Tag Archives: genealogy

Come & Hear My Genealogical Quilt Story on Jan. 29

"Tracing a Stitch through Time" with Lisa Rickey, Jan. 29, at 1:25 (click to enlarge)

“Tracing a Stitch through Time” with Lisa Rickey, Jan. 29, at 1:25 (click to enlarge)

Do you have an heirloom or antique item and wish you knew more about its creator or owner?  If the item is signed and dated, or if you at least know the name of the person rumored to be associated with it, you may be able to find out more—and an archives can help you!

I will be sharing my experience of one such research adventure this coming Friday, January 29, at the Wright State University Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies’ 3rd Annual Quilt Show Celebrating Quilt Stories.

In my presentation “Ida Grady’s Sunburst Quilt: Tracing a Stitch through Time,” I will describe how I researched the creator of an heirloom quilt. Given just a few original clues at the beginning — a name and date on the quilt itself, along with a vague sense that the quilter may have been a relative — I used local history and genealogy research to discover how the mysterious Ida Grady was connected to her family.

I will talk about some of the different types of historical records that were helpful and how the information contained in each one was applied to solving different pieces of the puzzle.

The antique quilt that started it all – “Sunburst” (1934) by Ida Grady – will be on display throughout the quilt show, as well as on hand during the presentation.

The presentation takes place on Friday, January 29, from 1:25 to 2:20 p.m. in 156C Student Union, Wright State University. The event is free, and the public is welcome. Visitor parking is available just outside the Student Union. To view the full schedule of speakers and activities for the multi-day quilt show & for more information, please visit the quilt show’s event page.

I hope to see you there!

(This post was modified slightly from the original post – also written by me – published January 22, 2016, on the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives “Out of the Box” blog.)

This is a great story, unfortunately…

This is a great story.
Unfortunately, it’s my ancestor’s story.

I finally got around to watching last week’s episode of TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are? The program, sponsored (at least in part) by Ancestry.com, follows the journey of a celebrity (one per episode) in learning more about their family’s history.

Last week’s episode (August 23) was about actor Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the MiddleBreaking Bad, etc.), and a segment of it took place here in Dayton, Ohio, where one of Cranston’s ancestors was a resident at the Soldiers’ Home (now the Dayton VA Medical Center).

I was hoping to see some familiar faces in the Dayton segment, as I know that in addition to the folks at the Dayton VA, some of my friends (and fellow Dayton history preservers) at the Dayton Metro Library and the Montgomery County Archives & Records Center provided assistance for the episode. However, only one Dayton person made it on screen — Tessa Kalman of the Dayton VA – and I confess I do not know her.

Without giving away ALL the details of the episode — which I think you can theoretically watch online here — and which is not the reason I came here to write, anyway — I will say that there was a bit of a theme to what was revealed in Cranston’s ancestry: fathers who abandoned their families.

At the beginning of the episode, Cranston expressed that he hoped he would find something exciting, something that would make a good story, though he acknowledged that something that makes a good story probably wasn’t actually so good for the people it actually happened to.

My mind immediately went to the story of a particular great-grandmother, before I even knew what the rest of the episode would entail.

Cranston finds that his grandfather had a first wife and a daughter that he’d never heard of (the daughter died of TB as a teen); the grandfather left this family, enlisted in World War I a few years later, and later went on to have another family with Cranston’s grandmother. A more distant ancestor did something similar, abandoning a wife and son in Canada and eventually enlisting in the American Civil War.

At about that point in the episode, Cranston observed: “This is a great story; unfortunately, it’s my ancestor’s story.”

If I ever write a book about the story I’m thinking of (my sister Sara keeps telling me I should write books), I’ll have to remember to put that on the flyleaf or something (credited, of course)…

The story pertains to my great-grandmother Nunziata. She was born in Italy and later immigrated to Ohio.

Before Nunziata was married to my great-grandfather, she had a first husband named Silvio, who abandoned her. He left her pregnant with a daughter he would never even meet. He eventually went back to Italy himself and served in World War I.

Silvio may or may not have died fighting in the Alps. I’m not being cute; I’m really not sure. I have a clue that seems to indicate that is indeed how he met his end, but I’m not completely sure it was him. On the one hand, I kind of hope so, because “that’s what you get for abandoning your pregnant wife and leaving the country, jerkwad.” On the other hand, if he hadn’t done so, I probably never would have been born. So…there’s that.

Nunziata married and had 3 more children, one of them being my grandmother. She died at age 24 of tuberculosis, leaving those 4 small children (age 7 and under), including the daughter by her first husband. That daughter also later died of tuberculosis, at age 19.

my great-grandmother Nunziata

my great-grandmother Nunziata

That’s Nunziata in the image above, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I find it difficult to believe that as the face of a woman aged 24 years or younger (because Nunziata died at 24 so could not be older than that in any photograph)…she looks so much older. But I know that people of the past tended to look older, sooner, because life was harder then — especially if their lives were harder than average. And from what I know about it, she certainly had a tumultuous life.

There’s more to the story than what I’ve written here — well, isn’t there always? There’s always more to any historical story than we could ever know. But in this case, I mean, there’s actually more to this one that I do know but have elected not to share. I recently found out many more details about this woman with the short and dramatic life. But when I excitedly recounted these recently discovered gold nuggets of information to my father — it was “a great story,” after all — he did not seem to share my excitement. To be honest, I think he may have even been less than thrilled that I had uncovered them at all — 100-year-old details that even he didn’t know, yet I think he would have been content to have never known. Anyway, I doubt he would be too happy if I laid them all out here.

But getting back to Cranston’s story and that concise little sound bite: “This is a great story; unfortunately, it’s my ancestor’s story.”

I guess I was just glad to hear someone else say that — to recognize a really enthralling story for what it is, but yet, even though it’s got the makings of a great tragic novel…it’s not fiction, and more than that, it’s something that happened to not just a real person, but to someone in your family. And that in addition to being justifiably mesmerized by “the story,” you should probably try to remember to be at least a little bit sad about it, because for somebody (actually more than one somebody) that wasn’t just a story; that was their life.

Ida Grady’s Sunburst Quilt: Tracing a Stitch through Time

In January 2009, my Aunt Jeannie sent me an antique quilt that had belonged to my Grandma Coriell.

The quilt, entitled “Sunburst” per a label stitched in one corner of the quilt top, is a hand-pieced, hand-quilted “scrap” quilt, approximately 75″ x 77″ (roughly queen-sized).  (Scrap quilts usually involve lots of small pieces and use up “leftovers” from other projects, and usually have a lot more “randomness” and variety than non-scrap quilts.)

Sunburst quilt by Ida M. Grady, 1934

“Sunburst” quilt by Ida M. Grady, 1934 (click to enlarge)

Detail of hand-quilted pieces on the Ida Grady Sunburst quilt

Detail of hand-quilted pieces on the Ida Grady Sunburst quilt (click to enlarge)

Although my grandmother did make quilts, we knew that she had not made this one. We knew because the quilt was “signed” by someone else—a woman named Ida M. Grady. It was also dated 1934, which, talented as my grandmother was with all things sewing-related, was probably a little early for her to have made a queen-sized quilt, as Grandma was 8 years old in 1934.

Hand-stitched quilt label Sunburst, made 1934, Ida M. Grady

Hand-stitched quilt label: “Sunburst, made 1934, Ida M. Grady” (click to enlarge)

By way of explanation, Aunt Jeannie said: “I hope you can find a place for [this quilt] or pass it on—Grandma could tell you who Ida M. Grady is. I think a relation of your great-great-Aunt Louise…?”

Unfortunately, as often happens, I waited too long to ask Grandma about Ida M. Grady. Before I “got around to it” with wanting to figure out the mystery of this quilt, my Grandma died in June 2010. My Grandpa didn’t know who the woman was, and neither did my mother. I do have other older relatives I could ask, but I’m not close with them to the point of actually picking up the telephone to just ring them up and ask.

Plus, research (rather than people) is really more my thing anyway. So I decided to see whether I could figure out who Ida Grady was on my own using some of my favorite tools for genealogy and local history research.

So, I made a mental list of what I actually did know about the mysterious “Ida M. Grady”:

  • Ida was definitely alive in 1934, and she was also most almost certainly an adult at that time, because she made this rather large quilt.
  • Ida seems to have at least known, and possibly been related to, my grandmother’s family.
  • Since my grandmother’s family has all lived in Portsmouth, Ohio, since pretty much the dawn of time (OK just since the mid-19th century), it seemed pretty likely that Ida Grady also lived in Portsmouth. It was a good place to start, at least.

