Friday, August 18, 2017

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 Blum Headstone
Woodmere Cemetery
Detroit, Michigan
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 my husband and son took a Spring break road trip to Michigan, stopping in Detroit to take high resolution pictures that would hopefully be clear enough to have translated. I posted the images to the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook, and a kind soul was able to make out the words "Rephoel, son of Zissel." So Robert in Michigan = Rephoel in Hesse Darmstadt. And his father's name was Zissel.

In January, I took the SLIG DNA Bootcamp class with CeCe Moore. Students were required to have DNA results from AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe. (MyHeritage announced their entry into the DNA market in late 2016, and so were not included in the course materials or testing requirements.) I tested twice with 23andMe and "failed" both times! Not enough DNA in my saliva to do the test. With some coaching on how to increase the DNA in my saliva, I purchased another kit and repeated the test a few months after the class.

On a Tuesday in late July, I logged into 23andMe. I don't check there often because it has (in the past) been the least useful (to me) of the DNA testing sites. That Tuesday evening just before I went to bed, I messaged three of my matches. The next morning when I got up, I had a reply! My match's brief email (I provided direct contact information) included four key pieces of information:
  • Her father's name (Ludwig Blum).
  • His occupation (doctor)
  • Birthplace (Pfungstadt, Germany)
  • Google Maps Satellite view of
    Pfungstadt (lower left) and Darmstadt (center top)
  • Approximate date of immigration (shortly before World War II)
Family and census records say that my Blum ancestors came from Darmstadt, so I next checked Google Maps to check the distance between Pfungstadt and Darmstadt. (Less than 10 km.) The geography works.

Using my DNA match's information, I searched immigration records for a Ludwig Blum arriving in the late 1930s. Ancestry's index returned several possibilities.

Snippet of search results for
Ludwig Blum with arrival year 1935 +/- 5 yrs.
Notice that the New York passenger lists index only gives the country of birth. But Illinois Naturalizations provides country and city. That combination of name (Ludwig Blum) and place of birth (Pfungstadt) lead me to his naturalization, which in turn gave me his arrival date (21 Sept 1938). I was then able to select the right passenger list, review the actual manifest, and confirm the connection: the Ludwig Blum that arrived in 1938 was a surgeon.

I then created a Blum family tree on and let the "shaky leaf" hints do their thing to help me rapidly build the tree back in time. Using a combination of hints; targeted database searches of Ancestry's fantastic Hesse, Germany birth, marriage, and death records; and the Central Database of Shoah Victims, I was able to connect the dots between Blum generations.

The key piece of information to connect my Robert Blum in Detroit with my DNA match's family came from the death record of a man named Löb Blum who was born about 1831 and died in Pfungstadt in 1889. The record names his father as Süßel Blum.

While I have no record that definitively states that Löb and Robert Blum are brothers, I believe they are for the following reasons:
  • Zissel (Robert's father, according to his headstone) sounds suspiciously like an Americanized version of Süßel (Löb's father, according to his death certificate).
  • Robert Blum was born about 1828 and Löb Blum in about 1831 (a very reasonable gap between siblings). 
  • My match and I share .71% of our DNA - 3rd - 4th cousin range. If Zissel/Süßel is our MRCA, then my match and I are 3C1R.
  • My match's ancestors can be traced to Pfungstadt, which is within 10km of the place my ancestors are believed to have come from.
  • The Blum family in Germany included store clerks. Robert was a pedlar.
  • Robert had a daughter named Jetta and a daughter named Rose. The names Jetta or Jettchen and Rose appear repeatedly in the Ludwig Blum line. 
There are important things I need to research further. Löb and Robert may or may not be sons of the same mother. Löb Blum's death certificate gives his mother's name as Jeanette Meier. There is a Maier Blum, born about 1821, whose father's name was Süßel Blum, but his mother's name is given as Zerlina. (But his given name is very close to Süßel Blum's wife's maiden surname, which makes me wonder...) I need to get a full translation of several marriage and death records, which may (or may not) answer these questions.

The 23andMe results that took three test kits to glean were key to discovering the connection. Testing with AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA, and uploading results to GEDMatch and MyHeritage would not have connected me with the woman who was key to this puzzle. As far as I am aware, she has not tested with other companies and has not downloaded her results to any other DNA site.

