Saturday, October 22, 2011


Question number 5.) of the Interview Question Form " ARE THERE ANY FAMILY STORIES OF INTEREST TO SHARE?"

You may wonder how this fits into developing your family tree.  Many people think of genealogy as finding the vital records of someone and then they are done with that person.  However, those birth, marriage, death dates, etc. are just the beginning!  There is a person behind those records who lived and breathed and walked this earth like you and I.  It is so fascinating to learn something new about an ancestor and as I continue to say, flesh them out as a person.  Naturally, photos are priceless!  But what if you have no photos, no painting, sketch or any representation of what your ancestor looked like?  Even if you do have a photo, what was their personality like?  That's where family stories can be priceless.

Let me give you an example of a story about one of my husband's ancestors.  His first name was Ara and he was an uncle to my mother-in-law.  She knew very little about him.  In fact, everyone I have ever talked to,  knew little about him.  That is even if they had heard of him.  What my mother-in-law did know is that Ara disappeared one day and was hardly heard from again, and never seen again.  She showed me a photo of him as a very young boy, but that was all I had to go on, until I interviewed her about him one evening.  As I kept asking questions, even though she didn't remember him, other little stories about him started coming back to her.  These were stories she had heard about from her grandfather and mother.  He came across from those stories as being adventurous, and maybe not one to take on a lot of responsibility very easily.   Then she remembered her grandfather talking about getting a letter from him.  I asked if she knew where it was from and she lit up and said, "Yes! California!"  But that was all she remembered of the location. 

With that little bit of info and knowing there was longevity in that line, I took a chance one day and did a search on the net in the late 1990's.  I decided to see what parts of California were a draw to adventurous types back in the late 1930's and early to mid 1940's.  I had a feeling this man would go for a get rich quick kind of lifestyle.  I found Butte County, California was a big draw at the time.  Then I did a search and sure enough, I found he had died in the mid-1970's and his last residence was Paradise, Butte Co, California!  I learned he had been married, but divorced his first wife.   Divorce would not have been accepted well in his family.  I felt at that time that was his reason for disappearing so many years ago and not letting anyone know where he was for so long.  His father was the patriarch of the family, so it made sense. 

I sent for his social security information which would have a lot of important data and found his work history from New York City to California.  I contacted the company he had worked for in both states, selling radio tubes from door to door.  Although they did not have any records to share, they were able to confirm what he would have been selling at that time.

A few years later, I found a fellow genealogist who did a lookup for me and sure enough, not only found the obituary for me, but sent me a photo of the gate to the cemetery and the obit for Ara's second wife that he married later in life!  I was able to share that with my mother-in-law and she felt at peace knowing the answer to the puzzle in the family for nearly 70 years!  After her passing, I found a lot of letters he had sent to his various relatives prior to leaving the area suddenly, and a few to his father about seven years after leaving the area.  One of those letters described his reasons for leaving, and indicated that, in fact, it was the shame he felt for not wanting to be married any longer to such a sweet woman as his first wife. 

So from a little bit of information, and a few stories about an individual, I was able to flesh out the story of Ara and the mystery behind his disappearance.  I also found photos, when I found the letters, of a very handsome young man who was full of life, but it appears stiffled in a little town.  I also found letters that indicated his father, my mother-in-law's grandfather, had never stopped looking for him during the years when he had no idea where his son had gone.  In the end, he never saw his son again, and passed on with having received very little further communication.  A bittersweet story.

Without my asking questions to spark memories, the mystery would remain today.  I hope this example shows you the significance of asking about family stories.

In my next posting, I will move on to Question number 6 of Interview Question Form.  That question covers health issues within the family. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Final discussion of Question number 4-f.) of the Interview Question Form " Do you know of any organizations that our family has been affiliated with, such as the D.A.R. [Daughters of the American Revolution], Mayflower Society, Any Fraternal Organization, such as the Masons? Freemason? [These will end up giving you another avenue of research if there are any]"

The purpose of researching your family history to see if there are organizations that an ancestor was a member of is simply to add more information to your database, fleshing out the character traits and things of interest to your ancestors.  In the process, you may be lucky enough to obtain some information within the records of the organization that you did not already have in your database.  Most organizations keep minutes of their meetings and those minutes might have information within them, especially if you have a ballpark of dates to narrow down the time frame you want to search.    You may find entries in record books that give a person's birth and/or death dates, or whether they served in the military.  Some even offer benefits to survivors of deceased members, so you would find information relating to that member's death.  The other purpose is it could very possibly give you a lead as to other places to research. 

For example, if you are of Polish descent, as I am, you might want to research THE POLISH NATIONAL ALLIANCE, which is one of the oldest and largest Polish fraternal organizations in the United States, or the THE POLISH FALCONS OF AMERICA .  These are just examples of where your research can take you if you are not easily finding the information you are seeking on an ancestor.