So I searched the 1930 U.S. federal census records on Ancestry for an Ida Grady in Scioto County, Ohio.

There was one. Exactly one.

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1410 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1930 census (click to enlarge)

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1410 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1930 census (click to enlarge)

Ida M. Grady, age 67, wife of Joseph T. Grady (age 76). Residence, 1410 Offnere Street. (That is on the east side of Offnere, roughly across from Melcher Funeral Home, in the block just south of Greenlawn Cemetery.)

1410 Offnere Street, Portsmouth - recent image from Google Street View (the white house with red shutters)

1410 Offnere Street, Portsmouth – recent image from Google Street View (the white house with red shutters)


At first, I thought there might be some connection to my grandparents with regard to the geographic location, as they had lived only 1 block away (literally one block east) at 1326 Park Avenue for over 20 years. But they didn’t moved to Park until 1963. (And like I said, Grandma was only 8 years old in 1934.) Might they have known Ida as a neighbor or gotten the quilt at an estate auction? I don’t particularly know my grandparents to have ever attended any such thing, but it was a possibility of something they might have done, especially if it was happening right around the corner.

Then again, Ida would have been pretty old in 1963 if she was 67 in 1930. So maybe not her. Maybe a descendant who inherited the house? Then again, my grandmother had 7 children in 1963, not a lot of extra money, and the ability to make her own scrap quilts. I can’t really see her buying a random scrap quilt at an estate sale.

Obviously, I kept looking.

I found Joseph and Ida Grady again on the 1910 census, living at 1416 Offnere. (I wonder if this was really a different house, or if there census-taker made a mistake or if there was some address renumbering. If doesn’t really matter.)

In addition to Joseph and Ida, the household also included their adult daughter Pearl Zeisler and grandson Howard Zeisler.

Joseph and Ida M. Grady family, 1416 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1910 census (click to enlarge)

Joseph and Ida M. Grady family, 1416 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1910 census (click to enlarge)

Wait… Pearl Zeisler. I know that name. Why do I know that name? I’ve heard it before… I’ve seen it somewhere.

On a picture. I’ve seen it on the caption of a picture. This picture:

Pearl Zeisler with Oscar's grandchildren, 1953 (photo # sc003_E3-0077, cropped)

Pearl Zeisler with Oscar’s grandchildren, 1953 (photo # sc003_E3-0077, cropped)

(Omigod, don’t you just love the look on her face?) The above photograph, from my Grandma Coriell’s collection (yes the same grandma who owned the quilt), is captioned as depicting Pearl Zeisler, along with several children from my grandmother’s extended family, in 1953. (I do have all the names — they’re on the photo caption — but in the interest of privacy, I won’t list them, though I will tell you that the part of the infant on the right was played by my mother.) According to my mother, this photograph was taken at the home of my grandmother’s father Oscar (apparently that chair is unmistakable). The children are (some of) Oscar’s grandchildren.

Finally! A link! I already knew that my grandmother’s family knew Pearl Zeisler—I have photographic evidence of it. And so now I have discovered that Pearl Zeisler’s mother was Ida Grady, the mystery-quilt-maker.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Then I found the Grady family on the 1900 census. They lived on Offnere Street, but 4 blocks further south, at 1015 Offnere. (Man, these folks really loved Offnere Street.) That would have been on the west side of Offnere, just south of U.S. 52-east, where the road dips down for the railroad underpass, and where that little strip mall has been all my life (and now includes a Family Dollar store, apparently).

There were Joseph and Ida and their daughter Pearl, as well as another daughter named Nina.

But wait, what’s this…? Check out who’s living next-door at 1017 Offnere:

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1015 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1900 census (click to enlarge)

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1015 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1900 census (click to enlarge)

If you’re actually related to me, you probably recognize the names and you might be doing a little dance in your chair like I did. If you’re not, you are probably slightly befuddled (were you expecting a dead president or something?), so I’ll explain.

William and Katie Emnett are my great-great-grandparents. Their son, little George O. (George Oscar– everyone called him Oscar), age 5, was my great-grandfather. His daughter Sally Coriell was my grandmother, the one who owned the Ida Grady quilt that started this whole quest. Oscar’s sister Louise (also listed above) was the “great-great-aunt Louise” that Aunt Jeannie thought was somehow connected to this quilt…

So Ida Grady and my Emnett ancestors were neighbors. I suppose that probably explains how they knew one another. I suppose they might have known one another first and chosen to become neighbors (that happens! ask my husband). Actually, Joseph was a boilermaker, and William was a stove molder. I admit I’m not really sure what either of these entails, but they sound like they could be part of the same or at least related industries. (They certainly sound more similar than, say, a stove molder and a doctor.) Anyway, I’m wandering off into real speculation here, so let’s return to the facts.

At that point, I was content to believe that I had found the connection. I had certainly found a connection. The Gradys and the Emnetts were neighbors, so they must have known each other. (I even had cute little visions of Nina and Pearl Grady baby-sitting my great-grandfather and his siblings.) And at some point Ida Grady gave one of the Emnetts a quilt, which was eventually passed down to my grandmother.

So you’d think, “case closed,” right? I actually kind of did think the case was closed, but I was still sufficiently interested in this Grady family as to keep searching for more information on Ida. For instance, who were her parents?

I found her death certificate on FamilySearch — she actually died in May 1935 at age 72, only about a year after completing the quilt. The death certificate listed her parents as Alexander Dunkin and Elizabeth…well, it looked like Dunderpre to me, but that didn’t make much sense.

Ida Grady's parents, as listed on her 1935 death certificate

Ida Grady’s parents, as listed on her 1935 death certificate (click to enlarge)

That just made me all the more determined to find other sources and find out what that funny-looking “D” word actually said.

Then I came across Ancestry member Karen Engleman’s online family tree, which included Alexander Duncan and his wife and their daughter Ida. (Without going into too much detail here about the parents, trust me, I did find some other things too, and this spelling of Ida’s mother’s name seems to check out.)

Ida’s mother was Elizabeth DeGear.


There’s that genealogist “spidey sense” tingling again. I know that name.

I clicked on Engleman’s tree listing Elizabeth DeGear’s parents. Peter DeGear and Catherine Hibsher.   OK, now I know I’ve seen these names before. So I clicked down the list of Elizabeth’s siblings until I found one that was further familiar— Mary.

Mary DeGear and her husband Nicholas Gable. I know those two. It has been a while since I was knee-deep in much genealogy, so although the couple was ringing a major bell in my head, I still couldn’t place them.

(I was away from my main computer, with my genealogy software, at the time, so I couldn’t just call up these people in the family tree software and get the link right away.)

Children. Did Engleman list any children for Nicholas and Mary Gable? Ooh! They did! Just one on the list, but it was the one I needed to snap my brain into gear enough to solve the puzzle: George W. Gable.

George Washington Gable. I remember this guy.

He died youngish. Like 40. I remember thinking it was kind of funny that his wife Frances Adeline Ingles married another George W. afterwards. George W. Bonzo. (I’d be willing to bet his middle name was probably also Washington, but I never did learn for sure.)

And this second marriage prompted what in hindsight is kind of a funny story, but probably wasn’t at the time. When my grandparents were first married, my great-grandfather Oscar said to them (as the story goes) something along the lines, “You know you two probably shouldn’t have gotten married, as you both have Bonzos in your family tree…” (Initial mental reaction: A little late to tell us now, pops, don’t you think?) As it turns out, although my grandfather was descended from a Bonzo, my grandmother is not—she was descended from this Frances Adeline Ingles and her first husband George Gable, not her second who was George Bonzo. George Bonzo was no relation to my grandmother. But his wife was.

So, getting back to the point at hand, let’s regroup. What have I told you in a roundabout way? If Ida Grady’s mother was Elizabeth DeGear, and my grandma Sally Coriell (who had Ida’s quilt) was descended from Elizabeth’s sister Mary DeGear…….then…..Ida Grady was in fact a distant cousin of my grandmother’s.

Oh, but it gets better.

Ida was related to my grandmother’s MOTHER Ollie. Frances Adeline (Ingles) Gable Bonzo was Ollie’s grandmother. Ida and Frances were first cousins.

