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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Serendipity in Genealogy, Part II

In my previous article, Serendipity in Genealogy, Part I,  I gave the background information for the discovery of my mother-in-law's maternal family.

After discovering the Kline name in an excerpt of the Bill Holm book, "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth," I made the very short journey to the Minnesota Historical Society, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I admit it, I am lucky, the Minnesota Historical Society is less than 12 miles from my home. So I used the clues from the excerpt to find her death record and then, her obituary. Her obituary indicated she was survived by a sister in Robbinsdale, Anna Hughes, and then I knew I had found the family. I almost heard that brick wall fall. With the new information, I spent the rest of the afternoon, searching the state census records and church records and building the family tree forward.

The original excerpt had explained that as a young boy, Bill Holm accompanied his parents when they visited the town of Minneota on Saturday evenings. Sara Kline was always on the sidewalk near the spot they always parked their car.  There, before he was allowed to run off with friends, his parents instructed him to greet her by "...shaking her hand, greeting her courteously in Icelandic, and, worst of all, bending down to kiss her on the cheek." His mother had short conversations with her in Icelandic, also.

So my husband's maternal grandmother was Icelandic? Why didn't my husband know that? Why didn't my mother-in-law, Anna's daughter, know that? Anna Hughes, Sara Kline's sister, died in 1971 at the age of 88. My husband would have been almost 23 years old. Surely Anna must have spoken about her Icelandic heritage the same way my grandparents spoke of their Norwegian heritage.

But when I queried my mother-in-law on our Christmas visit her response indicated otherwise.

"Was your mother's family Icelandic?" I asked.

"Well, maybe a little," she replied, after some thought.

Hmmm, my research indicated that Anna Kline Hughes' parents and older siblings arrived from Iceland three years before she was born. For whatever reason, my mother-in-law never talked about her Icelandic heritage even after I explained that her mother was 100% Icelandic. She also couldn't remember if the women with whom her mother often visited were aunts, cousins or just friends.

Apparently her mother was raised by another family after her father died. The family that raised her, the Christiansen's, may have been related but I have not yet found that family link.

After buying Bill Holm's book, "The Heart Can be Filled Anywhere on Earth," and re-reading the entire chapter that mentioned Sara Kline, I felt I needed to write to him. He had written that Sara Kline had "no family to sit in the mourner's pew." I wanted him to know that she did have family, and now, 45 years later, to thank him for singing at her funeral.

However, I was a little intimidated to write the letter as I knew he was a college professor at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota which is not far from Minneota. I wrote and re-wrote that letter until I thought it was acceptable to send to someone who teaches writing at the college level. It was a painful experience - I almost felt like I was going to get a grade at the end, which I almost did.

Bill Holm replied with a postcard greeting and did acknowledge my feeble attempts at writing.

The postcard reads:

Dear Lynn, You deserve a longer reply to that magnificently written letter on Sara Kline. Darren G. is trying to dig up some more facts for you, but I am only stunned with admiration for your detective work. Come to Minneota in spring. You honor Sara with your prose!

Best, Bill

I wish that I could say I took him up on his offer and went to visit him in Minneota. I sincerely regret that I didn't although I intended to. Life got in the way and I thought I might have more time after retirement. Sadly, Bill Holm passed away in February of 2009.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Serendipity In Genealogy, Part I

There are entire books written about serendipitous discoveries made in genealogical research.  I'm not sure if "serendipity" is the proper term, perhaps it is the gentle prodding of our ancestors that push us in the right direction. Nevertheless, here is my story. First the background information:

In the early 1990's, I became a college student, somewhat late-in-life, as I was already married with three children. I attended an English class at the local community college and one of our assignments was to read the book, "Coming Home Crazy", written by a Minnesota author named Bill Holm. I had never heard of Bill Holm although he had written several books by then.

"Coming Home Crazy" was a series of essays about Bill Holm's experiences while teaching in China.The book was interesting to me, as my husband and I had visited China in the mid-1980's. Perhaps because of my own China experience, or perhaps because our assignment included journaling while reading, the book left an impression on me.

At this time, genealogy was also beginning to take hold on me. One of my daughter's 7th grade classroom assignment, in 1990, included documenting a family tree. That's when I discovered that my husband's mother knew very little about either side of her family. Or perhaps she just didn't want to share. But either way, there was no information about any of her grandparents except for the name of her paternal grandfather, Samuel Hughes.

What my mother-in-law did know was that her mother's name was Anna Kline, born in Minnesota in 1883, married in 1916 to her father, Harry Hughes.

I graduated in December of 1994 and was then able to use my "spare" time to work on genealogy. My mother-in-law's maternal family was a total brick wall. I could find no record of Anna Kline anywhere. Of course, the records weren't quite as easy to search as they are now. I knew that her mother grew up in the area of Minneota, Minnesota but was unable to find anything else.

Now for the serendipitous story.

Sometime late in November or early December in the year 2000, I was reading the Minneapolis Star Tribune Sunday paper. As is my habit, I started on the front page of the first section, and went page by page through each section. On the front page of the Entertainment section there was an excerpt of Bill Holm's latest book, "The Heart Can be Filled Anywhere on Earth."

I normally wouldn't read such a long article, but it attracted my attention because Bill Holm was the author and I remembered my college class with his book. In his new book, he wrote about his hometown, Minneota, Minnesota. At some point, the name "Sara Kline" jumped out at me.  I read the article again, this time more closely, scrutinizing the details about Sara and her story.

