Finding “Bad” News

This is a map of the locations of newspapers that reported the criminal assault (a sanitized version of attempted rape) of my grandmother.1)I only used for this search and used the filters “Stumpf” and date range of 9 Jan 1909-28 Feb 1909. There were 77 locations.

Each map pin represents a town where a newspaper reported her assault with her name, and often her father’s name. Sometimes newspapers reported graphic details; for example, her attacker almost bit through her lip. Some newspapers focused on Judge Witt’s quick action to avoid a lynching. Others focused on the heinous nature of the attack. Still other focused on my grandmother’s incredible fight for her virtue (she was headed to confession before Mass) and her life.

The kicker: No one alive in my family knew this. What do genealogists do when a “secret” gets uncovered? Some thoughts:

1. Check your feelings. Then don’t.

This is my grandmother. Even though I never knew her (she died 3 months before I was born), I was given her first name for my middle. Time gives emotional distance, of course. But, putting myself in her shoes… I simply can’t. It’s clear from reports that she was very badly beaten. Facts from court records, state that she testified against her attacker 4 days later and again 2 days after that. Can you imagine?

But, try very, very hard not to let your personal feelings cloud your research.

2. Only the facts, ma’am.

Keep to what records tell you. Don’t speculate. But be curious. What else is out that that might shed more light on the story?

3. Own your ancestors, but not their actions.

Slave owner? Criminal? Tory Loyalist? Dishonorable discharge? These stories do not reflect on you AT ALL. Keep your good emotional boundaries.

4. Research every detail of the story.

In my grandmother’s case, I have a list every person from the arresting officers, to jury members, to the accused’s sisters are being researched. I have a city map that I’ve marked with locations. I have a timeline of the crime. I’ve created family trees for the major players in the story – the judge, the defense attorney, the jurors and the accused. I’ve begun researching Jim Crow laws (her attacker was black.) Find the larger context and expand the story. My grandmother’s attacker has a story, too. One worth telling.

What do you do when you find “bad” news?


References   [ + ]

1. I only used for this search and used the filters “Stumpf” and date range of 9 Jan 1909-28 Feb 1909. There were 77 locations.
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Your Story is Worth Recording

Under my photo on this website, I wrote, “We all love a great story.” Then, “We all have a story to tell.” Most of us don’t consider our stories worth telling. We may not characterize our stories as dramatic, historically significant, uplifting, or tragic, so not worth telling. Rather we would tend to use less exhalted words like boring, mundane, unexceptional, or normal, so not worth knowing.

Is there something lovely about the boy who marries the girl next door, has a bunch of kids, works hard, and dies having lived a so-called “boring” life? There’s nothing “boring” about happiness, faithfulness, diligence, and love. It’s not even less dramatic.

A recent blog post over at, called “Define Your Dash” is a great guide to starting to record your personal history. They’ve created writing prompts for each week of the year. It’s a great start and an excellent way to begin.


Continue Reading – Fun Tools for Storytelling

I’m a faithful user, but no one should ignore the unique records and fantastic features at I was playing around the other day and discovered some nice apps I will be using in the future to tell my family stories. The features require you to create a family tree on the site which may take a little time. Bonus: all are free!

The biggest win for each of these is the visual representations of your family stories. Maybe you’ve noticed that not every relative shares your passion for genealogy. [Insert heavy sarcasm.] Most are interested a little though and will appreciate a visual that consolidates large amounts of data.

I’m going to highlight a few here, but you can many more on the App Gallery.

First is Rootsmapper. It’s goal is to allow users “to easily visualize the migration patterns of your ancestors.” Rootsmapper provides a world map and access to your pedigree chart to create a graphic of an ancestors immigration from one place (country or state) or another using map pins and arrows. Their YouTube video is here.

Next is StoryPress. It’s goal is to help you create a video of your own family stories using multiple media inputs including photos, videos, audio narration and graphics. You’re going to have to put your own time and creativity into this one, though. Here’s their YouTube video. Again, this a great resource for sharing our family stories in audio/visual format.

Last is not on the App Gallery, and called Keepsakes. It utilizes your pedigree chart to create printable, artsy and fun representations of  your family tree. I’ve printed out a few to use as cover sheets in my family notebooks, but they’d be a cute gift if framed, as well.

Check out these and the other App Gallery utilities!

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Favorite Site – “Unknown No Longer”

For African Americans, tracing their family stories has always been more challenging and almost impossible beyond a certain date. Because slaves were property, not people, they were not enumerated on census records before 1870. It’s THE brickwall for family historians with slave ancestors.

The Virginia Historical Society’s “Unknown No Longer” project and website is offering groundbreaking source material for researchers. Led by Curator of African American History, Lauranett Lee, the project data mines the VHS’ own records (8 million with origins in the 17th century) for every instance of slave ownership. It’s goal is “to uncover the names of every enslaved person found in these sources.” The documents are digitized, the names processed and the images are uploaded to the website. The website is free and updated almost weekly.