But the earlier connection I found was to my grandmother’s FATHER Oscar, who lived next-door to Ida when he was a boy.

So there was a double connection between Ida Grady and my grandmother, the owner of Ida’s 1934 Sunburst quilt.

Here, this should help (when in doubt, draw it out):

The Ida Grady connection, handwritten diagram (click to enlarge)

The Ida Grady connection, handwritten diagram (click to enlarge)

(A teeny, tiny, romantic part of me has gone so far as to wonder—not even speculate, but just wonder—if Ida Grady could have even been the link that caused Oscar and Ollie to meet. Ida’s cousins bring little Ollie to visit and she happens to meet little Oscar who lives next-door. And in 1921, she married him. Stranger things have happened. Oh if only I had any proof! What a great story that would make. And it would certainly up the significance of Ida Grady and her quilt to me, if I could truthfully say, “Without this woman, 100+ of my relatives would never have been born, myself included…” But….pure dreamy speculation.)

I know this has been a long, convoluted entry. It was a long, convoluted journey, and you didn’t even have to hear the things that were only in my head. (OK, who am I kidding? You have totally heard — er, read — most of them…)

But I want to wrap things up with a brief but coherent biography of Ida M. Grady, the woman who made the antique quilt that “started it all”—-as coherent a biography as I was able to piece together (no pun intended) from various sources — which I should really list here, but in the interest of space…—in general, the sources were local government records on Ancestry and FamilySearch, Ancestry user Karen Engleman’s family tree, Ida’s obituary from the Portsmouth Daily Times (thanks for emailing it to me, Portsmouth Public Library!), and some data from Find-A-Grave. With a few edits, this comes from the information sheet I wrote up and submitted with Ida’s quilt for the Wright State University Women’s Center quilt show last week:

Ida May Duncan was born June 11, 1862, in Portsmouth, Ohio. Her father Alexander Duncan, a Scottish immigrant, died of tuberculosis in 1872, leaving Ida’s mother Elizabeth with a teenage son and 3 little girls. In 1881, Ida married Joseph T. Grady, a boilermaker. Ida does not seem to have worked outside the home; her occupation is always listed as housewife. She was a member of First Presbyterian Church, where she was active in the Missionary Society and taught Sunday School.

The Gradys had two daughters, Nina (b. 1883) and Pearl (1886-1974). Nina married Leonard J. Gehrling and lived in Ironton. Pearl married Fred J. Zeisler and seems to have lived in Portsmouth.

In January 1935, Ida fell on the steps at her home at 1410 Offnere and fractured her left leg. Ida died May 7, 1935, at Portsmouth General Hospital, from (according to her obituary) “complications following a broken hip and stroke of paralysis.” She was 72 years old and seems to have lived her entire life in Portsmouth, Ohio. She is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, just up the street from her home.

Ida M. Grady completed this quilt in 1934, when she was approximately 71 or 72 years old, and it was probably one of her last accomplishments before she died in 1935. If she had not signed her name to the corner, I would never have stood a chance of learning anything about the quilt’s maker, who she was, or how she knew my family.

Ida Grady's Sunburst quilt on display at the WSU Women's Center Quilt Show, Jan. 30, 2015

Ida Grady’s Sunburst quilt on display at the WSU Women’s Center Quilt Show, Jan. 30, 2015 (click to enlarge)

Morals of the story?

  • Sign your art! If you make a quilt (or anything else), find an unobtrusive and non-destructive way to permanently add your name and the year
  • Document quilts (or any art) you make or that you have. (I’m talking about writing down more info about the item than you reasonably could — or should — attempt to record physically on the item itself. More details! Provenance!) Do this while there are still people around who know the info, whether that’s you or a relative. (The International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Nebraska has some handouts on this. I’ve actually started my own “Quilt & Craft Documentation Archive” for quilts and other projects I’ve made. But that’s another blog post.)
  • You can learn a lot even when you have what seems like just a little bit of information. Go forth and research!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing this story unfold (again, no pun intended- ack, I’m terrible!) as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Finding Antonio

Or, The One Where I Finally Learn my Great-Great-Grandfather Antonio’s Death Date and Parents’ Names. Finally. Finally! And did I mention finnnnnaaaaally?

In the previous post, I discussed a question my mother posited to me about Italian cemeteries. Well, I told you that story so I could tell you this story.

My great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli, the subject of the cemetery question above. Antonio’s son Quinto (my great-grandfather) permanently settled in the United States, as did a couple of his Antonio’s other sons (Ottavio and Giovanni), but several other children, as well as Antonio and his wife Benedetta, remained in Italy.

I have no evidence that Antonio ever came to America, even though it was fairly common for Italian men to travel to America—and other countries—to find work for a while, then return home, rather than to stay. (If you are interested in that, I highly recommend reading Donna Gabaccia’s Italy’s Many Diasporas.) But nevertheless, my point is, I did not then have the benefit of any American records I could use to learn about him—an immigration record or a death record, for instance. All I had was his name (which I believe I got from one of his sons’ American death certificates) and an extremely approximate time frame for his death, which I had listed in my notes as “before 1925.” This was based on a conversation with my grandfather Renato at some point. When I asked if he knew when his grandfather had died, he said he didn’t, and he didn’t even remember him. He did remember his widowed grandmother Benedetta, though, which seemed to indicate then that they had lived nearby but that Grandpa was probably too young (or perhaps not born yet) to remember his grandfather at all. So I rather arbitrarily guessed that the man had died “probably” sometime prior to 1925, when my own Grandpa (who didn’t remember Antonio) would have been about 12.

The conversation with Mom about the cemeteries and remembering how I had hoped (and failed) to find my great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli’s death date at the cemetery in Italy reminded me that, hey, it’s been 10 years since then, and it has been a while since I actually tried to find out anything about him…say, online. And as we all know, more and more “stuff” — genealogical resources, digitized archives and indices, and quite frankly anything else you could imagine — is being added to the vast ocean of the Internet, every day. So it was certainly worth trying again.

So I took to Google.

(What else? I know that information professionals — of which I am one, as an archivist/librarian — like to knock Google, but I say, it’s a completely valid first step to any kind of research. It never hurts to see what comes up.)

Searching for Antonio Pasquinelli by name did not yield anything useful (i.e., nothing that hadn’t been posted by me in the first place).

I had better luck in searching for general archival/genealogical resources of the place where the Pasquinelli family had lived in Italy: Pescia, a little town that is now in the province of Pistoia (though it was originally part of Lucca before the province of Pistoia was carved out in 1927).

A shockingly small amount of Googling yielded the following treasure:

Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937, from FamilySearch.org

Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937, from FamilySearch.org (click to visit)

Oh yes, that’s right. I didn’t know exactly what “Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937” meant, exactly, but I certainly understood the description well enough as to be practically enraptured before I even clicked anywhere. The description of this digital collection from FamilySearch.org (free online genealogical records- if you’ve never gone there, stop reading immediately and go there now!) is as follows:

Civil registration (stato civile) of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia). Includes ten-year indexes (indici decennali); residency records (cittadinanze); supplemental records (allegati); and marriage banns (pubblicazioni). Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.

Translation: JACKPOT.

Clicking on “Browse through 834,726 images” (!!!!) yields the following page, which lists all the comuni/frazioni (cities/towns) in Pistoia. You then click on a comune to see what records are available to browse for that particular town. I of course chose Pescia, which is where my grandfather had always told us his family was from — and which, I will save you the suspense, definitely turned out to be true (oh God, was it ever true– I never saw the word “Pasquinelli” so much in my life).

List of comuni (towns) in the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia) records on FamilySearch.org

List of comuni (towns) in the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia) records on FamilySearch.org (click to go to this page)

There are lots of different sets of records available for Pescia, including mostly “allegati” for marriages, deaths, and births. These “attachments” or “supplemental records” seemed to be very random; I couldn’t figure them out…so I didn’t look through many of those.

But, ah, Morti, 1914-1929… That I understood. Deaths. Plain old death records. Atti di morti, actually, which technically translates to “death acts,” but that is the info-filled record of death that I was looking for. (According to my Italian genealogy books, which I acquired a couple of weeks later, there are different kinds of death records, but these “atti” are the meatiest kind, the kind I wanted.)

When I clicked on the records, I was presented with 2000+ images to browse through.

