Saturday, July 26, 2014

FOLLOW-UP: Deciphering Sihu

I knew in my gut that "Sihu" was not the correct name. Thanks to Cousin Mary of Threading Needles in  a Haystack the quandary has been resolved. 

Kenny's great-great grandma's maiden name was.............Sihn. 

Penmanship people, penmanship!!

Since Mary's response to my post we have found several census records for the Sihns as well as naturalization paper, listings in the NYC death index, and several entries in city directories. Those Sihns, who are of German origin, have been in the US for a long long time; since the 1860s. 

Thank you again, Cousin Mary, thank you, thank you.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Deciphering a Name: Sihu?

For the last 9 months I have been helping my friend Kenny with his family tree. 

The information that he gave me to start with was obtained through interviews with his relatives. I have been searching for documentation to confirm the dates and places of births, deaths, and marriages for him. The accuracy of his undocumented information is quite impressive. Rarely have I found a document that conflicts with the dates he recorded. Nice work.

We obtained the death certificate for his great grandmother, Helen Miller-Hochheim. I am 100% certain that it is his Helen. The date of death matches what Kenny had, as does the location, the cause of death, and the husband's name. The husband, Edward Hochheim, was the informant and his name is indicated on the back of the death certificate. This is Kenny's Helen - no doubt!

BUT - Kenny knows Helen's maiden name to be Miller. This certificate shows her father's name as Henry MULLER, not Miller. Miller, I am sure, is a common Anglicization of Muller.

And Helen's mother's name appears to be Anna Sihu. I have never heard that last name; neither has Kenny. Keep in mind that the informant provided these names. Edward could have been mistaken about his mother-in-law's maiden name. The penmanship looks pretty good to me, though. Maybe I am reading that name "Sihu" wrong.

This document prompted me to search the NYC Municipal Archives Vital Statistics databases for any Sihu. The only document I could find for any Sihu was a marriage certificate. A marriage certificate for an Anna Sihu married to a...drum roll please....Henry Muller. I am pretty certain these are Kenny's great-great grandparents. I want more documentation to substantiate this find though.

According to both documents, Anna was born in New York. A search of for a Sihu living in New York City, though, returned1 hit for a Public Record for a Chi Sihu - obviously of Asian descent; not Kenny's family. No census records, no military records, no immigration records. Who are where are these Sihus???

Could it possibly be something other than Sihu?You tell me!

What do you think these names are?

From Helen Miller-Hochheim's death certificate:

From the marriage certificate of Henry Muller and Anna ???

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?: Cynthia Nixon

SPOILER ALERT: I'm giving away all the details...

Last night a new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? aired; the first of season 5. This episode focused on the family history of actress Cynthia Nixon who is best known for her role as Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series Sex and the City.

Cynthia knew little of her father's family history. Her curiosity was sparked when the 1850 census revealed her great-great-great-grandmother and her 3 children, all under the age of ten, were living with the mother's maiden name, Curnutt.  As it turned out, 3rd great grandma Martha Curnutt, murdered her abusive husband, Noah Casto, with an ax and was sentenced to serve 5 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary at a reduced sentence of manslaughter. However, after having served two years and giving birth to her third child she pardoned by the Governor of Missouri. She returned to her father's home to raise the children. The child she gave birth to while in prison was not fathered by her late husband.

I thought it was one of the better episodes I have seen. Martha Curnutt made a compelling character and Cynthia asked all the right questions. They showed some of the research process in more detail than usual. I particularly enjoyed the moment when the librarian lead Cynthia to an old card catalog to look  for a microfilm reel of a newspaper. 

Not everything is online, folks. Yes, to get the whole story you might have to read a newspaper on microfilm.

In fact, this detail prompted me to request microfilm from the Family History Library. I ordered the films of New York City's Coroner's Inquisitions from 1874 to learn more about the murder of my relative, Edward Hughes. Which you can read more about in my past post called Edward Hughes Murdered?

However, the episode also showed Cynthia going to Washington, D.C. to view Union Civil War pension files; you don't have to travel to D.C. to see those, they can actually be ordered online for a fee.

Like with all of these shows the research goes much more smoothly and quickly than it does in real life. That is to be expected of TV though. Just as with real life though, once you start researching a specific individual you will bond with him/her. You will.

Next week’s episode features Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an actor on the sitcom, Modern Family.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Local History Books

As Americans we are a culture of documentation. We like things written down and stamp with seals from government agencies. We are generally more likely to believe the newspaper article we find than the stories of family lore told by great-grandma. It's just how we are. We do not put much stock in oral history which I believe is a hug mistake. Although, I too am guilty of fastidiously believing documents. I don't believe other researching cousins' "facts" until they can "show me where you got that."

In my heart though, in principle, I am a big proponent of using both oral history and documentation of vital statistics when researching your family history. Which is part of why I love good local history books.

What makes a "good" local history book? Well...

Authors of these types of books often blend together research they have done in community records as well as information they have gleaned from interviewing locals. Once they blend that all together, write it down, and publish it we're much more likely to believe the stories as facts. In many cases those "stories" are facts! They just aren't documented anywhere else and so we tend not to believe them...but if they're in a book, oh, then we believe them.