Researching White American ancestors means utilizing census records, land deeds, wills, vital records, military records, tombstone and other cemetery records, but for those researching African American before 1870 other documents are required. Bills of sale, account books, deeds of manumission/emancipation, travel passes, receipts, and broadsides are the foundations for slave research and the Unknown No Longer database.

Unknown No Longer is paving the way for new methods and sources in family history research!


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Photo 3 – WWII: Dad and Tommy Meade

This past December 7th, we remembered the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In honor of those that lost their lives, let’s talk about military service during World War II.

My dad, Ambrose Augustin Morrissey Jr, served during World War II in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Sea Bees. We have records of him on Guam, but knowing the roll of the Sea Bees, Bud probably island hopped quite a bit.1)Report of Changes, U.S.S. General George O Squire, 27 Dec 1943, San Francisco to Guam, pg 93 [stamped], line 15, Ambrose A Morrissey Jr; Fold3, ( : accessed 22 Dc 2016) U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, 1943, NARA microfilm publication, roll 32859-243489. Sea Bees are the Navy’s engineers and one of their primary duties was to created infrastructures on the thousands of small islands across the Pacific Ocean from the west coast of the U.S. to Japan. Think airstrips, piers, warehouses, hospitals and barracks.

That my dad was qualified for service to begin with is a little hard to believe. Dad was a little bit of a genius when it came to electronics, in particular radios. You can understand that value. But, dad was also pretty deaf. Hearing aids allowed him to communicate normally. Often at home though, the aids weren’t worn. Family learned to flicker the lights to get his attention. The television volume was so loud, neighbors across the street knew what we were watching. Whole conversations at the dinner table were spoke at normal volume without his knowledge. How he managed in the military, I don’t know.

One of my favorite photos of dad is one from his military service time. The story goes that dad was sitting by a pond or lake on an island in the Pacific somewhere enjoying a short break at the end of a long day. All of the sudden he’s tackled from behind. Both dad and his attacker land in the water. Dad stands to address the gentleman and discovers that it’s his best friend from back home, Tommy Meade. Tommy lived with his parents on North Shepherd in Richmond, a block or so away from the Morrissey family home at 3025 Kensington.2)Hill’s Richmond Virginia City Directory, 1935, vol 71, p 685, Thomas J Meade, 519 N. Sheppard; ( : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. City Directories, 1882-1995, Richmond, Virginia, 1935.

In the photo there are clearly tropical trees in the background. Dad is a full head taller than Tommy. Both are a little worse for wear in attire. Tommy seems tan and cheerful at having a run-in with his best bud. I can only imagine what it must have been like to see by chance an old friend from home. Dad was never in danger due to the background role he played. I can’t say the same for Tommy who enlisted in the Marines in 1943.3)Beneficiary Identification Records Location Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Washington, D.C., Thomas Meade, (18 Jan 1923-10 Jul 1972); ( : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, Thomas Meade.

We’ve lost so many of our World War II veteran’s already. This greatest generation will be gone entirely in the coming years. There is a lot of historical information out there about World War II in general, but a horrible fire destroyed most of the its personnel records. Please, if you have a World War II veteran in your family who is still with us, gather their memorabilia, their stories, old uniforms and souveniers. Get it all and record it, please. These invaluable individual memories are in danger of permanent loss without our individual efforts to record them.



References   [ + ]

1. Report of Changes, U.S.S. General George O Squire, 27 Dec 1943, San Francisco to Guam, pg 93 [stamped], line 15, Ambrose A Morrissey Jr; Fold3, ( : accessed 22 Dc 2016) U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, 1943, NARA microfilm publication, roll 32859-243489.
2. Hill’s Richmond Virginia City Directory, 1935, vol 71, p 685, Thomas J Meade, 519 N. Sheppard; ( : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. City Directories, 1882-1995, Richmond, Virginia, 1935.
3. Beneficiary Identification Records Location Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Washington, D.C., Thomas Meade, (18 Jan 1923-10 Jul 1972); ( : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, Thomas Meade.
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Lessons Learned 3 – Asking Questions

We were young and so that must be our excuse. 

How many of us can truly say that we know our parents well? That we know enough details about our grandparents to recount to someone else what their lives were like?

I’m not talking about our parents as our parents, but our parents as teenagers. Our grandmother as a young woman in love. Our grandfather struggling to find a career that would pay the bill for his young family.

What were their lives like before you?

I never knew 3 of my grandparents. They passed before I was born. My remaining grandmother, Violet Belina Hogan, lived in Minnesota – a 2 day drive away. I saw her very rarely. She passed when I was a freshman in college and my memories of her weren’t mature enough to understand what I thought was her bristly personality and odd behavioral quirks. I never really knew her.