One of the first few images was this:

Comune di Pescia, Atti di Morte, 1914-1929, LDS microfilm reel #1 info page

Comune di Pescia, Atti di Morte, 1914-1929, LDS microfilm reel #1 info page

This is the info frame for the microfilm reel from which this collection was digitized. As an archivist, I feel the need to draw attention to it. These original records, some of which are now 100 years old, were only just microfilmed in 2005, according to this info sheet. Date filmed: 12 OCT 2005. They were only just microfilmed a year after my trip to Italy in 2004. And sometime after that (I didn’t find this info online), probably fairly recently, the microfilm was digitized and placed online by FamilySearch. WOW. That is some serious preservation effort taking place just in the past 10 years. I am assuming (perhaps wrongly–yes, perhaps wrongly, I don’t know) that 2005 was the first time these records were ever microfilmed…if there had been a copy already, wouldn’t LDS probably have just tried to acquire that? Or maybe the copy was no good. I don’t know. But…wow. I’m so pleased that, for whatever reason, these records, which contain quite a bit of my family’s history, were slated for high-quality microfilming and digitization.

OK, so after I marveled over that, it was on to the browsing. Yes, browsing. As in, not searchable with keywords, because they apparently have not yet been indexed by FamilySearch volunteers. But still searchable like sitting down at a table in the archives for hours and flipping through a book with no index. Except instead of having to spend my Italian vacation doing this in a courthouse, I was able to spend my nights and weekends doing this in my office, in my pajamas, with a Gilmore Girls rerun on in the background.

Now, I say there was no index, which is true and also not true. The record collection consisting of 2000+ images actually contained several volumes of original ledger books (arranged chronologically by year, from 1914 to 1929), with title pages such as this one:

Atti di Morte, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org

Atti di Morte, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org

Each year did have an alphabetical index, with a title page like this:

Annual Index of Death Acts, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org.

Annual Index of Death Acts, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org.

And entry pages like this:

Index page from 1915 Death Acts, Pescia, from FamilySearch.org.

Index page from 1915 Death Acts, Pescia, from FamilySearch.org. The index listings include last name and first name of the deceased, the father’s name underneath, and the citation where the record can be found.

However, there was no good way to find the beginning and end of a particular year’s worth of records or to find that year’s index book.

So I browsed.  And it was okay anyway, because in doing that, I found relatives I didn’t even know I had, often mentioned as parents or witnesses (e.g., things that I would have never seen because those things were not listed in the original paper index).

If there had been an easy way to find the index page shown above, I might have had a much easier time of things:

Antonio Pasquinelli index entry, from FamilySearch.org

Antonio Pasquinelli index entry, from FamilySearch.org

Actually, this is probably a good example of one time when viewing the original records would have been much simpler—-ah, book form. Well, simpler, if not for the whole international airplane ride and language barrier thing. (My reading knowledge of Italian is decent; my speaking is not so good…)

I actually spent hours browsing the Atti di Morte collection, as well as other collections from the Tribunale di Pistoia. However, I was actually rewarded rather quickly with finding the ancestor I sought.

It turned out that Antonio Pasquinelli had died in Pescia in 1915 (so, very early on in the 2000+ pages of images of deaths in Pescia from 1914-1929).

Antonio appeared on microfilm frame 168:

Atti di Morte, Pescia, Italy, 1915, showing death record for Antonio Pasquinelli, from FamilySearch.org.

Atti di Morte, Pescia, Italy, 1915, showing death record for Antonio Pasquinelli, from FamilySearch.org.


Here’s a close up of the entire record:

Death Act of Antonio Pasquinelli, 1915, from FamilySearch.org

Death Act of Antonio Pasquinelli, 1915, from FamilySearch.org (click on the image to view a larger version)

I knew I had the right person because I recognized the name of his wife mentioned in the record: Chiostri Benedetta.

And then I set to work with my Italian dictionary, figuring out what exactly this thing said. And here’s what I came up with, first in Italian and then in English:

Atti di Morte – Pescia, Lucca, Italy – 1915

# 200

Pasquinelli, Antonio

L’anno millenovecentoquindici addi’ quindici di Novembre a ore undici e minute quindici nella Casa Comunale. Avanti di me Franco Fantozzi Segretario delegato dal Sindaco con atto due Agosto millenovecentoundici, approvato.

Ufficiale dello Stato Civile del Comune di Pescia, sono comparsi Pasquinelli Leopoldo di anni settanta, colono domiciliato in Pescia e Lucaccini Beldassare di anni settantatre calzolaro [calzolaio], domiciliato in Pescia, i quali mi hanno dichiarato che a ore quattordici e minuti ___ di ieri, nella casa posta in Via di Campo al numero ___, e’ morto Pasquinelli Antonio di anni sessantatre, colono, residente Pescia, nato in Pescia, da fu Beniamino domiciliato in ___, e dalla fu Molendi Dosamira, domiciliata in ___, marito di Chiostri Benedetta.

A quest’atto sono stati presenti quali testimoni Lunardini Silvio di anni ventiquattro, colono, e [Quastapaglio?] Ferruccio di anni tretuno, colono, ambi residenti in questo Comune. Letto il presente atto a tutti gl’intervenuti, lo hanno essi meco firmato eccetto il dichiarante Pasquinelli illiterato.

[Lucaccini Baldessare], Silvio Lunardini, Ferruccio [Questagia?], Franco Fantozzi

And now, one more time, with gusto— I mean, in English:

Death Records  – Pescia, Lucca (now Pistoia), Italy – 1915

# 200

Pasquinelli, Antonio

The year 1915 the 15 of November at the hour 11 and minute 15 in the Town Hall,

Before me, Franco Fantozzi, Secretary delegated by the Mayor with action the second of August 1911, approved.

As official of the Civil State of the Comune of Pescia, (they) appeared (before me) Leopoldo Pasquinelli (age 70), a sharecropper residing in Pescia, and Beldassare Lucaccini (age 73), a shoemaker living in Pescia, (and it was) declared to me which things, that at the hour 4 and minute ___ of yesterday [14 November 1915], in the house [addressed at] number ___ Via di Campo, has died Antonio Pasquinelli (age 63), sharecropper, residing in Pescia, born in Pescia, to the late Beniamino [Pasquinelli] residing in ___ [deceased], and to the late Dosamira Molendi residing in ___ [deceased], [and] husband of Benedetta Chiostri.

In this act were present as witnesses Silvio Lunardini (age 24), sharecropper, and Ferruccio [Quastapaglio?] (age 31), sharecropper, both residents in this Comune. The present document having been read by all attendants, they have signed it except Pasquinelli, declaring (himself) illiterate.

[Lucaccini Baldessare], Silvio Lunardini, Ferruccio [Questagia?], Franco Fantozzi

From this document I learned several things I did not know before about my ancestor, including:

  • His death date: 14 Nov 1915
  • His death place: definitely Pescia- and not only that but the very road of the house in which he died, Via di Campo! – a road that still exists, by the way, I checked!
  • His approximate birth year (about 1852) and birth place (Pescia)
  • His occupation: sharecropper
  • His parents’ names: Beniamino Pasquinelli (which by the way is what he named his oldest son – an Italian tradition I have learned) and Dosamira Molendi (another beautiful Italian name I’ve never heard before!)

I also learned some interesting things about Italian records in the course of browsing through these records in search of this record in particular:

  • If it says “del fu” or anything with “fu” in it, it means the person being referred to is deceased (e.g., “da fu Beniamino Pasquinelli” above- because Antonio’s father was already deceased at the time); based on what I know about Latin and Italian, this comes from a past tense form of the verb “to be” and is sort of like saying, “well, he was Beniamino Pasquinelli, but he’s not anymore, he’s dead, he’s ex, he’s past, he was.” Interesting.
  • Even married women are listed under their maiden name on these death acts. I noticed it in browsing. Then when I got my Italian genealogy books I read that this was common, that women went by their maiden names on official documents, even after they were married. There’s something kind of awesome about that. And not just for genealogy, but it’s damn helpful for that as well.
  • There’s an elaborate reporting/witnessing system for recording a death. Two people reported that the person died, and two additional people acted as witnesses of this report at the city hall. And all four of them sign the death act. It was my sister Gina (the nurse) who pointed out that maybe this was because the death wasn’t being certified by a physician like death certificates are today—so they wanted to be absolutely sure this person was in fact dead, so…lots of witnesses. Again, interesting.
  • They spell out the numbers. On the pre-printed form, as well as in the handwritten part. This is awesome for the same reason that you have to write out in words the dollar amounts on your personal checks—so there’s less chance for confusion about what number you mean. It sure makes it easier on me, especially with some of these clerks’ handwriting—much easier to decipher a word than to be sure of what numeral I’m seeing.

