My sister hates the signature whine her GPS makes when she deviates from the agreed-upon route:


For a piece of electronic engineering, it sounds remarkably petulant. However, sometimes redirECTing is unavoidable, as we could tell the GPS if it were in the mood to listen.

Particularly in genealogical research. Particularly when your original route is leading into a swamp.

For example: One of my great-great-aunts, Mary Ann Haigney (1872-1956), inconsiderately married a person surnamed Walker. Sorting through Walkers in directories, documents and federal censuses is not nearly as efficient as sorting through Haigneys, and I just don’t know as much as I’d like about them. I did have a bunch of newspaper clippings about Mary Ann, including her obituary and several society items about family parties mentioning visits from her son Edward and his wife, a grandson, and “Mrs. Geis.” I really wanted to confirm the names of Edward’s wife and son, and find out who the mysterious Mrs. Geis was.

But this year, I had a couple of super-strengths to put into the Walker search.

The first was the 1940 census. The second was the address book kept in the late 1930s and early 1940s by my great-aunt Anna.  When I got this address book last fall and realized its value as a 1940 search tool, I felt like holding it aloft, superhero-style, and waiting for thunderbolts to explode out of it.

In the address book was a Brooklyn address for an “E. Walker,” whom I devoutly hoped would turn out to be Mary Ann’s son Edward. Using another awesome thunderbolt of genealogical power, the Unified 1940 Census E.D. Finder, I located:

Walker, Edward, head, 38

Walker, Frances, wife, 43

[redacted], son, 11

Geis, Caspar, brother-in-law, 58

Geis, Henrietta, sister-in-law, 49

[redacted], niece by marriage, 23

Identities for Edward’s wife and son! Plus, an explanation for Mrs. Geis!

Clearly, Caspar was Frances’ brother, and Frances’ maiden name was Geis. Fantastic. I decided to take a lunch break.

Astute readers will know that any time the word “clearly” appears in my text, things are actually not clear at all. Over a sandwich and tea, I recalled that phrase “by marriage.”

Wait a minute. Whose marriage? Was Edward linked to the Geis family through Caspar, or through Henrietta? I read through the entry again. Sure enough, it was a classic case of stopping too soon for a lunch break. There was a seventh name in the household:

 Schemank, Mary, mother-in-law, 77

With that, I had the complete picture. As the full household list implies (and other documents eventually confirmed), Edward had married the former Miss Frances Schemank, not Geis. Henrietta (Schemank) Geis is one of Frances’ sisters (she had two, plus a brother). Caspar Geis, of course, is Frances’ brother-in-law, not her brother.

And I’m just glad my genealogy GPS redirECTed before I drove the car into a swamp.


A Second Look

The copy editor in me prompts some quirky reactions to old newspapers: “Ewwww…. Futura! I hate that font!” (By the way, did you know there’s an entire documentary about Helvetica?)

But as we all know, newspapers are about more than type fonts. They give us big genealogy discoveries. Today is about a sequel to one of them.

A while back I wrote about the treasure trove of family nuggets I found through keyword searches of the Troy (N.Y.) Times-Record.  I pawed through this impressive pile of clips in drunken abandon, updating my notes like mad.

Several months later, I’m regarding my impressive pile of clips with more wariness. Like censuses, newspaper items can contain a lot of information to cross-check. Did I get everything right? And what did I miss?

As part of Operation Database Cleanup, I began updating the database card of my great-great-aunt Mary Ann (Mamie) Haigney Walker (1872-1956). She had been a minor part of the Big Newspaper Trove, but it did contain her obituary, where I found the names of her husband and son. My current task was doublechecking these names. I didn’t have much else planned.

The names checked out fine against the obituary. But it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cross-check these names in the rest of the newspaper items in my files – purely as a precaution. I just knew I had seen everything there was to see about this surname.

Except this:

Mrs. Mary Walker of Kelly Road recently celebrated her eightieth birthday. At the time she was at the summer home of her sons in Far Rockaway and was surprised with a large dinner party of relatives and friends. Mrs. Walker was honored with a large birthday cake. Four generations of Walkers were represented by Mrs. Walker, her son, Edward, grandson and great-granddaughter.

OK, class, what is of interest here?

(A) The phrase “home of her SONS.”

(B) The phrase “FOUR GENERATIONS of Walkers were represented.”

(C) The headline font may be Futura.

Very good, it is both A and B!  We see that Mrs. Walker might have had more than the one son listed in her obituary. She also had a grandson and great-granddaughter. Perhaps they are mentioned by name elsewhere in the clips? Perhaps it would be a good idea to look?

After further examinations of the clips, I think “sons” might be a typo, as I have found only one son mentioned by name in subsequent articles. But I certainly went back to the rest of the clippings in a chastened and more careful state of mind. I realized I hadn’t really been paying a lot of attention to the Walkers – I had been too busy looking for clues about the Haigney surname.

As a result of renewed hunting I have added two grandchildren to the list I’m investigating for Mamie’s family group, plus a woman with a surname different from Walker who might be a married granddaughter or great-granddaughter. All of these names were scattered throughout my collection of newspaper snippets, but because I wasn’t really scanning for them, I read right over them.

A clear case of read in haste; re-read (and research) at leisure. Consider me abashed.