It was not pretty.

The fifth chapter of the book, entitled "Glad Poverty," told the story of Sara Kline, whom Bill Holm called the "bag lady of Minneota." He described her as "small, shriveled, hunched over... stringy, greasy hair... stale smell of unwashed damp rags, sweat, urine-soaked underwear, rotting food in rotted teeth, old cigarettes, the fetor that rises off a mattress that should have been thrown out decades ago.."

This was not exactly the family I was looking for. However, I couldn't ignore the fact that she lived in Minneota and her last name was Kline. So I thought about it for a while. And then I wrote down every fact in the article that I might be able to find in records.

Stay tuned for Serendipity in Genealogy, Part II.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

You Can Never Have Too Many Books!

Last fall I wrote about the treasures found at Another resource I use for books is Google Books.

Often, I use the two resources together. I tend to search for books by state and county: Brookings, South Dakota, for example. Then I look at the listings and read descriptions to find books that I am interested in. Other interesting searches can be done using terms like "norwegian immigration" or "icelandic immigrants."

If I find a book on that I want to buy, I check first to make sure it is not already available at Google Books.

There are some excellent resources available for free on Google Books. Many can be downloaded and saved locally for future reference. But once the books have been downloaded they can't be searched as easily. The books can still be searched online however.

In order to find free books, first perform a search. On the results page, choose "Search tools" from the menu across the top of the results page. From "Any books" drop down menu choose "Free Google ebooks."

The resulting list will show books that are generally available for download. There are many family history books, local history books, or books that have information about immigration and emigration.

Why are only some of the books free? According to Google Books, "If the book is out of copyright, or the publisher has given us permission, you'll be able to see a preview of the book, and in some cases the entire text. If it's in the public domain, you're free to download a PDF copy."

Where does Google Books get the books? There are two projects listed:

"The Library Project's aim is simple: make it easier for people to find relevant books – specifically, books they wouldn't find any other way such as those that are out of print – while carefully respecting authors' and publishers' copyrights. Our ultimate goal is to work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalog of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers."

"The Google Books Partner Program is a free marketing program that enables publishers and authors to promote their books online, through Google Books. By submitting a digital or physical copy of your book to be displayed online, you'll make it discoverable to Google users from around the world."

Note that information in italics is taken directly from Google's website describing Google Books and the two projects listed.

Getting "Unstuck"

Have you ever had that "don't know what to do next" feeling? I actually have research going on so many lines that sometimes it is hard to concentrate on just one family. Or sometimes I get stuck on a family and make no progress for a while.

When I want to become "unstuck" I use a piece of software that looks at my genealogy database and tells me what's missing. GenSmarts2 is described by their website as "... a utility that uses artificial intelligence to analyze your existing genealogy file and produce research recommendations." I call it magic.

After a little bit of setup, including identifying your genealogy software, adding subscription sites, etc. GenSmarts2 will look at your genealogy database and give you research suggestions. I just ran it against my database and it came up with several suggestions. Actually, it came up with 32,484 suggestions.

Now that is a bit overwhelming! However there are lots of ways to make it more manageable. One way is to ask GemSmarts2 just to show you only suggestions about a certain person or a certain research location.

I am currently out of town and wanted to bring some research ideas with me. So I asked for just those suggestions that I could find at the Minnesota State Archives Website. That whittled that very large number down to 375 suggestions. It seems like a reasonable number to take along on vacation. I printed out the suggestions, one line per suggestion, and brought the nine pages along with me. I could have saved the file electronically and reviewed it that way, but I like to have it beside me as I go through the list.

There are other printing options, too. You can print:
  • all of the ToDo's that you have highlighted.
  • only those marked "Plan to Search."
  • only those marked "Searched and Found."
  • all displayed."

You have choices on the detail as well:
  • To Do List - One line per To Do
  • Moderate - Multiple To Do's per page
  • Full - One Page Per To Do
  • Worksheet - Combination of Info + Input Form
  • Research Pack - Collated set of To Do's and People

I would strongly suggest that you review the documents before you print them. Anything with more than one line per To Do on a limited number of suggestions could get very lengthy very fast.

Another feature is the "Available Online" button. As you highlight a suggestion, if the suggestion points to an online resource, you can click the button and GenSmarts will not only bring you to the website but will also auto-fill the search form with the name for you. Now, that's helpful!

GenSmarts2 currently works with the following genealogy programs:

  • RootsMagic (including RootsMagic 5)
  • Family Tree Maker (including FTM 2012)
  • PAF 5
  • The Master Genealogist
  • Legacy
  • Ancestral Quest
  • Ancestry Family Tree
  • Brother's Keeper (Version 6)
  • Ultimate Family Tree
  • Family Trees Quick and Easy (contact us for info)
  • Heritage Family Tree Deluxe (contact us for info)
  • Gedcom

I have not come close to describing all of the features of the software so visit the GenSmarts2  website to get more information. The $29.95 USD pricing seems very reasonable for all of the help that it gives me. One piece of information that is not on their website: Even though GenSmarts2  is PC only software, it runs fine on my Mac with Parallels. I've been using it for several years without a problem.

Very often, as I am working on a list of suggestions, I find a piece of information that leads to a breakthrough and more research on that particular individual. GenSmarts2 never fails to get me restarted.