So that’s how I finally—-FINALLY—-learned something more than a name about my great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli.

I know I used the word “finally” a lot at the beginning of this. I never imagined that I might be having this thought on your (my reader’s) behalf by the time I got to the end: When is she finally going to get to the point and be done with it already?  I do realize that this got extremely long. I apologize for that. I noticed it happening, but I wasn’t sure where would be a good place to cut it off and split it in two. So…it’s one super-long post. Hopefully you found it interesting.

The Italian Cemetery Question

A couple of months ago, my mother asked me a question that reignited a search into my Italian ancestry that has yielded some exciting results. I’ll share the exciting results in another post, but first I want to lay out her question (i.e. the context for the Internet search that brought me to the treasures I found later) as well as the answer I located.

So one day in early July, Mom called to ask me a genealogy question. She said she was sitting there chatting with two of my Dad’s sisters (aunts on my Italian side of the family), and they had gotten onto the subject of genealogy and were wondering about the father of my great-grandfather Quinto. The ancestor in question is named Antonio Pasquinelli. Mom said she seemed to recall that when I had visited relatives in Italy in 2004 (ten years ago – wow), I asked them to take me to the cemetery but he wasn’t there anymore and she couldn’t remember the rest of the story, so she was calling to ask.

Ah yes. That was quite the let-down.

Having been engaged in genealogical research in the United States for almost 10 years already at the time of that trip, I had always found cemeteries to be a veritable gold mine of information. Families are often buried together, as you probably know, and so if you find one, you’ll likely find others, with names and dates to go along with them (and if you’re really lucky, maybe some relationship explanations like “son” or “mother” right on the stone).

My great-grandfather Quinto died and was buried in Ohio, but I had my sights set on his parents, Antonio and Benedetta, neither of whom (as far as I know) ever even visited America. And seeing as I didn’t have the slightest clue how to request Italian records (or what to request or where- although come to think of it, that might have been a good or even better thing to ask the relatives while I was there), much less that comparatively very little was online in those days (especially international records), visiting the cemetery seemed like a sound strategy to potentially find a lot of information quickly and easily.

So at my request, our relatives took us to the cemetery where our other relatives were buried. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t even know exactly which cemetery they took us to (why did I not write that down?! for shame, genealogist!), but it wasn’t far so it must have been within the province of Pistoia (where we were & where my ancestors lived).

And when we got there, they showed us the graves of the available relatives, one of whom was their mother/grandmother Parigina (or “Genni” for short), who was my great-grandfather Quinto’s baby sister:

Renato and Genni Sali cemetery marker, somewhere in Pistoia, 2004

Renato and Genni Sali cemetery marker, somewhere in Pistoia, 2004

I have a few other photographs of graves that they showed us or names that I recognized. I don’t really know who most of these people are though. And I unfortunately I don’t seem to have a wide shot of the entire cemetery. (I either didn’t take one, or it was a casualty of the camera difficulties we had on that trip. We still had only film cameras with us at the time, so we had no way of knowing that half the shots weren’t coming out…but that’s another story.)

You can get a little bit of a sense of the way the cemetery looked from these pictures:

Irene Sali grave

Irene Sali grave

Palmira Pasquinelli grave

Palmira Pasquinelli grave

It’s a far cry from the look of most of the cemeteries (most of which are in Ohio) that I have visited:

Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2011 (Photo by the author)

Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2011 (Photo by the author)

Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio, 2013 (photo by the author)

Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio, 2013 (photo by the author)

St. John's Cemetery, Wheelersburg, Ohio, 2011 (photo by the author)

St. John’s Cemetery, Wheelersburg, Ohio, 2011 (photo by the author)

Carroll Cemetery, Olive Hill, Kentucky, 2004 (photo by the author)

Carroll Cemetery, Olive Hill, Kentucky, 2004 (photo by the author)

Ah, sweet, glorious Midwestern space.

So having seen how crowded that Italian cemetery was and knowing, well, anything at all about Europe and its population density, I probably should not have been so surprised (which would have lessened the disappointment, though that itself still seems valid) at what happened next.

I politely checked out the graves that they showed me (above), and then I asked about Antonio and Benedetta. Where were Parigina’s parents? I asked.

They responded that they’re not here…anymore.

Say again? Wait. So they were here…but they’re not anymore?

Looking back now, I’m not even 100% sure that we were all on the same page as to whether this particular couple I was looking for ever was buried in that particular cemetery, but however the conversation went, they understood who I was asking about and what I was asking to see — but the fact remained the same: We can’t take you to see where they’re buried, because they’re not buried there anymore.

I think then the gist was conveyed to me that you don’t keep a burial plot indefinitely in Italy. You basically rent it.

That much I got from my relatives in 2004. But my mother’s question to me two months ago was: Well, OK, so after your lease is up on your final resting place, then what happens? I told her I didn’t know. I guessed it might involve cremation of whatever was left, but I really didn’t know…

I have since acquired a couple of guide books on Italian genealogy: Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical & Other Records in Family History Research (by Trafford Cole, 1995) and Finding Your Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans, 2nd. ed. (by John Colletta, 2009). These books have been very helpful and informative.

Cole’s explanation (from pp. 115-116) is better than anything I could hope to paraphrase (and describes with pretty much eerie accuracy exactly my experience), so I’ll just give to you straight:

When going to Italy, many Americans mistakenly assume that they will find cemeteries in which their ancestors are buried; they hope to locate their ancestors’ gravestones with genealogical information engraved. In the United States and most of North America, cemeteries contain graves and gravestones that sometimes date back hundreds of years and have genealogical information for the people buried there. Unfortunately the same is not true in Italy. In most large towns and cities, a burial plot can be rented and a gravestone placed for ten, twenty, or thirty years. After this period of time the remains are exhumed and, if the family desires, placed in an urn and deposited more permanently in the wall of the cemetery. Otherwise, the remains are placed in a communal burial spot within the cemetery. In any case, the gravestone is removed and the burial plot is used for a new grave. Therefore, in most cities it is difficult to find a gravestone older than thirty years. This practice is due to the scarcity of land in Italy and the need to dedicate existing land to the living rather than to the dead.

In smaller villages there may be less demand for space and the grave may remain longer than thirty years, but rarely will you find graves that precede World War I… The exceptions are the noble families, whose members were often buried in family vaults in the floor or basement of the church, their names engraved in the marble flooring. Some families had private burial plots on their property. It is rarely possible to find the gravestone of an ancestor, and cemeteries are seldom helpful genealogical sources…

So, there you go. That’s the answer to the Italian cemetery question.

The book goes on to say that the records that will tell me where my ancestor Antonio was buried are likely to be found in parish records. But I will probably never know exactly the spot of ground in which he was interred, because I doubt the record will be that detailed, and…clearly…he won’t still be there.

Meanwhile, on a plot in St. Mary’s section (northeastern corner) of Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio, Antonio’s son Quinto rests soundly next to his wife Pia, in a piece of ground he has occupied for over 62 years (more than double the longest usual lease of a cemetery plot in his homeland):

Pia and Quinto Pasquinelli, Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2012 (photo by the author)

Pia and Quinto Pasquinelli, Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2012 (photo by the author)

I’m sure that’s not particularly one of the reasons he came to America to stay, but it’s one of the things he got, just the same…

Now, I actually told you that story to tell you a different story—an exciting tale of atti di morti!—but that one will have to wait until next time.

Sure it’s genealogy; it’s just not mine!

I don’t know what it’s been about the past few weeks, but I’ve been somewhat inundated with emails stemming from this blog recently. Now, when I say “inundated,” okay, it’s still only been about one a week or so. (I think there have been 4 or 5 separate reach-out emails in the past month.) But that still seems like “a lot” when sometimes it’s weeks or months in between receiving those kind of communications.

