15 June 2011

Ghost Busting

Yorba Linda cemetery was founded in 1858 by Bernardo Yorba. He received the grant to 13,000 acres of Rancho Cañón de Santa Ana from the Mexican governor in 1834. I can see the small cemetery, now surrounded by housing tracks, from my back yard on the other side of Santa Ana Canyon.

I have never seen a ghost there.

Alvina de los Reyes is said to be the "Pink Lady," a ghost who haunts the graveyard on June 15th of even years. The story is that she was killed in 1910 when she fell from a wagon on the way home from a high school dance.

Nobody knows how this particular story got started -- it was likely made up to entertain and excite adolescents -- but I can help solve parts of the mystery.

At the Family History Center in Orange -- on a street named for Bernardo Yorba's father -- is a book that lists payments for cemetery plots in the Yorba Linda Cemetery. Frank Reyes bought two plots there in 1910. One for Alvina de los Reyes who was 31 when she died on Dec 2, 1910. The other payment was for Alavina de los Reyes who was born on Nov 25, 1910 and died 28 days later.

Dying when her baby was just a week old, was Alvina's death the result of childbirth? Not according to the Orange County death records on microfilm at the Orange FHC. There it states that she died of pneumonia and her infant died of athrepsia infantum or failure to thrive. In any case, Alvina was not on her way home from a dance.

Another mystery concerns Alvina's origins. According to the Yorba Linda History website, nobody knows who Alvina de los Reyes was. One relative, a grand nephew, believes her maiden name was Entrada. A cousin thinks it may have been Estrada. Fortunately, her children knew her maiden name.

In the 1910 census for Yorba township in Orange County (found on Ancestry.com), Alvina is the wife of Francisco Reyes and the mother of seven children.

The index to California Death Records lists some of her children, including Isadore and twins Frank and Rosa. Their mother's maiden name is listed as Bustamante.

Further poking around in census and death records shows that Alvina's father died when she was young and her mother, whose maiden name was Estrada, remarried a man named Andrade. Andrade and Estrada are close to the names remembered by Alvina's living cousins, showing there is often a grain of truth in many of those stories handed down through the generations.

Except, for me at least and espicially in this case, ghost stories.

24 April 2010

Tiffany on Antiques Roadshow

I'm sure everyone who watched the recent episode of Antiques Roadshow in Phoenix ran to their computers -- as I did -- when they heard the answer to the appraiser's question about Louis Comfort Tiffany. "Yes," the guest replied, "My grandfather is related to the Tiffany family. I'm not sure exactly in what regard."

The grandparents, the guest explained, had a trading post on the San Carlos Indian reservation. Checking out the 1910 census, I found a Wellington Tiffany living on the reservation.

According to The Tiffanys of America by Nelson Otis Tiffany, available on Ancestry.com, Wellington is the 5th cousin, once removed of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Wellington is the 5th cousin, twice removed of Richard Gere as well, though I don't know that the Roadshow folks have ever appraised a Gere lamp.

07 April 2010

How Vital Is VitalSearch?

As a Californian, I'm often looking for records for my state and know that VitalSearch seems to have a fair amount of them. I've thought of subscribing to it for a long time but I was never sure exactly what they had. I compiled a rough table to lay it out in a readable fashion and thought I would share it here. Note that there may be errors in the table since I do not have a subscription and could only go by what I could make out in the samples.

Finding records on VitalSearch is crude and unwieldy. A few of the collections have a "robust SQL search" capability but most are what they term "primitive search" which is actually paging through copies of microfilm. (Click to see actual size.) You are usually started at the first page of that surname, so although it is "primitive," it is usable.

Some of the collections have pages that are blurry and hard to read. Check out the sample pages on the VitalSearch site as they show a realist view of what you get.

Everyone who does research in California should know that the death index for 1905-1929 is free for anyone to use. Some of the other databases used to be available for free but in the last few years became part of the subscribers-only area.

The cost for a subscription to VitalSearch is $57.95 a year. That seems a bit steep to me; Ancestry costs almost 3 times that but has a bazillion times more records, let alone the best search online. But if VitalSearch has the collection I really need, it could be worth it. Maybe I'll sign up for the 90-day subscription for $25.

The table is laid out by state then county. Type is Index / Record. I added a column to show overlap in records on Ancestry.com since I have a subscription to it. Click the table then zoom to enlarge.

28 March 2010

From the Cradle....

Back in 2006 I visited the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, NY with my grandkids. I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the place. I'm not from New York and aviation is not something I've ever really been that interested in, but they did a good job of presenting something I always like: a story. I came away impressed with their collection and felt I had learned about early aviation history and how Long Island figured in it.

