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Vacationing with Your Ancestors – With the Help of a Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA)

It’s that time of year when we all begin planning and looking forward to summer vacations. And if you’re like me, you try to schedule at least one trip around researching some of your ancestors in a really great place—and everyone in Franklin County, Pennsylvania hopes your ancestors lived here—and that you’ll be visiting us soon!

To help prepare for your trip, check out our Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program through the Franklin County Visitors Bureau (FCVB). This year, the FCVB invested in this nationwide program whose objective is “to increase regional tourism by inspiring front-line employees and volunteers to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience.” So how does a CTA fit into a genealogy vacation?

Franklin County’s First CTA Training

 

 

 

 

 

 

My hope is that by becoming a CTA, I can make every researchers’ visit to Franklin County the most fulfilling it can be. I do this by studying all aspects of Franklin County, to be the go-to source for finding Pennsylvania ancestors. I’ve learned through experience that my most successful trips were those where I contacted area experts who helped guide my research. Rather than using the hit-and-miss method when I wasn’t familiar with county towns and townships, these knowledgeable people pointed me to the most important repositories and sights, such as:

  • Courthouses & Archives
  • Historical Societies & Libraries
  • Ancestral Homes & Farms
  • Schools
  • Businesses
  • Churches
  • Funeral Homes & Cemeteries

Besides giving directions, locals also know what records each repository may hold that will helpful when researching your family history. We also know the best and most convenient lodging, restaurants, and other non-genealogy things to do (for any family members who might not be into the research thing).

So when planning your “family” vacation, don’t forget to contact someone who will make sure you spend your time as efficiently and productively as possible. In Franklin County, it’s definitely a CTA—and it could be me!

Janet Pollard, Franklin County Visitor’s Bureau, and a new CTA

 

Put Aside the Dead People . . . Just for a While

Besides ancestor hunting, one of the best things about researching our genealogy is re-uniting with and meeting new cousins. This week I’m lucky enough to do this again at a “Mini Marquet Reunion” in California. I’ll be reconnecting with a cousin who I haven’t seen since the 1970s, meeting another cousin’s daughter, and introducing a fifth cousin that I met through the internet, to all of these people.

My mother, Miriam Marquet, and her two older brothers, Win and Art, were raised in Berwyn, Illinois in the 1930s and 40s. By the 1960s, the Marquet brothers and their families were living in California.

Arthur, Winfield, and Miriam Marquet, 1934

Our family traveled west a couple times to visit my uncles in the 1970s—five kids in a station wagon without air conditioning, and once with a collie! We couldn’t wait for the Holiday Inn swimming pool!!

Steve, Pam, Chris, Kim, and Ed on Vacation in 1971

But then I lost touch with my Marquet cousins—until 2012, when I contacted my cousin Matt, Art’s son, who was still in California. I knew his mother was interested in genealogy, so I asked if he had any information on the Marquet family. Because I made the effort to reach out, he sent me tons of old photographs and documents. It was then that I was proclaimed the family historian. That same year I was contacted, through Ancestry.com, by Jane, a fifth cousin who also lives in California. It turns out that she and I share a five times great grandfather, James McMaster, who we were both researching. Two maternal cousins living in the same state meant that a trip out west was in order. My husband,Tom, and I traveled there in 2013, where I met Jane in person and reconnected with Matt and his wife, Sherry.

Pam & Cousin Matt, 2013
Pam & Cousin Jane, 2013

But what about my Uncle Win’s family? About a year later, I saw that my cousin Amy had developed a tree on Ancestry.com, so I messaged her. In the fall of 2016, she came to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania “on her way” to a cruise out of New York City. She rented a car in NYC, and drove 4 hours south—definitely not on her way—to reconnect with my two New Jersey sisters, Chris and Kim, and me. Since she made that crazy trip, I promised to go back to California, and that’s where I’m headed this week.

