Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wordless Wednesday -- Ellen Hansen (Christophersen)

This picture is one of my latest prizes!  My parents recently went to Salt Lake City and met descendants of my ggg-grandmother Ellen Hansdatter (Christophersen) born in Baerum, Norway 27 August, 1822 and deceased in Salt Lake City, Utah, 24 March, 1899.  Her son Martin Christophersen became a Mormon and an important figure in the church.  She followed in his footsteps and moved to Utah, along with another son and a daughter.  Her other daughter, my gg-grandmother Jonette, stayed in Norway and remained Lutheran -- as did her descendants.  I only discovered this Mormon branch and my ggg-grandmother's grave in Salt Lake City last summer (2009).  It has been an exciting journey, and now I have her picture!!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday --Christophersens in Salt Lake City Cemetery

My parents recently went to Salt Lake City to see the graves of my ggg-grandmother, her two sons, her daughter, and their families.  While there, they also visited descendants and learned a great deal about the family history as it pertained to this branch.  It was an awesome experience, and I wish I could have gone there as well.  They also visited the famous family history library and said it was fantastic!

This area of the Salt Lake City Cemetery has my great-great-great grandmother's (Ellen Christophersen) grave and that of her son, Martin Christophersen. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are (epidodes 3-4) – Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Broderick

I didn’t post after the Lisa Kudrow episode, so I will recount her story and Mathew’s story from last night.

Every episode has been really good and interesting, but I have to admit that Lisa Kudrow’s story was the hardest to watch so far. There really is no way to hear about the holocaust without wanting to turn the channel. But there was a happy ending to her story, too, which made up for the ugliness – sort of.

Lisa starts the episode by visiting her father, a sweet man who is often emotional as he recalls the past. He tells her how he heard about his grandmother’s murder, which occurred in the village of Ilya in Belarus. His Polish cousin, Yuri, visited him after her murder and told him what happened, and then Yuri himself died – or so he thought.

We next see Lisa going to Belarus to learn about her great-grandmother. There she is able to see archived records that list the victims of the Ilya massacre. The record for her g-grandmother said she was killed and then burned. Lisa takes that information and goes to visit where her great-grandmother lived, a peaceful looking place that had once seen great horrors. The hardest part of the show to watch was her finding an old woman who remembered her great-grandmother and what happened that night. The pain in that woman’s expression and her words as she told the story of that horrible time was hard to watch, especially when she recounts how she had tried to hide a small girl who was found and thrown into the fire. But it is the truth, and a truth of despicable humanity that cannot be silenced lest we forget.

Later, we see Lisa walk the path her great-grandmother did to her burial – a mass burial of 900. Now there is a memorial at the location, and after paying her respects, she pushes forward with searching for her father’s cousin Yuri. She knows from her father what naval ship Yuri served on, and she finds his name on records online and that he is from from Gdynia, Poland. Next stop for Lisa? Poland.

In Poland, she searches the phone book and discovers to her surprise, not his descendant, but his name (which is actually Boleslaw). Is he alive? She calls the number and speaks to his son, and, yes, he is still alive! Lisa goes to Yuri’s home and shares stories and photos with the family, and they discuss the meeting years ago between him and her father. He also tells how he escaped death himself at a young age of 15 by taking enormous risks.

This was a heart-wrenching episode, but what was clear for Jews doing genealogy is that there are records to be found! So don’t give up. Lisa Kudrow’s epidose can be watched here.

Switch to Matthew Broderick’s story from last night. What a sweetheart of a guy!

Last night’s episode starts with Matthew recalling his father who died when Matthew was twenty – a time when he didn’t think to ask many questions about his history. He also tells us his father was a quiet person. Later, with his sister, they discuss his father’s father, who was also quiet and was known for having a bit of a difficult personality. His sister thinks she heard he may have been gassed during WWI. And this provides the first clue of where to find information – military records.