It was a variety this time, too:

  • One was thanking me for the Howard Forrer story. (You’re so welcome; thank you for enjoying it!)
  • One was: Can I use your  Bessie Tomlin article in this non-commercial digital history project I’m doing? (Yes you can, thanks for asking first, & your project sounds awesome!)
  • Two were family history related: Do you know anything about my rather noteworthy Dayton relative so-and-so? (No, actually, I don’t, but here are some suggestions of where else to look.)

I love these. You have no idea.

Not just because they make me feel like a rock star for (apparently) writing an interesting story or a well-researched history or bio sketch. But because it’s proof positive that there’s somebody else out there who cares about these people, places, and events.

Sure, hypothetically, I know that such people probably exist out there somewhere. And sure, I see the search terms on my blog statistics page that tell me people are looking for these things (and finding me). But when you sit down to actually take the time and write me an email — even if it seems half selfish because you’re really writing to ask me something — it makes  my day. And I’m happy to help you if I can.

But getting back to the title of this post. Over the past couple of years with the blog, based on the emails and comments I receive, usually with reference to the people I write about, I often have people asking me if these are my relatives. I guess it’s because they can tell that I’ve taken much care to write these lovingly detailed biographical sketches of them. After all, why would anyone do that if it wasn’t their own family?

Well, the short answer is that I did all that research in order to write the the biographical sketch portion of archival manuscript finding aids, and my boss gave me permission to re-post them here, my intention being additional discoverability for the collections. To write these biographical sketches, I used the collections themselves (duh, what better than a primary source right there in my hands?!) as well as genealogy research techniques to fill in the “Wait, who’s Aunt Sarah?”-type gaps. (You can read the longer versions of essentially this same explanation in my posts from May 21, 2012, and Sept. 2, 2011.)

But anyway—again—why would anyone go to such lengths to write these detailed, foot-noted, multi-page biographical sketches? After all–you caught me, fellow archivists–I admit they are probably longer and much more detailed than what was strictly necessary to fulfill my obligation of providing some biographical/historical context for the researcher via the finding aid.

But I can’t help it. I love these people. These wonderful, colorful, real people, who lived in the past, whose papers, whose stories, I’m holding in my hands (unless it’s photos- then in my gloved hands). They suck me in. I want to know them. I want to “get” them. Who are they? How do they fit together- with this “stuff”? with the other people they talk about? with the community where they live? Er, I mean, lived.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of genealogy anyway. My grandma got me started on it, and I’ve been interested in it — oh dear God, I just did the math at this very moment — over half my life. But unfortunately, I couldn’t write such detailed biographical sketches about most of my own ancestors (at least, ones from the same time period as the Bio Sketches I’ve written here), even if I wanted to — and believe me, if I could, I would.

But I just don’t know their stories. And I don’t have the diaries and letters and other documents needed to “fill in the blanks” in between the official records (birth/death records, census, city directory, etc.). The manuscripts I would need just don’t exist. Or, if they do, I haven’t found the relative that’s stowed them away yet.

So, if you’re one of my relatives and you’re holding out on me, now would be a good time to speak up, please. I swear I won’t try to guilt you into giving me the docs; I just want a look. (And probably some photocopies.)

And while we’re at it, same goes for the owner of Sarah (Howard) Forrer‘s diary. It’s mentioned in other sources, but it’s currently “lost to history.” If anyone has it, I’d love to see it.

And there I go again, getting wound up about the history of people who aren’t even my relatives. Which seems to baffle the genealogists who email me, thinking they must have found a distant cousin in this girl who has made such an effort to document the life of their ancestor (or great-uncle or whoever).

Nope. Just doin’ it for the love of history, folks. And for the love of these super-cool people whose “stuff” I’ve been charged with arranging, describing, and preserving.

But don’t worry. I don’t mind if you think I’m a distant cousin. And I promise not to laugh or anything when I have to tell you I’m not. Keep those emails coming. I’m always thrilled to “meet” someone, anyone—genealogist, historian, whoever—who still cares about these long-dead people that I’ve cared about. And if I can help you, I will, and I’m happy to.

99 Years of Dayton Photographers

How does anyone ever have an original idea anymore? Obviously, some people manage to do so, because new things still keep coming along. And yet, it seems like most of the time, whenever I think, “There really oughtta be X,” there already is X, and I just hadn’t found it yet.

A recent example of this phenomenon occurred to me recently, with regard to an historical listing of Dayton photographers.

For the past few months, I have been processing the Thresher-McCann manuscript collection. In addition to loose papers and scrapbooks, the collection includes 260 (yes, exactly 260 – I just finished numbering them yesterday) photographs, the majority of which are unidentified. From the very few identified ones, I have been able to “tentatively” identify some of the people in others. (I have become pretty adept at recognizing Mary and Laura Thresher, but that’s about it. I don’t know the rest of the people from Adam. Well, okay, unless it’s woman; then I don’t know her from Eve.)

However, many of the photographs have the photographer’s name, city, and sometimes street address printed on them somewhere.

Sometimes on the front:

Appleton and Hollinger (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0045)

Appleton and Hollinger (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0045)


Grossman and Owings (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0047)

Grossman and Owings (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0047)


Bowersox (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0046)

Bowersox (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0046)

Sometimes on the back:

A. Yount (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0176)

A. Yount (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0176)


Roger's Portraits (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0048)

Roger’s Portraits (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0048)


M. Wolfe (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0049)

M. Wolfe (Dayton, Ohio) (ms036_0049)

And sometimes, the photorapher’s name is not even on the portrait, per se, but is written on one of those horribly acidic, construction-paper-feeling folders that old photographs are often stored in. (So if the photo came in a yucky folder or envelope, check for — and record — any useful info before casting that awful thing aside!)

I’ve actually elected to organize the unidentified photographs according to state, city, and photographer’s name, because it seemed like the most logical way to hopefully get photographs that originally went together, to remain together, not knowing who any of the people are.

As archivists know, one of the tasks in describing materials is to (hopefully) identify the date(s) of the materials, either from a given date (woohoo! I love when things are already dated!) or to make an educated guess if possible (which you would either put in brackets and/or add some relative words — e.g., circa, about, approximately, before, after, etc.).

So, putting those last two paragraphs together, you get the thought that kept going through my mind : Man, it would be awesome if I had an index to Dayton photographers, where I could look up the photographer’s name alphabetically and get the listings (hopefully with the different addresses of their various studios over the years), along with the dates when they operated at each location —- which could then be used to establish an approximate time frame for the photograph(s) in question.

Once I finished organizing the photographs, I finally got around to checking the library catalog to see whether we already owned such a book. Failing that, I was going to ask around to my co-workers and Dayton archives colleagues, to find out whether such a thing existed (and maybe Dayton library just didn’t have it for some reason). And failing THAT, I was prepared to roll up my sleeves, cozy up with the Dayton city directories, and produce the thing myself.

Well, lo and behold — the thing does already exist. Of course. Ha!  I’m not sorry that someone has already done all that work for me; it’s just another one of those things — it figures that this awesome idea was already had by someone — apparently Richard D. Fullerton…before I was even born. Ha!

The index I am referring to is 99 Years of Dayton Photographers (1982) by Richard D. Fullerton.

We have several copies of the book at the Dayton Metro Library — unfortunately for you who may wish to borrow it, they are all non-circulating, so you’ll have to use it in the library (all copies live at Main) [but some other local libraries have it too] — so I retrieved one and set about trying to narrow down a time frame for some of the undated Dayton photographs (such as those above).

The book has a helpful introduction. Fullerton lists the sources that he used (including city directories, census records, photographs themselves, and others), and he also cites those sources throughout the book, to tell where he got a particular piece of information about a name, date, or location.

Fullerton also gives information in the introduction about the approximate years of use for different kinds of photographs, also identifying the photo process’s hey day, which can help with dating photographs as well.

Having archival training and a copy of Ritzenthaler & Vogt-O’Connor’s photo preservation book, aka my photo archives Bible, I already had a pretty good idea of those approximate time periods. But, it was a great idea to include them, since some photographers worked for many years in Dayton (*cough*Bowersox*cough*), and so simply having the dates of the shop didn’t narrow it down much.

Between knowing which types of photographs were popular when, and having access to Fullerton’s book, I was able to established somewhat more useful dates — okay, anything is more useful than “Undated” — for the Dayton imprint photographs. Now, unfortunately, most of the unidentified photos in the collection weren’t actually made in Dayton, so Fullerton’s book can’t help me with those.