Sister Kim, Cousin Amy, Sister Chris, and Pam, 2016

So on Saturday, January 27, Amy is hosting our first Mini Marquet Reunion at her house. Matt and Sherry will be there, and even Jane has agreed to drive down and meet more cousins. Amy’s sister, Mallory, is also coming, as are (I hope) the cousins’ children—first cousins once removed. I’m so psyched to meet more living people!!!

And maybe after talking genealogy a little, we’ll put aside the dead people, just for a while, and be thankful for the opportunity to meet new cousins and reconnect with the old—and yes, we are getting old! But hopefully some of those “once removeds” will carry on in the ancestor hunt where we leave off.

Finally, this year, I encourage everyone to take a break from your computers and archives, and connect or reconnect with your living family. You just may enjoy them more!

You Always Remember Your First Time. . . .

Your First Franklin County Genealogy Workshop, Of Course!

Yes, it’s over *sad face* but it was so much fun! A great group attended our first “Finding Family in Franklin County” genealogy workshop. Because of their honest feedback, I am calling this our Pilot Program. I especially enjoyed catching up with everyone at breakfast and dinner. My first question was always—hesitantly—“Did you find any new records?” And the answer from everyone was, “YES!” Someone even found a real live cousin!

The attendees from Virginia, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh checked into the Mercersburg Inn at noon on Wednesday. That afternoon, we presented three 45-minute sessions:

Wednesday night, we met for dinner at the James Buchanan Pub and Restaurant for great conversation and discussion of plans for Thursday—where people going and what they were looking for.

Justin McHenry with Bill & Nancy at the Franklin County Archives

On Thursday morning we met for breakfast to give everyone an encouraging send-off. Individuals went to the Conococheague Institute in Welsh Run, Fendrick Library in Mercersburg—actually 2 people went there Wednesday before and after dinner—the Franklin County Historical Society and of course, the much heralded Franklin County Archives. Coincidentally, everyone was researching in the south-western part of the county, so they could discuss where they were going and what resources they were looking for. As I checked in at the various repositories, it was evident that everyone was doing fine, and appreciated the time to research on their own. We met again for dinner and to share what everyone found. Justin McHenry at the Archives was clearly the star of the day, finding records that others were not aware existed.

Jean working at the Franklin County Historical Society

On Friday morning, at our final meal together, the group openly shared their thoughts on the workshop. This was a true debrief of what everyone liked and what could be improved for next time—and there WILL be a next time! Because of the great relationships we developed in three short days, we got excellent feedback on what to continue and what to add. Some of the suggestions were to include historic tours as an option, rotate the venue around the county, discuss more about cemeteries and church records, and include more “locals” from the genealogy community—all ideas that we will definitely look at incorporating into the next session.

But mostly there was praise for the workshop:

“This workshop would benefit beginning researchers as well as more experienced researchers because we could choose What and Where to research and go at our own pace. The discussions about the local repositories and what they offer was the jumping off point for us to explore what interested us. Pam was an excellent facilitator to point us in the most advantageous direction for our personal research goals.”

I couldn’t have worked with a better team. Thank you Janet and Justin—and my advisors!!

Me with my group of “Advisors”

After the group picture—it’s what we genealogists do—I thought everyone would head home, but I was wrong. After checking out, everyone went on another excursion, either to a repository or sight-seeing around the county. And I went home, satisfied that we did what we set out to do—help others Find Family in Franklin County.

Finding Family in Franklin County – June 2017 Workshop and Getaway!

In less than two months, I will be collaborating with several people who share an interest and expertise in Franklin County, Pennsylvania genealogy. We are joining forces to put together the first Franklin County Genealogy Workshop (and Retreat). We’ve added “Retreat” because of the beautiful home-base for this workshop – the amazing Mercersburg Inn in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Jim and Lisa McCoy, owners of this magnificent bed and breakfast have given us special rates for this event and will serve up breakfast and dinner for two days!