Matthew starts his search in New York City at the National Archives where he learns his grandfather served in France in the medical department. So off to France Matthew goes – Meuse-Argonne, France, to be exact. There he meets an historian on the old battlefield where his grandfather served. The historian has records that show Matthew’s grandfather was a medic and took care of the wounded. His job was among the most dangerous because he would have constantly had to put himself into the line of fire as soon as a soldier went down and needed medical help. In fact, Matthew learns that his grandfather earned a purple heart that day. He is overwhelmed by the knowledge and the pride he feels. He had never known any of it! While they visit the graves of fallen soldiers nearby, including those his grandfather served with, he learns that his grandfather also received a service cross, the second highest award given. It was given for putting his life on the line to save those who had fallen. Matthew’s grandfather was a military hero.

The show switches over to Matthew’s grandmother and her line. To learn about her, he goes to Connecticut and the archives there. He learns that his grandmother grew up in a home for children and that she was orphaned when her father died in a logging accident. They conitnue to pursue the history farther back and finds his great-grandfather living with his mother and siblings in the 1870 census, but there is no record of his great-great grandfather. He does, however, find him in the 1850 census with his wife and Matthew’s great-grandfather as a child. The family is missing in the 1860 census, however, and this makes Matthew think about the Civil War. Was his great-great grandfather involved? Of course, the historian helping him has already found a bunch of civil war records and produces one showing the Union enlistment of his gg-grandfather. He also finds records to show he had served in Gettysburg – a battle he survived. I have to say, I was quite amazed at how well-kept those civil war records looked. It is wonderful what records can be found!

A final battle for his great-great grandfather is discovered, however, and it is in Atlanta, Georgia. Matthew travels to the location of the battle where he learns from another historian that his gg-grandfather took a musket ball to the head. He also sees where his ancestor had been temporarily buried (now a rail yard). The soldiers were later moved to a national cemetery down the road.

At the cemetery he learns of an unknown soldier’s grave. Through detailed rosters and accounting of known headstones, the historian was now able to discover that the lone unknown soldier’s headstone was actually that of Matthew’s gg-grandfather. So Matthew’s search helped the historian solve this mystery. They visit the grave, and Matthew is assured that an appropriate headstone will now be placed there. They were lucky the bodies and headstones had been so well documented, although somehow the link between his gg-grandfather and the unknown soldier had not been made before. It is a special moment when Matthew realizes the history his ancestors participated in that affect us all today because of their service.

If you missed this episode, you can watch it here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday -- Pasquale Ursino

Pasquale Ursino, 1861? - 1947?, born in Catania, Sicily, Italy.
Pasquale is my great-grandfather, and all I know is that he was a gentleman, well-educated, and twice-widowed.  He and my great-grandmother had 5 children.  They were never married because my great-grandmother was unable to divorce the abusive husband she left -- the Catholic church did not allow divorce back then.  All their children had to carry the name of her husband -- Napoli rather than Ursino -- or be "illegitimate" in the eyes of society.  A lot of secrecy surrounded this situation, and when he died, my grandmother and siblings probably knew where he was buried but did not tell their children.  Otherwise they would have to explain why the surname on his grave did not match theirs.  It was a long time before my mother and her siblings knew the true circumstances of my grandmother's birth because she was embarrassed by it, as was normal for those days.  I hope to find his grave the next time I visit Sicily.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday -- Borge Kirke and Graveyard
Borge Church is built on the site of a pagan Norse temple during pre-Christian times.  The Christian church has burned several times, and this latest version was built in 1861.  Many of my ancestors from Borge, Oestfold (Fredrikstad area of Norway) were baptized, confirmed, and married here.  They were also buried in the graveyard.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Part 2-- An American Tragedy

To continue in the venue of last week's post, I thought I would critique the show from Friday night, which featured Emmitt Smith.  I believe he is a football player for the Dallas Cowboys, and I found him a very personable, interesting person.  In fact, I was rooting for him all the way.