I don’t suppose anyone knows of a book like this for Cincinnati? 🙂

In any event, I am pleased that I found the Fullerton book. It definitely saved me a lot of work. (Now, don’t get me wrong, a bunch of completely unidentified photographs don’t usually warrant searching all those city directories just to get a slightly-more-useful-than-“undated” date that I can stick in a finding aid. I mean all the work that I would have done creating an index of long-lasting usefulness — like Fullerton did!)

One more thing : Even having those narrower dates isn’t necessarily all that helpful to me, someone who doesn’t know the names or the faces of the unidentified people. I think it would be a lot more useful to genealogists — if you have a photo, and you know who it is, but you’re wondering, “How old is great-great-grandma in this picture?” Or, “Could that be Great-Uncle James? Was he even still alive then?” Or….you get the idea. But hey, sometimes having a place and an approximate date and a location could narrow down the other unknowns quite a lot for you, depending on how your family history played out.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt into one of my “there should really be…if there’s not, I’m so going to…oh wait, there already is…okay, good…using that now” moments.

Historical local directories at the Dayton Metro Library

After reading “City and County Directories: Hidden Treasures” on the Ohio Historical Society’s Collections Blog, I was inspired to share some details about the historical local directories available in the Local History and Genealogy departments at the Dayton Metro Library, where I work.

Early Dayton city directories in the DML Genealogy Dept.

Early Dayton city directories in the DML Genealogy Dept.

Historical directories are useful in many ways, particularly in genealogical research, as well as research pertaining to a house, building, or business.

In all the directories, you can look up a person or business by name.

For people, the information provided generally includes name, occupation, place worked, place lived, and sometimes their spouse’s name (if any). Very old and very new directories generally tend to include only the name of the head of household, but I have noticed that many times the directory lists each adult resident of a household separately and sometimes teenagers (usually identified as “students” for their occupation).

Some uses for directories in genealogy would be to find out where your relative lived or what their occupation was. If you check every year, you will probably find that they moved or changed jobs over time. When you suddenly notice the presence or absence of that person or a spouse in a particular year, you can get clues to marriage/divorce/death/moving dates.

Keep in mind: it’s just a clue, so you must always verify! But at least it can help give you a good idea of “when” to start searching for a particular event.

Also note: just because they “disappear,” doesn’t mean they died or even that they moved very far away. Many “city” directories only include people who lived or worked within the city limits. If you moved to the suburbs, you stopped being listed in the “city” directory, unless perhaps you still worked in the city. Consider the following entry from the 1914 Dayton city directory:

  • Wright, Orville, office 1127 W 3d, also Pres The Wright Co e s Coleman Av s of 3d, res Oakwood.

By 1914, Wright had moved to his new mansion Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, but as he still had an office in Dayton, he still had an entry in the city directory.

For businesses, the information provided in directories generally includes location and type of industry (e.g., if it’s a factory, it will tell what they manufacture), usually the name of the business owner, and sometimes the names of other company officers.

As the OHS blog post stated, schools, hospitals, hotels, and many other types of buildings/businesses are also included in directories.

I like to think of directories as being like telephone books on steroids: they include basically everything you would find in a telephone book, plus more.

One of the biggest “plus more” aspects of directories is that directories eventually began to include listings that made it possible to search for a particular address and find out what was located there. In the case of Dayton city directories, the earliest year you can search by address is 1914. These listings are in the back of the directory, with street names listed alphabetically. Under each street, the numbers are listed in ascending order, with the name of the person or business next to it. If you are interested in more information about that person or business — now that you’ve found out the name — you can search for that entry in the front (alphabetical-by-name) part of the directory.

Street and Avenue Guide, Dayton city directory 1914

Street and Avenue Guide, Dayton city directory 1914

Being able to search by address is especially helpful for people researching the history of a house. Directories include the names of the residents of a house, as opposed to just the owner’s name that you would find on a deed.

Many times, house researchers just want to know a little about the families that lived in their home before they did. Sometimes, people think they have a ghost, and learning about the previous residents can help them figure out who might be haunting their home. In another example, I recently helped someone who had found some photographs tucked away in his historic home, and he was trying to find the family to whom the photos belonged, so he could return them.

And now that we’ve talked about some of the ways that historical local directories could be helpful in your research, I’ll give you the specifics on what we have at the Dayton Metro Library.

We have four types of historical directories, all of which are available for public use: city directories, suburban directories, Criss-Cross directories, and telephone books.

City Directories (Dayton only)

  • Years 1850-Present (almost every year) available in both Genealogy Reference and Local History Reference
  • Include listings within the city limits of Dayton only;
  • Include people who lived within the city limits, businesses located within the city limits, and usually people who worked within the city limits;
  • Includes yellow-pages-like listings for businesses by type;
  • Search by address possible from year 1914-present;
  • Later years can be searched by telephone number to get the person’s name.

Suburban Directories

  • Years 1956-Present available in both Genealogy Reference and Local History Reference;
  • Includes listings for suburban areas of Montgomery County only (areas of Montgomery County that are outside the Dayton city limits);
  • More recent years are split into North and South editions;
  • Search by address possible in all years;
  • Search by telephone number to get the person’s name.

Criss-Cross Directories

  • Years 1945-Present available in Local History Reference;
  • Years 1954-Present available in Genealogy Reference;
  • Similar to the search-by-street-address portion of regular city/suburban directories, but only gives street address, name, and phone number;
  • Includes city of Dayton, suburban areas of Montgomery County, and some nearby areas outside of Montgomery County;
  • Search by telephone number to get the person’s name.

Telephone Books

  • Years 1919-Present (most years) available in Local History Reference;
  • Both white pages and yellow pages available for most years;
  • Includes the “Greater Dayton area” which includes city of Dayton, suburban areas of Montgomery County, and some nearby areas outside of Montgomery County;
  • Cannot be searched by address.


The materials discussed here are available in the Magazines & Special Collections division of the Dayton Metro Library, located in the basement of the Main Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. They are available for public use anytime during regular library hours.

If you are unable to visit the library, a librarian can assist you with requests that are “clearly defined and limited in scope.” If you need a quick look-up in the directories, please submit an electronic reference question. For other questions about directories, you can contact the Dayton Metro Library or leave a note on this blog.

A visit to the Muncie, Indiana, local history library

This past weekend, I traveled to Muncie, Indiana, for a conference about CONTENTdm. The conference was on Friday and Saturday, but I went up a day early and explored Muncie (in the rain).

The first place I wanted to check out was the local history and genealogy department of the Muncie Public Library. Yes, geeky, I know.

(On a side note, I remember when I first started working at my current job, a co-worker remarked that he liked to visit other libraries while on vacation. I had never really thought about it before, but now I find myself doing the same thing. I do this especially on work trips if I have time, because that seems like a pretty good work-related activity: scope out what other libraries are doing, maybe bring home some good ideas.)

I knew from the library’s web site that I would be looking for a Carnegie library building. However, when I arrived, I got a little confused about how I was supposed to get inside, as I was parked near the back of the library, but there was this other building across the alley that had “Local History & Genealogy” etched in stone above the door (but was not attached to the Carnegie building). I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I know this place said it was open on Thursdays, I thought to myself. Then I saw a truck pull up, and a man wearing some kind of emergency responder uniform got out, and entered the locked building using a key. Hmm…that’s weird. Why would the library be locked?

I began to wander around to the front side of the Carnegie building, somehow missing the back entrance with the large “Open” sign on the door:

Muncie Public Library - Local History and Genealogy

Muncie Public Library - Local History and Genealogy

I didn’t make it all the way to the front of the building at that particular moment, but I found out later that it wouldn’t have done any good anyway. During my later walk around town, I came back to the library from the front and noticed that you can’t get in the front doors anymore; they don’t use them (“emergency exit only”).

But let me take this opportunity to share a picture of the front of the building, because who doesn’t love a good Carnegie?

Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library

Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library

Anyhow… So was I was about to wander around the back corner of the library towards the front, wandering if I had the wrong entrance or the wrong day (I kept thinking it was Friday for some reason, and they’re not open Friday), I heard a voice: “Ma’am…?”

