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Family research is so exciting

May 27th, 2016 at 06:32 pm

Last night I spent a few hours fleshing out what I knew about my great grandfather and his 8 kids. All the kids except my grandmother were born in the US; she was born in Ireland. Hers was not a happy childhood, due in large part to her father.

I'm sure getting away from her father and starting a new life with her husband in New Jersey must have seemed very appealing to my grandmother. The rest of the family and all her siblings remained in the Philly area where they were born.

Probably one of the biggest successes of my few hours of research was finally learning where in Ireland my great grandparents were from. They came from a small hamlet called Derrytrasna in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Today it has just 250 people residing there and it's largely agricultural from what I can tell.

My other big find was the maiden name of my great grandmother, which opens up a lot of further research using that family name.

It was quite thrilling to be able to view and then print out copies of the original World War II draft registration card of my great grandfather, for instance, which revealed that the patriarch feared by the entire family, who was often drunk, was just 5'4" tall and weighed 154 pounds. He had blue eyes and dark hair with a "ruddy" complexion. Who would have thought you could capture information related to physical appearance by researching the family tree?

I relied on 3 primary sources to get myself started on ancestry.com; 1st, the "mini" family tree I wrote as a term paper for a college course. I relied on my letters to grandparents as a source of information for this project. I also got a great deal of info from a single letter I received back from my great cousin Peter in Reichenbach, Germany. He passed away a few years ago which I deeply regret; i remember him telling me he was the last surviving H....in Germany.
My 3rd and final source was my dad, who provided little details as far as the names of my grandparents' siblings, a detail I hadn't captured prior to this though I remember hearing certain names here and there.

I was getting so excited last night about what I was learning and I wanted to tell someone about it. It was then that I realized the only person I could share this with whose enthusiasm would equal mine was my father, so I drove over there this morning to share all the details.

He suggested we spend the night at a cheap hotel in the area of New Jersey where he grew up, and where all of my grandparents lived. We could look up some of the houses they lived in during their earlier years (before I was around), although to me it would be more interesting to check out the family home in Philly since it involved an earlier generation. This is what I love about my dad; at 83, he's still up for an adventure! I checked Zillow for all the addresses I had and the ones in Philly must be in a very bad neighborhood as they are condos now going for about $160K a piece. Or maybe real estate prices are just that much lower there, I'm not sure.

I found photos of the address where my dad grew up and the house (actually, 2 attached condos now) was built in 2015, leading me to realize that the original home must have been razed. The Philly rowhouses mentioned above were built in 1900 and they still stand.

I even printed out a copy of my great grandfather's death certificate, which reveals an amazing amount of information. He was 75 when he was hit by a car at a specific, named corner in Philly, brought to a hospital with a fractured forearm and that led to bronco pneumonia. The "informant" listed on the certificate was a name I recognized as one of his sons, and the address also correlated, so I could positively assert this was correct.

There's a lot of detective work involved in figuring out if the over one million records that pop up when you type in a relative's name is in fact your relative. That's why it's helpful to have any kind of info like birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, names and ages of siblings and the like.

I even have the name of the vessel my great grandfather came over on from Ireland, to the port of NY. (I found it much easier to focus on researching 1 person at a time, that's why so much focus on this one person for now.) And life several others I researched, he had just a 5th grade education. He listed his occupation as "Laborer."

Looking at the lives of my grandparents, they all were able to make comfortable lives for themselves by working hard. The ones who had the most success included my paternal grandfather, who was an auto mechanic and owned his own gas station, and my maternal grandfather's brother, who owned an insulation business. Which is just reinforcement of what we all know already, that the real money is to be made, not by working for others, but by working for yourself.

Of all my great grandfather's children, only one went to college, at LaSalle University in the Philly area. After graduating, he worked at the post office but was fired for some reason. After that he became a teacher but only did that for a period of time. After that, he became a bar owner and that was his most successful endeavor. My dad remembers him telling him that the illegal slot machines at the bar were the biggest money maker.

It would take another generation, my dad's, before more descendants got a college degree.

As for my dad's father, the one from Germany, I briefly mentioned to dad that I had just stumbled upon a concentration camp record from Dachau, which coincidentally was the one I visited when I was in Germany 30 years ago. It listed a Friedrich H. (my last name) as having been brought to that camp as a prisoner in 1942 and the homeland was listed as "Germany/Austria." He died there but there wasn't information about when. I don't know if he is at all related (there seemed to be plenty of others with the same last name although you would think it very unusual), but since he appeared to be German, I wondered if that meant he must have been Jewish. Unless he was a German caught doing something pretty bad, like helping Jews escape? (My grandfather was Lutheran and so all of us became Lutheran also.

I know that outside of Germany, they were putting certain eastern Europeans and gypsies in the camps, but I hadn't thought they did that to fellow Germans. Definitely something to continue looking into but the problem is that I don't speak or read German, so this is a big stumbling block in my research. That's why I quickly searched to researching my grandmother's side of the family since I knew it would be in English.

Aside from this, I bought 2 cucumber seedlings at a local farm and later in the afternoon i drove over to my friend R.'s place where we sat on his front lawn with his dog as I told him all about the family tree stuff and other things. I just got home a little while ago.

I hope to stay pretty close to home this weekend without having to drive all over the place on errands, but I will be going to yoga locally tomorrow and getting some free compost at the landfill. And definitely spending more time on the family tree.

4 Responses to “Family research is so exciting”

  1. VS_ozgirl Says:

    My mother absolutely loved genealogy when were kids - she got back to the 1700s. We had a family member on "Mutiny on the Bounty" and had a family member who was New Zealand's first Olympic Gold winner, he was a swimmer. I'm sure you had a lot of fun researching this.

  2. Ima saver Says:

    How interesting!

  3. FrugalTexan75 Says:

    You've certainly found some interesting info!

  4. rob62521 Says:

    Certainly makes history more personal.

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