This episode was far more emotional than the Sarah Jessica Parker one last week.  I was choking up in a couple of parts of the show because although I consciously know the tragic history of slavery in the United States, it isn't really brought home until you watch someone dig through a past of horrors.  It was clear how bittersweet the genealogical research was for Emmitt -- on the one hand happy to find information, but also clearly in pain at learning what happened to his ancestors.  Seeing the marriage records marked "Colored People" was one example.  He said he had never seen segregation himself, so for him to see the archives marked in such a manner brought him face-to-face with the tragic history of our country.  And if that wasn't hard enough to see, it gets better... or worse, actually.

Emmitt is able to trace back to an ancestor who belonged to Alexander Puryear in Alabama.  He reads a will written by the wife, Mary, and we see values listed to property -- furniture listed with the slaves and dollar values next to each "item."  But he also learns that his ancestor, Mariah, was lucky because she was listed with her family as one unit.  She would not be split up from her children the way was often the case for slaves.  He also knows from a previous census search that Mariah and her son Prince Albert are listed as Mulatto, meaning they have white blood.  This is likely because there is a slave owner in the mix.  Emmitt wants to learn who Mariah's father is, and he follows Alexander Puryear's trail to where he would have taken ownership of her -- in Virginia. 

When Emmitt arrives in Mecklenberg County, Virginia, he sees exactly where his ancestors would have been sold, and he also learns the truth of his ancestor, Mariah.  She is listed in a property deed book as being transferred at the age of 11 from Samuel Puryear to his son Alexander.  This was often the case when a child was fathered by a slave owner because the child's presence offended the slave owner's wife.  But then, here comes the shocking part... and I need to preface this by saying that I thought I knew a lot about American history, and of course I knew about slave owners having their way with female slaves, but I had never heard they bred slaves the way they bred horses.  The shock/pain/anger was a clear flicker in Emmitt's eyes, and it was also one of those moments where my jaw literally dropped.  The historian pulls out a pedigree for a throughbred line of horses.  Samuel Puryear bred such horses, and the lineages of the horses went back centuries to Europe, all documented in a book.  As he bred horses, he also bred slaves, apparantly a common practice back then.  So, yes, he was Mariah's father, only there was no book describing any African lineage.  The reason?  African slaves did not have the same value as Andalusian bred horses.

The show nears its end with Emmitt's DNA test results, where he is told he has some white blood and Native American as well.  He is also 81% African, and the DNA expert says this is one of the highest African results she had ever seen; she had never seen a 100% African-American (another reminder of the "racial cleansing" that was obviously rampant).  The silver lining in all this is that the DNA expert is able to pinpoint his ancestors came from Benin in Africa.  Emmitt goes to Benin, and we learn the history of the slave trade, and even more sadly, we learn it is still happening there today when he visits an orphanage of children saved from child trafficking and slavery.  Wow!

I really enjoyed this show despite the sadness of it, too.  Particularly sad was the fact that Emmitt could not go back farther.  There are only so many African-American records that were kept.  However, distasteful as it may be, he does have one white ancestor he could continue to pursue into history.  What a double-edged sword that must be.

If you want to watch any missed episodes, click here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? The New Show on NBC

Last night, I watched the show, Who Do You Think You Are?, featuring the hunt for Sarah Jessica Parker's ancestry.  I had been looking forward to it, although I wasn't entirely sure I liked the idea of this genealogy show being celebrity-based.  Nonetheless, I was rather excited the entire hour it aired (but I would have loved it more had it been commercial-free).

First of all, despite my celebrity comment above, I just love Sarah Jessica Parker -- ever since the first Sex and the City episode.  But there she played a character, and I was so pleased to find such an engaging and real person during this documentary.  She really seemed so interested in finding her history and emotionally involved as well.  I just loved her interactions with her family and with the historians she met.

What was really great, however, was watching SJP trace her history, starting with what her mother knew and moving back.  I loved how she traveled to each destination to find her next clue -- first Cincinnati, Ohio; then El Dorado, Ca; and finally Salem, Massachusetts.  To her knowledge, her family had immigrated not too long ago and came from Bavaria and Eastern Europe.  But her German g-grandfather had married a woman with the surname Hodge.  The Hodge line is the one she chased in this episode, going back to her gg-grandfather born in Cincinnati.