Does that mean they are true, honest-to-goodness, facts? Eh...that is debatable and depends on your perception of oral history and eyewitness accounts.

How do you recognize a "good" local history book? Well...

While on my trip to Newfoundland last month I had the happy circumstances of serendipitously meeting a relative; Cousin Charlie.You can read about it in my recent post "Norris Point - The Loss of the 'Reddie' from Gadds Harbour Island".

During our brief encounter, Cousin Charlie suggested a book about the history of Norris Point and the surrounding Bonne Bay area. The book is called The Good and Beautiful Bay: A History of Bonne Bay to Confederation and a Little Beyond by Antony Berger. It is an EXCELLENT local history book.

A good local history will have some if not all of the following qualities:
  1.  An index. By the way, The Good and Beautiful Bay lists several of my Samms, Smith, and Organ ancestors in its index.
  2. A bibliography of a list of works citing which indicates what sources the author used.
  3. A notes of endnotes section which extrapolates on how and where details mentioned in the text were  obtained.
  4. A reputable publisher. Now many you don't recognize the publisher but that doesn't mean you can't find out about the publishers reputation online. Some publishers are know for quality work...look them up!
Or better yet, check out the local history collection in the public library in the community in which your ancestors lived. Generally, libraries don't have the space to collect crappy resources. Their local history materials are worth checking out.

Using these types of resources will not necessarily give you the names, dates, and places of birth, death and marriage that you are seeking but they will give you a sense of the community and culture in which your ancestors lived. It will tell you about other families they lived along side and the events that shaped their everyday lives. Check them out!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? is Returning

The television network, TLC, has picked up the genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, for its 5th season.

This coming Sunday, July 20, 2014, TLC will rebroadcast all 7 episodes of Season 4 which includes the ancestral history of the celebrities Chris O'Donnell, Cindy Crawford, Zooey Deschanel, Kelly Clarkson, Chelsea Handler, Jim Parsons, and Christina Applegate.

And if you're headed to a comedy club with your sister that night, maybe you can catch these re-runs on Wednesday, July 23 when you're off from work.

Season 5 of WDYTYA? will begin Wednesday, July 23 at 9 p.m. (Eastern) on TLC with the exploration of actress Cynthia Nixon's ancestry which promises to be filled with intrigue and mystery surrounding a murder in her father's family's past.

Monday, July 7, 2014

L'Anse aux Meadows Viking Heritage Site

I would be remiss if I did not mention at least a little something about my visit to St. Anthony, Newfoundland while on my vacation. It wasn't a spot where I learned much about my family history. In fact, I'm not sure any of my ancestors ever lived in St. Anthony. We went there to visit the UNESCO Norse, or what we would more commonly call Viking, heritage site in the nearby community of L'Anse aux Meadows.

"Discovered in 1960, this is the first authentic Norse site found in North America and could be Leif Ericsson's short -lived Vinland camp. Some time about AD 100 Norse seafarers established a base from which they explored southwards.The traces of bog iron found - the first known example of iron smelting in the new world - in conjunction with evidence of carpentry suggest that boat repair was an important activity. The distance from their homelands and conflict with the Native people may have led the Norse to abandon the site."

What is actually left of the Norse village is barely distinguishable in this image but if you look closely you can see the bumps of earth that has grown over the foundation of walls where the shelter for people living at this camp.

Nearby, reconstructions have been made to give visitors a sense of what the structures would have been like.

What does any of this have to do with my dead people? Well, if you regularly read my blog you know I have recently had my DNA test done through In my results I had a large percentage of Scandinavian DNA; 18%. However, my research has not led me to any Scandinavian ancestors. Could my ancestors in Newfoundland have been Norse at some point?? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Norris Point - Old Anglican Cemetery

While in Norris Point, Newfoundland, Cousin Peter, Cousin Kelly, and I took a trip to the Old Anglican Cemetery where many of my Samms and Organ ancestors are interred.

My great-great grandmother was Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley. She was born in about 1857 in Norris Point. Her parents were Reuben Samms and Frances Organ-Samms-Smith. I wrote about Reuben's tragic demise in yesterday's post about the loss of the ship named the "Reddie."

A few years after Reuben's death Frances remarried to a man named Matthew Smith.

Upon our first visit to the Old Anglican Cemetery I forgotten about her second marriage and overlooked her headstone. Granted, I am generally surprised to find any of my ancestors even have a headstone since most often they do not. But three of four of Sarah Samms-Earle-Bromley's grandparent did have headstone in this cemetery as does her mother Frances Organ-Samms-Smith.

Sarah's paternal grandfather who had the same name as her father, Reuben Samms, did not have a stone. Her paternal grandmother, Sarah, whose maiden name I do not know did has a stone:

This is Sarah's maternal grandfather, Michael Organ's headstone:

Sarah's maternal grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Matthews-Organ's headstone is probably the most remarkable of all. It is wooden and according to an oral history which appears in the book, This is Our Place, This is Our Home by Joan Edward, this stone was craved by Michael Organ's brother, George Thomas Organ.

The funny thing about that last detail, that book was one of the coffee table books at the house we rented in Twillingate. Seeing the hand-drawn images of my 4th great grandmother's marker in that book made me feel like I was being nudged ahead to Norris Point with a mission to see these markers. I'm glad I saw them first-hand.