The Mercersburg Inn

Besides meeting others researching ancestors in Franklin County, we will answer your questions such as:

  • When was Franklin County formed?
  • What if my ancestors were living in Franklin County before it was a County?
  • Why did people move here and why did they leave?
  • What original records are available and where are they?
  • What are Orphans’ Court Records and why should I look for them?
  • How do I find my ancestors’ cemeteries?
  • What research options are available to me after I return home?

 

Check out the details:

The Schedule:

Wednesday afternoon, June 21:

  • 1:00pm Check-in
  • Interactive Presentations:
    • 1:30 The Genealogical History of Franklin County – Janet Pollard, Franklin County Visitors Bureau
    • 2:30 Original Records, In and Around Franklin County – Justin McHenry, Franklin County Archives
    • 3:30 A Guide to Franklin County Repositories – Pam Anderson, Anderson CoGen
  • 6:00pm Dinner

Thursday, June 22:

  • 8:00am Breakfast
    • 9:00am-4:00pm Research and lunch on your own
  • 6:00pm Dinner

Friday morning, June 23:

  • 8:00 Breakfast
  • 10:00 Checkout (or choose to add another day)
  • Continuing researching your ancestors

Schedule individualized consultations with Pam Anderson on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

 

Accommodations:

Mercersburg Inn 

405 S. Main Street

Mercersburg, PA  17236

717-329-5231

Cost:    Wednesday & Thursday – One-person Registration with Dinners – $355 per room

Add on Friday Night Stay for $110

*Additional person $110 – shared room occupancy

 

Contact me at (717) 597-1345 or pam@AndersonCoGen.com if you have any questions.

We hope you can join us!!

 

The Power of a Letter – Shared with a Genealogist

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a friend who entrusts us with a special gift. About a year ago I was that lucky person. And about a month ago, my friend—who is the most magnificent writer—shared her story. Mitchell Kyd, AKA Yvonne Butts-Mitchell, said that I could share it here.

As genealogists, we are told to analyze documents to glean and evaluate every bit of information we can. We check for originality, who provided the information, and if the information is direct or indirect (or negative) evidence to answer a question we have about our ancestors. It sounds so impersonal, until someone like Yvonne tells the story behind the research.

Yvonne handed me her gift–a letter written in November, 1926. Following is the story she wrote about that letter, based on my genealogy research. Please check out her blog, Dead Mouse Diaries, for great reads about everyday life–the life that most of our ancestors led.

News from the Path Valley Hotel, Episode #96: The Power of a Letter

In a very ordinary way, my cousin Candy handed me an extraordinary gift last spring: a little, yellowed envelope she had found among her mother’s things. The postmark was pale and blurred but discernible: November, 1926. It had been addressed to her grandmother Florence. Why her mother had kept it all those years remains a mystery to us both but Candy knew I’d enjoy it. Although we shared a grandmother on our dads’ side, the letter had been an exchange between our maternal grandmothers,  mailed to hers and written by mine.

At first blush, it was an exchange of news between two high school friends who had been separated by distance and life changes. From the start, it offered the promise of a delightful peek behind the curtain for this storyteller, but something seemed unsettling.

I knew instantly the thick, black pencil strokes on the envelope didn’t look like my grandmother’s handwriting but the name in the return address seemed unmistakable. In the style of the day, the writer had used her husband’s formal name, my pap’s, with a “Mrs.” preceding it.  When I pulled out the letter, I was thrown off again, struck that the writing style seemed off somehow, not my grandmother’s fluid lines and careful grammar. I skipped ahead to the signature on the last page. Again, it was signed as “Mrs.” The writer was certainly my pap’s young wife.

The pages were filled with girl talk, the young bride wrote to ask her friend Florence about her baby and how her life was going as a young mother.  She asked her friend how she liked having her hair shingled and what she wanted for Christmas, then added: “Maybe you are like me. Take anything I get.”