Below you will find a list I put together of some websites that will have a long listing of organizations and fraternal organizations that exist.  I will add to these links as I find more information I feel will be of use to the readers.

 If you have any questions on any type of organization you may be researching, please feel free to comment or contact me!

My next post I will be addressing question number 5 of the Interview Question Form.  I invite comments or thoughts at any time! 


In recent years, seedy characters have taken to stealing GAR markers from graves for selling on the internet, etc.  LET ME MAKE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR.  I am on the board of our family cemetery, and if anyone steals ANYTHING off a grave site, it is considered THEFT and PUNISHABLE BY LAW.  PERIOD. 

There are many states that have laws on the books specific to removal of items from grave sites and those laws are punishable by imprisonment for a specific number of years as well as large fines.  But, even if there isn't a law on the book, taking anything from a grave is considered THEFT.  Floral arrangements, etc. will eventually be properly removed by cemetery associations, but those are rules that people who buy lots are very aware of in cemetery by-laws.  In fact, for graves that no longer are visual, due to degradation of tombstones, etc over time, the markers within the cemetery that still stand, remain in the cemetery.  It is the veteran's RIGHT and the HONORABLE thing to do.  It belongs to no one else.

If you find a marker that is being sold or you simply find one, and it doesn't matter which war it is from, contact your local veteran's administration office, American Legion  or VFW organization for direction as to whom to contact. 

REMEMBER, these veterans put their lives on the line or lost their lives so that you and I can live under the very freedom they fought for.  They have earned the right to rest peacefully with EVERY HONOR THEY HAVE EARNED.



The GAR ( Grand Army of the Republic) was a fraternal organization founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois and ceased in 1956 after the death of its last member. It was made up of veterans from the Union Army, Navy, Marines and the US Revenue Cutter Service, all of whom served in the Civil War.  Once the GAR ceased to function, it was succeeded by the male descendants of Union Veterans who formed the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). 

The purpose of the GAR was to connect Civil War veterans and for networking purposes regarding advocacy in politics.  The motto of its founding is "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty."  It was founded April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson.  Early on it advocated for the voting rights of black veterans, and in the 1880's it advocated federal pensions for veterans.  Other goals were in establishing soldiers' homes and caring and educating war orphans.  It consisted of state departments and within individual communities, posts, which were present in every state and a few overseas posts.   The members wore military-style uniforms.  It was the GAR that established Decoration Day as May 30th, which we now know as Memorial Day.  To this day, we celebrate in the same fashion by decorating veteran's graves with flags.  In the late 1800's, its membership was over 400,000 members.  However, by 1940, there were only approximately 1000 members left in the entire U.S.

Just a side note, I was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne Co, PA.  I graduated from Elmer L. Meyers High School and one of our rival schools was G.A.R. Memorial Junior Senior High School.  G.A.R. for the Grand Army of the Republic.

Anyone who visits cemeteries will see GAR markers in older sections.  These markers were placed at the grave sites of Union soldier veterans from the Civil War upon their death.  The Union soldier represented the Federal Government.  They are in the shape of a star, made from iron, brass, later ones of aluminum, and have the inscription "GAR 1861 1885."  The aluminum replaced older ones that were lost or disappeared over the years.  Some of the markers also named the post.  The post quartermaster kept record of the members' graves that were marked. 

The records you can obtain that were kept by the GAR organization are death rolls which date from as early as the 1880s and continue to the 1940s.  They were published in the resource, PROCEEDINGS OF THE ANNUAL ENCAMPMENTS of the departments of the Grand Army of the Republic.  You will have to search by state and community to see where and if you can access these records.

Unfortunately, there was never a central location for GAR member records.  However, you can inquire at the local historical society for the community you are interested in, the local library, veteran posts, state archives or the GAR Museum and Library located in Philadelphia.  They have limited records, but you can look at the list of what they have on their website.
The physical address is:
 Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library
4278 Griscom Street
Philadelphia, PA  19124-3954
phone:  (215)  289-6484

Here is a small list of links to start your search on the GAR death rolls.  A great suggestion that I read was if you cannot afford to purchase the resource book that has death rolls listed, then ask your local library to do so, it will be a great reference book for them to carry!  You could make a small donation for that purpose.,%20A-Ab.htm

You can also search the Family History Library at where they have some records for Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah.  Use the keyword "Grand Army of the Republic" to search their catalog.*,0,0*,0,0

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War  website  can give you an incredible amount of research links that save you a lot of time!  It is a wonderful resource! 

There are more records that might be available aside from the death rolls, but it will be dependent on what was saved and where you can access the member records.  Unfortunately, GAR documents were considered personal property and when the last member of a post died, they were often destroyed.  If you find more links or locations of death rolls, please feel free to contact me and I will gladly list them in this section for my readers!