I turned around, looking for the source of the voice. I saw a woman standing at the top of the stairs that led to that basement entrance (shown above). She said, “Are you looking for the Local History and Genealogy library?” I said yes, and she said it was through the basement door. She said she’d seen me wandering around, from her place at the reference desk…

Now, the only reason I am telling you the details of this story that makes me look like a dolt…is to highlight the dedication to public service of that librarian (whose name turned out to be Cindy). It’s one thing to help someone who’s already standing at your reference desk. But this woman went far out of her way — even out of the building — and into the rain — to flag me down and help me find my way. Now that, my friends, is excellent public service.

Once we were inside, she said she had seen me walking around in the alley and that I’d tried to get into the other building across the way. She explained that the Local History department used to be in that other building, which they had built new a few years ago for that exact purpose and that the Carnegie building had been a regular branch library. But then with budget cuts, they couldn’t keep both buildings as libraries, so they moved Local History back to the Carnegie building and rented out the other one to one of the local government offices. They figured the newer building would be easier to rent out…plus the Carnegie Library already looked like, well, a library.

Then she asked me what I was looking for, and I said, “Well, nothing in particular.” Then I explained about being a local history librarian from Dayton and how I was curious what their Local History department was like. So she gave me a full tour.

The Local History and Genealogy division has the majority of that Carnegie building all to themselves, with a small circulating collection and a computer lab on one half of the lower level. But the other half of the basement and the entire first floor were dedicated exclusively to LH&G.

The place looked great. It had been renovated a few years ago:

Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library - interior1Muncie Public Library - Carnegie Library - interior2

There were lots of interesting little details of which I made note:

  • In addition to public computers specifically for LH&G use, they also have two flatbed scanners for patron use. This is something that the Dayton library has not embarked upon, although it has been discussed.
  • They had a nice little bookshelf where they display new items. There is a New Items section at the Dayton library, but we do not have one specifically for new local history items.
  • They have work study students from the university scanning items for their digitization projects. (They have scanned many kinds of records, including deeds and wills.) However, while the digitization itself is awesome, I was more intrigued by the idea that they are able to get work study students to do this work: meaning, the students are paid by federal work study, so it is low-or-no cost to the library, yet it gives them a staffing resource to work on these projects. I later asked the department manager about it, wondering aloud whether we could benefit from a similar program. Her response: “You never know unless you ask.” Too true.

Perhaps eve more wonderful than that — yes, I have deemed something even more wonderful than free-or-low-cost digitization labor! — was the library’s collection of original county records:

Delaware County, Indiana, Marriage License Books

Delaware County, Indiana, Marriage License Books

As I understand the story, Delaware County (in which Muncie is located) is now on its third courthouse. When the second courthouse was slated for demolition in the ’60s or ’70s, apparently many of the original record docket books were in danger of destruction as well (for reasons not fully explained to me). Apparently, a Ball State University history professor caught wind of this and mobilized an effort to save the records, which were then given to the library for safekeeping. And so, there they remain, in all their glory!

I’m so glad to hear (and share) this wonderful story of how history was saved and is being preserved. The librarian mentioned that unfortunately, the Carnegie Library is not as environmentally well-controlled as the new building they had to give up (the one across the alley). But, I’ve got to say, any record that exists is better than one that was completely destroyed 40 years ago!

Genealogy and history crossovers

Someone recently asked me how I became interested in public history and archives as a career. It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. (After all, some version or other of that very anecdote had served as the introduction to many history scholarship essays, as well as one or two grad school admissions statements!)

It was genealogy, actually. I think I was always rather interested in history, which was probably why, when I was about 13 or 14, my grandmother thought of me when she asked if I would be interested continuing keeping track of the family tree that her father had written out on a roll of (unused) meat-packing paper many years earlier. She herself wasn’t interested in doing the research but thought it was important enough to find someone else who was interested. And that person turned out to be me.

The interest in history and the interest in genealogy reinforced one another, I think. How can you research a life without knowing something about the history of the time and place that person lived in? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting in a history class and thought to myself, Oh, that explains [insert something I found in the genealogy].

Allow me to share some examples of my history/genealogy crossovers:

  • One of my great-great-grandfathers had the middle name “Buell.” (He was born in Ohio in 1862. There were two Union generals named Buell; Don Carlos Buell was in charge of the Army of the Ohio.)
  • The story of my grandpa’s immigration to America from Italy in 1934 would make a good movie. Okay, maybe I’m biased, but there are definitely some points of historical (and suspenseful) interest: he almost missed the boat (literally) because he had to do his time in the Italian army and then get to America before his visa expired on his 21st birthday — he made it with less than a month to spare. (I certainly appreciated the seriousness of all that a lot better after I learned about the Immigration Act of 1924 and the quota system.)
  • At first I thought it was weird that neither my dad nor my aunts knew Italian, even though both their parents spoke it fluently. Dad said his parents didn’t want them to learn it. Then I realized it probably wasn’t cool to be Italian-American during WWII.
  • I don’t think I have any ancestors who fought in the Civil War, but my husband does. Actually, the relative that comes to mind wasn’t even in the army. He was a Kentuckian accused of being a rebel sympathizer and hauled off to Camp Chase in Columbus, where he – and one of his sons, actually – died.

And those are just a few… I could come up with many more. Wars in general make a good example of how history interrelates with genealogy. But any far-reaching historical event or era is a good candidate for such examples, really: like I said, immigration laws; economic upheavals like the Great Depression; epidemics such as the Spanish Flu in 1918; etc., etc. You get the idea.

I don’t really see how you can research genealogy without understanding history. I think that probably makes sense to most people who would endeavor to research genealogy.

But what about people who research history? Do you need to understand genealogy in order to research history? I won’t go so far as to make the unqualified statement that “yes, you do.” But, I think an argument could be made that in some cases it could be very helpful.

I have heard that many “serious historians” don’t take genealogists seriously or consider their research valid or valuable. And okay, yes, for many, genealogy is a “hobby,” a matter of personal interest. But I think genealogy can be a useful strategy and tool for understanding certain aspects of the “bigger” history.

What is history, really, but a story of actions taken by people over time? And who are people? Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, husbands, wives, daughters, and sons. Every person who ever lived and who may have in any way impacted history…had a family that shaped their life. (Or maybe they didn’t have a family — an orphan, perhaps — and that shaped their life, too.)

I think many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions of a person’s life can be traced back in some way to their family:

  • Who is this person? Who were their parents? Were they rich or poor? Were they famous? What was their childhood like? How did that shape their character? When and where were they born, grew up? Where did the family live, and why? How did all of these things shape that person and affect who they grew up to be?

Perhaps I’m drastically blurring the line between “history” and “biography” here. But honestly, history is made up of people, so I don’t see any important distinction there, really. If there were no people to cause the action in “history,” then the history books would be filled with what? … Well, nothing, because there’d be nobody to write them, but assuming they magically wrote themselves, I guess we’d have biology, zoology, geology, geography, meteorology, and astronomy, among other realms of science that do not need human interaction to exist. … But yes, history is made by people, and all of those people have background story that factors into the sum of their character and why they do what they do. And if family doesn’t contribute to making a person what they are, then I don’t know what does.

Just my two cents.

I recently wrote about the usefulness of genealogical research in understanding the contents of the manuscript collections I’ve been processing recently. I don’t think I could fully appreciate what I’m reading about when I read the letters in those collections without having some concept of who is being discussed in the letters.

For instance, a mother writing to one child about another isn’t always going to say, “my son [name]…” or “your brother [name]…” She wouldn’t have needed to, because the other family member would have known about whom she was referring. When I read a letter from Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer in 1864 that says, “We heard from Howard,” I know she is referring to Mary’s brother Howard who is serving in the Civil War. A combination of genealogical research and historical research gave me the bits and pieces I needed to actually put the letter into some context. Or, when she says, “We saw Lib and Jere yesterday,” I can tell – thanks to genealogy research and context – that she is referring to another daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Jeremiah.

Come on, did you really think I’d get through an entire post without a specific example related to the manuscript collection I’m currently processing? Tsk, tsk.

Speaking of the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection, I’ve got another interesting story brewing — well, two, actually — that I will be sharing with you all very soon. It’s A Tale of Two Howards : two cousins, both named Howard (probably because both their mothers were maiden-named Howard) who served in the Civil War. I’m sorry I didn’t write last week; I was researching the two Howards, but it seemed like every time I was about to write something, I thought of another “but why?” and delved deeper in another direction with it. It just didn’t feel done enough to share yet…

Random thought : You know you’re in the right profession, when the more you learn, the more you want to learn.

Coming soon : A Tale of Two Howards.