How a DNA match + great German records = Blum family breakthrough!

Lena Blum is my father's father's mother. For years, the only information I had about her parents came from census records. Her father Robert died between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, which is too early for most kinds of death records that might have provided information about his parents.

The 1860 census for Detroit, Michigan shows that Robert is a pedlar, and that he and his wife were both from Hesse Darmstadt. Their oldest child - my great grandmother Lena -  is the oldest of four children. The younger three were all born in Michigan. Lena was born in New York, which provides a hint about their port of arrival when they immigrated from Germany.

Robert is buried beside his wife Regina (sometimes also called Gina or Lena) in a historic Jewish section of Woodmere cemetery. His headstone is large, with lots of text that is both foreign and faded. I have long felt that it must hold important details about his life that could help me discover his parents. (I was right!)

Last year …

School projects and family history serendipity

My son is reading The Great Gatsby at school and has an assignment to do a major project relating to that era. He is a car buff and so chose 1920s cars to research. Last week our family watched the PBS documentary on Henry Ford. Great program, and particularly interesting because my dad was born in Detroit.

 As my son was working on his project yesterday, I had a very clear memory come to mind of a photograph of my grandfather (mother's father) driving a very interesting car. I found the photo and was pleased to see that it was taken in 1924: perfect for the project! We will have a nice print made to go on his project board. 

The serendipity gets better! Later that day I was documenting descendants of one of my dad's mother's ancestors, hoping to help an adoptee that is one of my closer DNA matches. After exhausting all the usual databases and coming up empty, I googled the woman's name and got a hit that was a snippet view of an obituary available on I s…

Dr. Plumer Morton Woodworth

I was finally able to identify another photo from the Warrenville Historical Society this evening. The mystery man with the long beard turns out to be Plumer Morton Woodworth, eldest child of Dr. Jacob and Ellen Douglas Bird Woodworth.

The clue came from a photo of Dr. Woodworth in later life, published in A History of the City of Chicago: Its Men and Institutions. Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens (p. 419) and available digitally at Google Books.

Take a close look at the two photos. Notice the hairline, the shape and set of the eyes, the nose, the ears.  I'm comfortable with saying that the unlabeled photo is definitely Plumer Morton Woodworth. This conclusion also fits with the photo's placement in the album. (It follows individual photos of Jacob Woodworth and Ellen D. Bird Woodworth.)

Like his father, Plumer Woodworth was a doctor.  He is mentioned in a number of family letters, including one written in 1882 by his grandmother, Louisa Goddard Warren Bird, to his unc…

Peter Warren, and a Massachusetts Birth in New Hampshire birth records

My 4th great grandfather Daniel Warren was an early settler of the town of Warrenville (DuPage county), Illinois near Chicago. In fact, the town was named for the Warren family.  Daniel was born in Massachusetts, but I discovered a birth record for him in the New Hampshire Birth Records collection at  
Oddly enough, the New Hampshire birth record gave his birthplace as Townsend, Massachusetts.  Why would a New Hampshire birth record list a Massachusetts town as a place of birth?  I read what I could about the database, then read more about New Hampshire and Massachusetts state boundaries, and still couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation.
Then I discovered the Town Records of Hancock, New Hampshire in a small collection of free records at (which used to be my favorite site,  Hancock was where Daniel Warren’s Massachusetts birth had been recorded, so I searched for him there and found two really interesting documents.  The first one was…

Fourteen Women, Two Photos, and a Small White Ribbon

Clara Amy Smith Bird was born in 1841 in frontier Illinois. Her parents were Joel and Amy Bartholomew Smith, early pioneers of DuPage County, Illinois. This photo of her is dated 1891. I had the photo for quite a few years before I noticed the small white ribbon pinned to her dress. It didn't look like a piece of jewelry or other embellishment. Why was she wearing a white ribbon?

While scanning old family photos in Chicago a couple of years ago, I came across this picture of a group of fourteen women. There was no explanation of the grouping on the back of the photo, and I took it to be some kind of family gathering.

I'd looked at that image quite a few times before I noticed the photo that one woman near the front is holding. When I enlarged it enough to take a good look at the small photo in the woman's hand, I was amazed to realize that I had seen that face before! It was the same 1891 photo I had of my great-great-grandmother, Clara Smith Bird. Only then did …

Sophie Turns out to be Daphne!

This little pixie captured my attention because the picture had substantial clues (and darling little leather shoes), but not certain identity. The photo is part of an album belonging to the Warrenville Historical Society in Warrenville, Illinois. The album includes photos of Warren family descendants, including some of my direct-line ancestors. I had never seen the photo before (unlike some of the other photos, which were duplicates of photos that were part of my great-grandfather Frederick Joel Bird's collection).

What I knew: The photo was of a little girl named (I thought) Sophie who was three years old in 1896. That much was handwritten on the photo. On the back of the photo was the name and address of a photographer in St. Louis. What I didn't know was Sophie's last name and her relationship to the Warrens.

I tried searching HeritageQuest for little Sophie, but could not find anyone who matched the details I had from the photo. This week, though, all that changed. I…

Looking for Lockwoods

Hattie W. Woodworth (1861-1948) was the daughter of Jacob and Ellen Bird Woodworth. In 1882, she married Henry Lockwood, a farmhand who worked for her family in McHenry County, Illinois. Hattie's grandmother (and my g-g-g-grandmother), Louisa Goddard Warren Bird, mentioned the marriage in a letter to her sons Byron and Henry in December of 1882:

"Hattie was married the 5th of Sept. to a Mr. Lockwood a poor young man we like him very much perhaps he may have 6,00 dollars laid by he is a farmer, worked for Eddie, a year before they were married, so they became well acquainted with him."

Henry and Hattie spent the first 30 years of their marriage in Illinois, and somehow ended up in California in the early 1900's. Henry died between the 1920 and 1930 censuses, probably in California. She died in Los Angeles in 1948.

Hattie was a cousin to my great-grandfather, Frederick Joel (FJ) Bird. In the 1940's, FJ Bird began corresponding with Hattie and several other cousins…