I got to thinking about the place and found myself reading some articles on early aviation and woman pilots and found one I wanted to check out: Elinor Smith. From what I found online, I knew her birth date, where she grew up, her father's name and occupation and the name of a brother.

The family proved elusive. On Ancestry.com, I finally found a family in the 1930 and 1920 census enumerations that fit. Dad and brother had the correct first names. Dad's occupation, a vaudeville actor, was right. Freeport on Long Island was the exact place she was born. It all matched except the last name. It wasn't Smith, it was Ward.

Everything I had read about Elinor Smith was unequivocal about her maiden name, which she used throughout her aviation career. I had to believe this was the right family in the census but how to find out for sure? So far I'd spent a fair amount of effort on this hunt. Finding someone in the census with a completely different last name takes some time. I could not give up now!

I found a copy of her autobiography, Aviatrix, at a nearby library and looked for clues. In the credits were several names including some with the name of Ward. This was the name I had found in the census. Case solved.

The only thing I did not know was why she used Smith instead of Ward. I wasn't about to call a 95-year-old woman and ask about her secrets and I didn't want blog about what she might be hiding for some personal reason. It was all very interesting but I shelved my research.

Elinor Smith died last Friday. The New York Times carried the story of her death and included the information that her father was Tom Ward and he had changed the name to Smith because there was another Tom Ward on the vaudeville circuit.

So much for my ground-breaking discovery. But it was a fun ride and I got to know an amazing woman.

Clear skies, Elinor.

07 March 2010

Sarah Jessica Parker Connection?

My g-g-g-grandfather left Logan County, Ohio in early 1849 and headed west toward El Dorado County, California to search for gold. He never came back.

Sound familiar?

If you saw the first episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" you might recall that this also describes Sarah Jessica Parker's g-g-g-g-grandfather.

Her ancestor was John S. Hodge. Mine was William Moore. Not the same person. Just shows how common the Gold Rush experience was. My William was 53 when he died on the way to California. He never made it to El Dorado. Another man in his company kept a journal of the trip and so records William's death in Nebraska Territory.

But that doesn't mean I don't have a connection to Sarah Jessica Parker. William's wife, Anna Askren, had a nephew, James Askren, who married Margaret Hodge, sister of John S. Hodge.

I can't wait for the next episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

06 March 2010

Meryl Streep in Slow Motion

If you view the final episode of "Faces of America" in slow motion, you'll see that although Gates is talking about Meryl Streep's maternal Wilkinson line, the graphics are for her paternal Streep line.

Meryl used to think the Streeps were Sephardic Dutch Jews because she was told that there were people with that name today who are Sephardic Dutch Jews. Probably the least reliable indicator of one's ancestry I can think of.

As I pointed out in 2006, her Streeps were from Germany where the name was Streeb.

On the show Meryl said she was disappointed that her DNA showed such a European homogeny. She was probably let down when she learned that she is descended from ordinary German villagers rather than something more "ethnic." But I think Meryl knew the Jewish ancestry story was a myth before she appeared on the show. No sense showing a non-reaction.

03 February 2010

Art of the Genealogist

On a recent Antiques Roadshow, appraiser Kathleen Harwood, had this to say: "Mr. Stiepevich, for an artist who painted such lovely paintings, has very scant biographical information. We know he was born in Russia, probably around 1840, and that he died in New York City, probably around 1910. Clearly he was very well trained as a painter."

A veritable call to action for a genealogist!

Vincent Stiepevich appears in US census records in 1880 (Elizabeth, NJ), 1900, 1910, and 1920 (all Brooklyn, NY). In the latter three census records, he states that he came to the U.S. in 1872. I love this entry for 1880 (click to enlarge). You can read his biography through the birth locations.

According to New York vital records, his wife Francesca died in 1912 and he died in Brooklyn on October 9, 1921 as "Vincenzo G. Stiepevich."

According to his 1887 passport application on Ancestry.com, he was born in Italy on Sep. 14, 1841.

The appraiser was quite correct when she said that he was well trained as an artist. Here is a snippet from an article about him in The Monthly Illustrator of 1895.

The article goes on to say that he was trained at the Royal Academy of Venice by Karl Von Blaas from the Austrian Tyrol. Stiepevich became a member of the Royal Academy of Milan in 1868. In 1872 he received a commission to decorate the Chamber of Commerce in St. Louis, Missouri and he came to the U.S. and eventually settled in Brooklyn. This is the same chronology borne out in the census records!

Somebody must have decided at some time that Stiepevich sounded Russian. His works have even been auctioned in collections of Russian art by major auction houses. If the name Stiepevich does not sound Italian, note that there is a street in Rome named for Italian war hero Danilo Stiepovich from Trieste. Close variants of the name are found in nearby Dalmatia, Montenegro, and Croatia.