© St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2003
Genealogy can sometimes be equal parts exhilaration and frustration: the thrill of uncovering a genealogical gem but also the aggravation of hitting a brick wall. The next time you're tempted to toss your carefully collected stash of documents into the nearest landfill, consider the experiences of Clarence Burkey and Lewis Martin.
Burkey, of Spring Hill, e-mailed me last spring for suggestions on pursuing information about his Civil War ancestor. With my recommendations and lots of perseverance on his part, he made a quantum leap in his research. Here's what he said:
"A thank you and an update on your suggestions for my Civil War soldier ancestor. I received the pension records that included more than 25 years of almost annual physical examination information. His partial "autobiography" did fill in many voids (places of birth and marriage, etc.) and redirected my search. It also corrected some of the misleading information that the muster rolls had supplied. The Somerset County attachment and western Pennsylvania enlistment were actually his re-enlistment.
"How successful was my redirection? Magnificent! I was able to piece together most of his ancestors. I locked in the Custers/Kusters, Op den Graeffs, the Cleve bunch, Maria Habsburg, her grandfather Maximilian I, Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella, England's Plantagenet line, William the Conqueror, and most of Europe's old royalty. It became a history of Europe.
"This search made me realize something. Often, the further back in time you go into ancestral search, the easier it may become. I was the only one looking for my great-grandfather. I found a second person looking for his wife's parents. A total of three of us were looking for his mother's parents.
"Thousands of people are researching the Custers. Tens of thousands are searching the Op den Graeffs (they arrived on the Concord and were among the founding families of the Germantown section of Philadelphia).
"Thank you again for your suggestion." -- Clarence Burkey
Lewis Martin of Seminole wrote to say he had a much better experience than I chasing down Catholic Church records:
"Ms. Allen, your piece today about researching church records caused me to offer a somewhat different side in my search for the baptismal record of my grandfather. All my mother ever said about his roots was that he was born in New York. Later, I asked her New York what -- NYC, elsewhere in the state -- where? She didn't know for sure, but she thought he was born in New York City. My request to the city (along with a $6 charge) showed nothing of a James Driscoll McGowan.
"I happened to be talking with the current pastor of a Kentucky Catholic church my grandfather attended all his adult life. He suggested sending an inquiry to every Catholic Church in New York. I went to the Catholic Directory at the library and selected the churches that were extant up to 1865. I eliminated churches whose names suggested a specific ethnic association and came up with 33 candidates in Manhattan and the Bronx.
"I sent off a form letter to the first 11 churches, giving specific dates that I knew. If my memory is correct, I heard from all 11 churches. Of course, I was receiving responses that said, "We're sorry but we find no . . ." Then, I opened one of my response envelopes and kept trying to find the "We're sorry" statement, only to realize that what I was looking at was a copy of my grandfather's baptismal certificate. The entries confirmed dates, parents' names and sponsors.
"So, although it's sad that we are encountering more instances of not enough time, clerical help, etc., I must commend those 11 New York City churches for their assistance, and especially St. Francis Xavier church in lower Manhattan. Oh, yes, I sent them a nice contribution." -- Lewis Martin
Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can read her column online at www.sptimes.com. Type Donna Murray Allen in the search box. Or visit her Web site: www.rootsdetective.com.
Donna Murray Allen will teach a Beginning Genealogy course on three consecutive Saturdays starting Mar. 29, at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus (across from Raymond James Stadium). The class meets from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The cost is $20. Call (813) 253-7980 or e-mail email@example.com to register.