It was a line of news on the second page that stopped me cold. The letter told of family deaths, including the writer’s sister who had left seven young children behind. I remember running my finger over the handwriting then, looking again at the signature, going back to the postmark. My grandmother never had a sister and she married Pap in 1930. The tears welled up as I realized then what a treasure I was holding in my hand, a key to a family mystery.

When I was very young, Pap used to take me to visit a woman we called Grandma Horn. Although she was always delighted to see us both, and always treated me with the best grandma-like affection, I never understood how our lives fit together. My “real” grandma, Pap’s wife, never went with us but always sent her regards. Grandma Horn returned the sentiment.

I don’t remember when Grandma Horn died. I didn’t go to her funeral but I’m sure Pap did, probably 50-something years ago. Sometime after that, I started to catch bits and pieces of her story: my pap had been married once before and Grandma Horn had been his first mother-in-law. The letter I was holding had been written by her daughter Helen.

In very vague terms, I’ve known for decades that Pap’s first wife Helen had died and that he had lost an infant son, too. End of story. Even my mother didn’t know much more. The hush wasn’t really a cover up, I learned later; the memories were simply too painful. Time passes; memories fade. The generations before us disappear and are reduced to an occasional comment at a random family gathering. I learned nothing more about Helen or their son until my mother showed me her cemetery marker three years ago.

When the gift of a letter connected me with Helen and the woman I loved as Grandma Horn, I shared the story with close friends, among them genealogist Pam Anderson. In her hands, Helen’s letter opened doors that had been locked in my family history. Pam dug into public records and newspaper files. Her research and tenacity brought me census records, marriage applications, birth certificates and obituaries. Here’s a sampling of what her excavations uncovered, all triggered by one letter from a seventeen-year-old newlywed:

Grandma Horn’s first name was Ida; she had been a maid. Helen’s dad, Grandma Horn’s husband, was David, a laborer, who was 23 years older than Ida when they married. Both had children from former relationships. Although Ida could read and write, David made an “X” on the marriage application rather than adding a signature indicating he was illiterate. He did own property which meant he had made his way in the world, regardless.

Helen was born March 2, 1909. While her marriage to my pap was not recorded in Franklin County, her letter to Florence reveals they married on February 26, 1926, just before her 17th birthday. It’s unlikely that she knew it when she was writing to Florence in November, but she was probably two months pregnant at the time. Other records show that her infant son died when two months premature, on April 12 , 1927, two days after my pap’s birthday. Helen died one week later when she was barely 18.

The baby’s death certificate calls him “John.” I’m guessing that at the time of death, Helen was too ill and my pap too overwhelmed to have declared a name. When the obituary appeared a few days later, the baby’s name was listed as Charles David, a combination of both grandfathers. Helen’s obituary in the local newspaper attributes her death to pneumonia, like most others listed that same day and the week preceding.

March 2, 2017, would be Helen’s 108th birthday. Ironically, she shared that birthday with my great-grandmother, pap’s second mother-in-law. I realize now that day that must have been rough for him to celebrate as the rest of us gathered for her cake and ice cream each year.

Helen did not leave a written account of her short time here and until last year, she was merely a cemetery marker in my layer of family history. One little letter has made her real for me and helped me pass along a part of her story.

Happy birthday, Helen. You and the little soul who was among us barely long enough to get a name have not yet been forgotten.  And to Florence, Roberta and Candy– thank you for recognizing and preserving the power of a letter.

Dead Mouse Diaries by Mitchell Kyd

The other cool thing: Helen and I share a birthday!

Peter Nagy – My Slovak Repository Guide

As I prepare to leave for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), I’m also getting ready to spend three whirl-wind evenings at the Family History Library. According to my SLIG syllabus, it’s “the largest genealogical library in the world.” So most people would assume that I’ll head straight to the Slovak resources. But not this time. Next week I’ll concentrate on the US and Canadian ancestors. But why???

