Looking for a German Surname?

This morning I was contributing to a thread in the German Genealogy facebook group; a researcher had asked for help in figuring out the German equivalent of the surname Workman. One of the most useful sites I've found for investigating German surnames is Christoph Stoepel's "Geogen" sites. "Geogen" stands for "genealogical geography," and his site will help you locate possible points of origin for your German ancestors. When you put in a name, a map will show you where your family name is found today; the information is current rather than historical but still very useful, since German families tend to be a lot less mobile over the years than are families in the United States. A caveat, though:  if your ancestor's name is Schmidt or Meyer, you'll have a much harder time getting a lead because those names are so common. The less common the name is, the more luck you're likely to have.  Also, the site is most helpful if your family came …

Blog Caroling 2017 -- The Holly and the Ivy

Joining footnoteMaven's annual tradition of Christmas blog caroling!  I've chosen one of my favorite carols to present:

All Free
"The Holly and the Ivy" is an English carol that probably had its origins in the 18th century.  Holly is an ancient symbol for Christ, sometimes referred to as "Christ's thorns," and the berries stand in for drops of blood.  The holly and the ivy together represent Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  The use of holly and ivy as decorations predates Christ, however -- they go back to Roman times and pagan celebrations.  
The melody is simple and sweet.  

Why does the ivy appear so little in the song?  Folklorists guess that it's a holdover from older songs like "The Contest between the Holly and the Ivy," in which the holly represents the masculine and the ivy the feminine.
The symbolism is embedded in the lyrics.
1The holly and the ivy,When they are both full grown,Of all the trees that are in the wood,The ho…

Whatever happened to Baby Dorothy?

A few years ago, someone told me that if you're stuck on a particular ancestor's story, you should write down everything you know.  I did it for my great-grandfather, Joseph Ortmann, and now I'd like to try it for my paternal grandmother, Mary/Marie/Maria/May/Mae Siegler Ortman (yes, she did use all those variations of her name over her lifetime).

Mary A. Siegler was born on March 23,1895, in Woodhaven, New York; her parents were George Siegler, a barber, and the former Matilda Hug.  In May of 1889, a brother, Nicholas, was born, but unfortunately he lived only a few months, dying in August, 1889.  After many years passed, George and Matilda had another child, Dorothy G. Siegler, in 1912, making a more than 16-year difference between the two sisters (though I remember clearly my grandmother telling me many times it was a 12-year difference -- don't we all shave off a year or two where we can?).

In 1916, when Mary was 20, she married a bank clerk named Frank Sanger*, ag…

The Kindness of Genealogical Strangers

The other day, I read a NY Times article on the graveyard at a state asylum in Mississippi, and this led me to think again about a family member who died in Camarillo State Hospital in California, Mabel Manson Ortmann.  I've wanted to be able to tell the story of her life, which was sad and maybe even tragic, but I've been stuck on learning the diagnosis that led to her admission in 1930 and finding information about why she remained there until her death in 1967.  My two requests to the CA state archives yielded nothing, not even a letter saying they couldn't release information to me, so I had put those questions back behind the brick wall concealing this part of Mabel's life.

The article set me to wondering whether I could find out if she had been buried in a similarly unmarked grave in Camarillo, so I began the process of googling here and there.  I came upon something called the "Asylum Projects," a wiki full of information about asylums in the U.S. and …

Genealogical Extras Redux

This is a blast from the past, but one worth re-sharing, I think:

I've been thinking about some of the "side benefits" that come from doing genealogy.  These take various forms:  the cousins you discover, the friends you make in the genealogy community, the satisfaction you get from seeing a brick wall come down.  But one of the most enjoyable parts of genealogy, to me, are the subjects and bits of history that open up along the way.  These things can expand our world view greatly, and keep the synapses of those of us pursuing genealogy in our senior years firing.  Here are a few things I've learned about along the way:

1.  The history of the North German Lloyd Company:  My grandfather worked for North German Lloyd for many years, as a machinist, going back and forth from Germany to New York and other places around the world.  Here are the NDL docks  in Hoboken, New Jersey.

2.  The process of emigrating to America -- what it took to get there, what shipboard life was li…

How Many?

Julie Tarr of Julie's Genealogy and History Hub asked an interesting question today, one that sent me to my tree to start counting:  "What's Your Number?" -- as in, how many ancestors of each generation have you identified?

So I did it.  A table is helpful to show me 1)  how much I've accomplished so far, and 2) how much farther I have to go in particular areas of my tree.  Here's what I came up with:

Even though I obviously have a long way to go from the 4th generation on down, I'm delighted to see how far I've come in the years I've been practicing genealogy. The table also leads me to remember how frustrated I felt at some points, in going beyond one great-grandfather on my father's paternal side, one great-grandfather on my mother's paternal side, and in identifying the mother of my mother's great-grandmother on her mother's side.  
When I think about the reasons for each brick wall, I find that in two cases, lack of a birthpl…

A New To-Do List

I'm back; I'm really back.  The last few months have been a whirlwind -- I've left California, moved to Minnesota, bought a house, gone through the chaos of moving in, shopped for everything imaginable (from curtains to furniture to light fixtures to toolkit and beyond), had bathrooms painted and flooring replaced with hardwood, found a doctor, dentist, vet, dog park, grocery store, take-out restaurant, on and on.  It's been a busy few months with very little time to think about genealogy.

My new backyard, in winter and spring

But now, I have some time to breathe and time to return to the process of unearthing my family history.  Having been away from it for way too long, I have many things to do to catch up!  Here's my list, as I think about it today:

1. Leaves and other hints:  So very many hints on Ancestry and My Heritage!  I've dipped a tiny toe into the pool and discovered that in my absence the sites have added much information in the way of records.  One…