While in Cincinnati, she learns of an obituary that tells how her gg-grandfather's father had died before he was even born.  The show then traces her ggg-grandfather to El Dorado, California, by way of the 1850 census.  He had headed west during the gold rush and, in fact, died shortly after.  He probably never even knew his wife back home was pregnant.  It was exciting to watch SJP in the exact spot in El Dorado where her ancestor had mined for gold before his early death.

Next, SJP goes to Massachusetts because as it turns out, her ggg-grandfather did descend from the New England Hodges.  She visits the New England Genealogical Society and finds out about a very old American history dating back to 1635 when her first ancestor came to the New World.  Wow!  The genealogist tells her she has ancestors in Salem during the awful witch trials and that she should find out if they were affected -- either as accusers or accused.  SJP goes to the Massachussets Historical Society where she does indeed find the word “warrant” by her ancestor’s last name in an online index.  SJP’s ancestor, Esther Elwell, was arrested for performing witchcraft against her neighbor who had died.  No one who was accused had ever evaded execution, but to SJP's relief (and mine) her ancestor was arrested at the end of the trials and never went to court.  She lived to be 82 instead!

With the exception of the commercials (I know I said this already), I really liked this show, and I can't wait to see the next one.  But I did have a few problems with the show.  I know from personal experience how much work it takes to find records and piece together a history.  In this show, it was POOF here it is and let's get on the plane to the next destination.  And by the way, traveling is not necessary to do genealogical research.  I have done all of mine so far from the comfort of my couch, laptop in hand.  This is not to say traveling is not a good thing or exciting.  After all, I fully intend to follow my ancestors' footsteps, too.  I just don't want the budding genealogist to think this has to cost a ton of money.  It doesn't.  I also think the show should be honest about how many hours and people it took to conduct all the research that went into the 1 hour episode.

Overall, I really loved watching SJP finding out about her ancestry.  I am definitely not me-centric when it comes to genealogy.  One of the things I love about genealogy that came across fabulously is the history that accompanies the findings.  In this episode, we learn about the gold rush in California and the Salem Witch Trials.  In my genealogy, it is no different.  My ancestors tell their story to me through the historical events of their time. 

Finally,  I do have to tell about my super-cringe moment(s) in the show -- when the historian at the Massachusetts Historical Society touched the 300 year old document with her bare fingers!!!  What??? No gloves???  That was rather surprising!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finding Ancestors with DIS Gravminner -- A Grave Database

The DIS Gravminner Web site is an excellent database to use when searching for graves in Norway. The database was created to help genealogists find graves, deaths and burial dates of relatives.  They have also been collecting and uploading photographs of the churches and tombstones.  However, some patience is required as there are graveyards that have not been catalogued yet.  I have not been able to research people in Baerum, for example, but I have been able to find records of graves in Østfold.  I have even been able to find records for the graves that no longer exist.  One can find out where the relative was buried and as much information as is known about the grave.  I have to admit, though, that finding out a grave no longer exists is pretty disheartening; but it seems when a grave is old enough and the lease no longer paid, then the grave is removed.  At least I think this is how it works.  Here is an example of a record for the grave of my great-great grandmother Nikoline Andersdatter, married name Hansen.  The grave no longer exists, but I can still obtain this record, which tells me where she was buried and when the grave was removed.  In this case, they must not know what was written on the headstone as there are no birth and death dates listed. 

The site is pretty easy to use.  There is a button to view the site in English.  Click on "Finn Gravplass" or "Choose Cemetery."  You will have to put in the county of interest and then you may search by parish.  Finally, insert the name of the ancestor you are seeking.  Please keep in mind naming practices in Norway.  Also, many graves will use a married name for a female ancestor.  Here is a picture of what the database search page looks like.  As you can see, it is pretty intuitive.