About a year ago, in preparation for our second visit to Slovakia, I contacted Peter Nagy of CentroConsult, a Slovak genealogist that I found through the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). I hired Peter because I knew that he was familiar with resources in western Slovakia where my paternal grandparents immigrated from. What could Peter do that I couldn’t? He knew the Slovak system, specifically:

  • The different repositories and what records they held
  • The forms that needed to be filled out to obtain the records
  • What was needed to prove my relationship to get the records – my passport, my birth certificate and my father’s birth certificate
  • How to cite the various Slovak records
  • The language!

But the first thing that Peter did for me, was what I do for my clients—make me focus! I was only going to have a day to research there, so of course I wanted to know “everything” about the Supena and Pracser/Konas families (more about Pracser and Konas later). Luckily, Peter was patient and coached me through the Slovak genealogy process. He also began the research before our September 2016 trip. Because he knew where to look, he found and translated my great grandparents’ marriage record, which verified known information and provided some new details. In Slovakia, you don’t get copies of original records. All are derivative certificates taken from the original registers. But the one thing we could not locate was my grandmother’s birth record. We always knew she was born in Nitra. Right……

Nitra City Hall

After we did all we could via e-mail, we set our meeting date and place—Nitra City Hall, in the town where my grandmother grew up. At City Hall, we got my great grandfather’s death record and my grandparents’ marriage record. We were given the certified transcript, but were also allowed to view the actual registry to see if any other information might be apparent. Unfortunately no copies or photographs of these registries are allowed. And again, the birth place of my grandmother was not listed.

But because the family was Roman Catholic, we decided to walk to the parish and see if there might be a church marriage record for my grandmother, giving me her birth place and the church they were married in. As luck would have it, the office was closed.

Our next stop was the archives for the Nitra region, similar to our county archives. There we found a 1919 census record on microfilm. Unfortunately the copier was not working, so I was allowed to photograph the screen on the reader. It gave information typical to a US census—address, family members and birth years, nationality, religion and literacy.

The next leg or our trip was to Sered, where my grandfather grew up. Two years ago, a mystery was discovered that to this day has not been solved—but Peter and I have not given up. My family has always known our surname to be Pracser. But in all the Slovak records, my grandfather’s and great grandparents’ surname is listed as Konas. The first time Pracser is noted is on the ship’s manifest when the two couples immigrated. To try to get to the bottom of this mystery, Peter suggested that we check my grandfather’s sister’s birth record—she was the youngest—at the Sered City Hall. Again, the name was Konas. BUT, because Peter asked to look at the original registry, he turned the page and saw that Elizabeth had a twin brother that was stillborn. I would never have known this without the help of an experienced genealogist who knew the system and the language. Three towns and two repositories later, it was time to say good-bye to our new friend and guide…until I returned home!

Once at home, the question of my grandmother’s birth place continued to nag at me, and I still hadn’t contacted the Catholic Parish. I emailed Peter, and he said that if I wrote the letter, he would translate it for me. I wrote, he edited and translated and off it went in the postal mail. Within a week, I received an email from the pastor, asking me if I spoke Slovak. I said no, but copied Peter, who said he would translate for me. Almost immediately, I received another email with attached scans of the marriage registry—with my grandmother’s birth place! It was not Nitra, but what looks to be basically a small town grown up around a train station, a town called Čiky, part of Palárikovo. Peter found her birth registry on FamilySearch, then ordered the record from the archives. Was the family traveling to Nitra when they had to make an impromptu stop to welcome my grandmother?? We may never know.

St. Peter & Paul Church
Nitra Castle

My final question—for this round—was what church did my grandparents get marry in? The pastor quickly responded to my email: St. Peter and Pavol Church, the church we visited on our first trip to the Nitra Castle, closest to their home.

Many thanks go to Peter Nagy. I know that I couldn’t have been as efficient or thorough without him, and that he will continue to be there for me as I continue the quest into my Slovak ancestry and the Pracser/Konas mystery.

Peter Nagy with Pam in Nitra
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