I just knew that old headstone was important! It's time to make a trip to Detroit to gently clean the stone and try again...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

School projects and family history serendipity

Marion Taylor Bird driving "Shiwea"
29 March 1924 - Citronelle, Alabama
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 signed up for the 7-day free trial and read the obituary (which turned out to be full of wonderful details about her siblings and children - score!). 

As I studied the obituary, I realized it was from a Detroit newspaper. My dad's ancestors have lived in Detroit since the 1870s. The Detroit Free Press via is a gold mine in you have Detroit ancestry! I quickly found obituaries for many Berger family members, as well as a variety of interesting news stories. (Might just need to add another website to the annual genealogy budget...)  Then I stumbled across this gem:

It seems clear Adolph Berger was kind of a character. My dad never knew his father, and he wasn't raised in Detroit, but there must be some of Detroit in the family DNA! Cars were important to my dad. My son (who carries his name, which is also Adolph Berger's middle name) has a passion for cars that would definitely make both my father and his father smile. 

If I hadn't been trying to help someone else find something, I would never have learned about my grandfather's connection to my son's Great Gatsby project!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Henrietta Keefner and the Diphtheria epidemic

Daily State Register [Springfield]
9 Dec. 1902, p.5.
NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society,
2004. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
There haven't been many epidemics that have impacted me in my lifetime. Over the past year or two, we have chuckled at the way doctors' offices and hospitals quiz patients about recent travels to West Africa. When my husband answered "yes" (following a business trip to Nigeria), no one seemed to know what to do. Ebola was a serious risk in a number of parts of the world, but not within thousands of miles of where we lived.

Diphtheria, on the other hand, was a very real threat to families and communities at the turn of the 20th century and for centuries before that.  A diphtheria epidemic in the Springfield, Illinois area took the life of my great grandmother's niece. Newspaper, census, and interment records help tell the story. 

"Diphtheria at Keefner Home - Contagion's Second Visit
There, Other Residences Quarantined."
Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield]
11 Dec. 1902, Part 1 sec.: 4.
NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society.,
2004. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

Just days after Henrietta died, her older sister Elizabeth also contracted the disease. Because of the risk to others, such details were published in the local newspaper. Local board of health laws required that "all houses where either disease [scarlet fever or diphtheria] exists must be placarded for six weeks from the time the disease is determined."1

Thursday, June 14, 2012

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.)

Dr. Plumer Morton Woodworth
about 1878
Dr. Plumer Morton Woodworth
about 1900
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 uncles Byron and Henry Bird. (My connection to Plumer?  His grandmother is my third great grandmother, making him first cousin to my g-grandfather F.J. Bird.  Plumer did not have any descendants, and so passed some of his photos and a scrapbook along to F.J. Bird, which were eventually passed along to me. My collection of old family photos overlaps the Warrenville Historical Society albums, so I'm working to identify all of them.)

Plumer has something else in common with his father: an impressive beard!  The resemblance is really remarkable, beards included.

Dr. Plumer M. Woodworth
Dr. Jacob Woodworth
There is a photo of a woman taken at the same studio at what appears to be the same time.  (Possibly engagement or wedding photos?)  I'll venture a guess that woman is Plumer's wife, Esther H. Teare.  But that's a story for another day!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

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

"New Hampshire, Birth Records, Early to 1900,"
index and images,,
GSU Film #1001056: accessed 5 June 2012.
Daniel Warren
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 a hand-transcribed copy of an earlier record from the town authorities telling the Warrens (listing the parents and children all by name) to get out of town within 14 days! (This order is recorded on pages 39 and 40 of the volume Births and Marriages 1749-1821, 1788-1793.)
The “get out of town” order still baffled me, but I had recently seen similar records from Vermont for the same time period, so I knew it wasn’t really unique.  Thanks to Google Books, I think I have an answer, and more:

According to William Willis Hayward in his book, The History of Hancock, New Hampshire, 1764-1889,

"For a town to refuse to receive newcomers on the face of the transaction seems to have been an inhospitable act.  It was, however, the custom in those years. Persons warned out were not expected to leave.  If in after years they became dependent, it simply relieved the town of their support, or at least it was supposed to do so…  Many, who afterwards were known as being among the substantial citizens of the town, were among the number thus received, simply because they brought but little wealth with them.  No disgrace is therefore attached to the fact that any person was so received."