I never knew that I missed having grandparents until I met my husband’s. They’ve become my own. They have given me their love and I have soaked it up wholly.

Why should you care?

Like many, our childhoods (or even adulthoods) don’t make asking about our parents and grandparents easy. For some it may be downright traumatizing. You’re an adult and can work this struggle out for yourselves.

But, I would encourage you, in this holiday season, to ask questions. Sit down with the oldest person in your family, a cup of coffee and a list of questions. Spend time getting to know better the people you’re supposed to know best, your family.

I’ve made a quick list of 20 Questions to help start the conversation. Hopefully, many of these will get grandpa rolling. Listen carefully. Better yet, record the conversation. That voice, those mannerisms, the way he holds his head … it will be lost, sooner than you’d like. Your attentiveness and kindness will bring rewards.

  1. How would you describe your parents?
  2. Did you know your grandparents?
  3. What do you know about your great grandparents?
  4. If you had siblings, with whom did you get along best?
  5. Who were your best friends?
  6. Did your family have enough?
  7. What subject did you like most in school?
  8. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  9. Where did you go to high school?
  10. What activities did you participate in?
  11. Who was your first date?
  12. What was your first job?
  13. How much did you get paid?
  14. How did you meet your spouse?
  15. What was the marriage proposal or wedding like?
  16. Did you go to college or serve in the military?
  17. What national or international events do you have vivid memories of?
  18. How would you describe your life in one or two sentences?
  19. What do you want your grandchildren to know about you or the world?
  20. Is there anything you’d do differently?


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Lessons Learned #2 – Expanding the Narrative

Genealogists have long faced dilemma, “How do I get my family interested in what I’m learning about us, because this is important?”

I have a confession. Names, dates and places don’t do it for me. They’re just as boring to me as they are to any man on the street. Without context, these facts offer us very little.

As genealogists, finding the narrative of our family’s life is critical. Don’t get me wrong! We’re not dramatizing like filmmakers. We can’t recreate dialogue. But, we can expand the story of our ancestors’ lives. Maybe examples will help.

  1. You find out that your ancestor served in the military during the U.S. Civil War through a “Compiled Military Service Record.” That record tells you what branch of the military, what regiment and what company. It would be a great idea to expand your research to include a google search for that company in that time frame. Where were they? What battles did they fight it? What was the outcome? Who was their commander? What kind of leader was he like? Then, go visit that location, if possible. Take a tour and take photos.
  2. Your ancestor immigrated and you know where they lived in the old country. Finding records in other countries can be very tricky, particularly if you don’t speak the language. Why not google search the city or town? What was happening there when the ancestor immigrated? Every genealogists wants to know why their ancestor immigrated, so make a list of all possibilities.
  3. Consider what an average day looked like for your relative? What did it take to put food on the table, shelter over their heads and clothes on their backs? What was their day like, how many hours did they work, and did they ever have a break? What language or cultural barriers might have made relationships with their communities challenging? What hardships did they face? Usually these kinds of questions will lead you to community, county, or ethnic group histories. Check the local libraries where your ancestors lived for resources.
  4. Your ancestor did something notable – good or bad. Check newspapers -my favorite! They are often very biased and incorrect, but that is very revealing as well. Find the court records. Hunt down the patent application. Find the records of their service in civil leadership of their town. Buy a copy of the book they wrote and read it. Contact the college or university to obtain a copy of their transcripts.
  5. Find a map from your ancestors’ time period and plot where they lived. They head to google earth or google maps and get a current photo.
  6. Find the appropriate local newspapers stories from the town where your family lived. What was happening outside of their household that might have been of concern to them? Was the railroad coming through? What were the political debates? Who were the major employers in the area?

Curiosity is a valuable skill in genealogy. More so, the ability to figure out how to get the answers to your questions. Develop these skills. Then learn how to assemble it all to share.

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My Favorites Site #2 – is a free family tree creation and research website. Many folks use it and it’s great. But FamilySearch has a hidden gem within its site — their Research Wiki.

Why do I love it? The website it self says it, “learn where to find record collections.”

“Whoa, slow down there Tex. Why are you excited about record collections,” you ask.

Their research wiki is a guidebook to finding the answer to your genealogical questions. Where was someone born? When did they marry? Did he serve in the military? On and on. Every question. Every state in the U.S. Every country around the world. Online. Libraries. Courthouses. Churches. Census. Probate. Land. Military. BMD. It’s an amazing amalgamation of information and it includes links to records outside of FamilySearch’s own holdings.

It’s generous. If their website doesn’t have it, the wiki may lead you to who does – another website, a courthouse, a local society.

The FamilySearch Research wiki is often at the top of my check lists. I use it daily to make sure I’m looking in all the right places.


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