post the images.  They say they can process film from all time periods and formats, including degraded film and film that is no longer manufactured.  (If you have some old film of your own, this might be useful.)  The site includes an e-mail address to send a message if someone is recognized in an image.  You can contribute found film to the project, which will process it and archive the images for free.  Reading the phrasing on the site, I suspect reconnecting someone with his processed film isn't entirely free, but it could easily be worth the cost, depending on what the photos are.  If you have some time, browsing the site is interesting, because the collection is so eclectic and unconnected.

The other site is much more specific in its focus.  The Early Faces of Queensland [Australia] Facebook page and Web site host scans of photographs that came from the Marsden Photography Studio in Brisbane.  (Brisbane is the capital of Queensland.)  The studio operated from about 1880 to the early 1910's.  The teenage son of the woman who owns the photos decided to scan and post them online as a method of trying to reunite them with living family members.  A Brisbane Times article about his project doesn't state how many photos there are, but he figures it will take him years to scan and upload all the photos.  He intends to charge only enough to cover the postage to send an identified photo to someone.  I like the tag line on the Facebook page:  Helping Historical Photos Find Their Families.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Extend a Helping (Genealogical) Hand: Flemish Scots, the Apollo Theater, Buffalo Soldiers, Transcription, and More

1869 National Colored Convention
Washington, D.C.
"Colored Conventions" took place before and after the Civil War, with free and fugitive blacks gathering to discuss and create strategies for legal, labor, healthcare, and educational justice and other problems and challenges.  Minutes were taken at these conventions, but the ones that have survived are in rare, out-of-print books.  A new project is crowdsourcing transcription of the minutes so that they can be digitized and made available to researchers of all ages.  Transcribers correct machine-generated OCR text from scanned images, which is easier than typing it all in.  (This would make a great project for a society to work on together.)

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Another crowdsourced transcription project is one started by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  The papers of Richard Yates, Sr., an ally of Lincoln and governor of Illinois during the Civil War, have been digitized with money from a grant.  The library has set up a Web site for volunteers to transcribe the pages (currently almost 13,000 pages are available to work on).  The intention is to create a searchable database of the transcribed text.

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Apparently some researchers estimate that up to a third of the current Scottish population may have Flemish ancestry (as in the surname Fleming).  The Flemish immigrants came between the 11th and 17th centuries.  Some Scottish surnames that may have Flemish origins are Armstrong (I have Armstrong ancestors!), Baird, Balliol, Beaton, Brodie, Bruce, Cameron, Campbell, Comyn, Crawford, Douglas, Dowie, Erskine, Graham, Hamilton, Hay, Innes, Lindsay, Murray, Oliphant, Seton, and Sutherland.

Professor Roger Mason, of the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St. Andrews, is leading the Scotland and the Flemish People project to assess the impact of the Flemish on Scotland.  The project includes a DNA component.  John Irvine (a genealogist and local historian) and Dr. Alex Fleming (a retired economist) of the Abertay Historical Society are part of the project team.  Plans are to have a conference for Easter 2016, and one or possibly more publications.

The project is looking for people to share local historical and genealogical resources with information about Flemish settlements, lives, and work in Scotland.  If you can contribute or are interested in learning more, you can read about the project here and here, or contact members of the project team:  Dr. Alex Fleming, John Irvine, or Prof. Roger Mason.

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Several members of the genealogical community have already been working on the identification of a photograph apparently of ten Buffalo soldiers, but since the mystery has not yet been resolved, I figure more publicity might be a good thing.  The photograph was discovered some 40 years ago, hidden behind an illustration in an inexpensive photograph frame.  The men in the photo were identified by an appraiser in 1994 as being in the U.S. Cavalry, 9th Regiment, Company G.  The owner of the photograph was interviewed recently by a local newspaper, and some input on the photograph is on the Where Honor Is Due blog.

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A post on the Roads to the Great War blog is publicizing a family's search for the location of a World War I portrait.  The portrait of Corporal Jack Marqusee was apparently painted by an "artist of international fame" for the British government.  The family has a photograph of the portrait but is trying to determine the location of the portrait itself.

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The historic Apollo Theater in Harlem has created an archive and is trying to recover documents, memorabilia, and other artifacts that have been lost, discarded, or forgotten over the years.  Some items sought are marketing materials, costumes, band stands, microphones, and original photographs.  Antiques Roadshow featured the Apollo's search on a "Roadshow's Most Wanted" segment.  If your family had any connection to the Apollo, maybe you can help.

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The Jewish community in the town of Dunayevtsy, Ukraine, known by its Jewish residents as Dinovitz, has been allowed to reclaim a building in town that was once known to be a synagogue.  To accomplish this the community needs to provide documentation to the local authorities about the town's former synagogues.  This could be printed materials, photographs, or stories from family members.  Oral and written materials will both be considered.

There is little actual documentation on synagogues in the shtetl.  The community in Dunayevtsy has not been able to find much information in the local Russian archives and libraries.  YIVO has been contacted and also has little information of use.  If you had family that lived in Dinovitz, please look through any papers, photographs, or memorabilia that you may have and send a message to Carol Rombro Rider.

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If you have family from the town of Biecz in Poland and have collected vital records or have testimonies of family members from the 1920's–1930's, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODŻ) would like to hear from you in connection with a project involving the Biecz Talmud Torah building, built about 1924.  Please write to Marla Raucher Osborn.