Hayward goes on to say something incredible:

"…No man was more respected than Peter Warren.  To him we are indebted for the almost perfect manner in which our early records were preserved, and in various ways he was a valuable citizen; yet he was one of those who were warned out, and in his bold and legible handwriting is the record of the fact preserved."

My 5th great grandfather, Peter Warren, was the one who wrote the records of Hancock, New Hampshire!  No wonder the birth dates of his own children, the ones born in Massachusetts as well as the ones born in New Hampshire, were carefully recorded!

This one-paragraph summary of the Peter Warren family in the records of the town of Hancock, New Hampshire, appears to be the likely source of the New Hampshire birth record that I found on
As I have pondered the significance of this connection (me using a digitized copy of what my 5th great grandfather painstakingly recorded with a quill pen more than 200 years ago), I feel a certain sense of responsibility to be a vigilant record-keeper myself.  Peter Warren’s efforts have blessed many lives.  His descendents became community-builders and community-leaders.  They were people of faith who valued education, freedom and opportunity.  (Those are claims I can support with the records, by the way!)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

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 I realize that ALL fourteen women in the photo were also wearing small white ribbons.

So what did the ribbons represent?

A quick Wikipedia search for "White Ribbon" lead me to information about the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874 in Ohio. Frances Willard, a prominent Chicago suffragist, was elected national president of the WCTU in 1879. Clara and her husband Edwin R. Bird had many Chicago relatives, and likely traveled there on many occasions. E.R. Bird's parents had come to early Chicago from Chautauqua County, New York, birthplace of the US women's suffrage movement, and site of a WCTU pre-organizational meeting in 1874.

An undated newspaper obituary for Clara that I found in my great-grandfather F.J. Bird's album connects the two photos:

"During the twenty-seven years that she has resided in this city, she was identified with every work that had for its object the purity of society and the salvation of men. She was an active member and a staunch supporter of the W.C.T.U work. The cause of temperance was near to her heart, and by prayer and influence she sought to advance it in our city.... The obsequies held in Woodstock were in keeping with the occasion. The local union of the W.C.T.U. attended in a body."

Any good "find" generally leads to more questions, and this one is no exception. Now I'd like to identify all the women in the photo, and confirm that it really is the Woodstock union of the WCTU. I would love to know if my g-g-grandmother's Chicago and Chautauqua connections meant that she actually knew some of the leaders and reformers.

Tags : E.R. Bird , Clara A. Smith , Warrenville , Illinois , WCTU , White Ribbon , Woodstock , Temperance

Friday, February 1, 2008

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 had been doing some exploring on (FamilySearch Labs at the time I wrote this post) searching the new 1900 census index for others that I had been unable to locate through HeritageQuest or Ancestry. After a couple of attempts, I studied the photo more carefully to look for anything else that might help me identify her.

As I scrutinized the photo, I realized that I had misinterpreted the handwriting. The last two characters of the name weren't "ie" as in "Sophie." It clearly wasn't "Sophia" and I couldn't think of any other "Soph-" name. It was then that I realized the first letter was a D, and not an S. Viewing it as a "D-something" name with a "ph" in the middle lead me to "Daphne." Yes, it seemed to be Daphne, and not Sophie!

Well, still no Daphne appeared on the HeritageQuest 1900 census index. However, the 1900 census index gave me several possibilities. In the end, it was a dim recollection of a newspaper clipping I had seen in my g-grandfather's things that helped me identify Daphne. The census had one Daphne living in a household with both parents and grandparents. I would never have recognized any connection to her parents, but her grandmother's name struck me as familiar. Even though I can't find the particular wedding announcement I was remembering, it mentioned a marriage between a McKee and a Fisher. The albums that contained the photos had been donated by a McKee descendant. It made sense that the albums might contain photos of relatives other than Warrens.

The Daphne I found in the 1900 census was living with her parents Katherine F. and George M. Brown, and her grandparents, Daniel and Caroline Fisher. I searched the Illinois Statewide Marraige Index and found the marriage record (two, actually!) for Caroline (Carrie) McKee and Daniel Fisher. There are two listings, a year apart, in two separate counties!

Now that's a story for another day, if I can figure out why they are listed as having married twice!

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Tags : Warrenville Historical Society , Frederick Joel Bird , James McKee , Daphne Brown, Katherine Fisher Brown , George M. Brown , Daniel Fisher , Caroline McKee , Genealogy , Family History