Wednesday, July 25, 2012

FBI Follow-Up

The immediate response to my request to the FBI was a form email letting me know the request is being processed.  Once a FOI/PA (Freedom of Information/Privacy Act) request number is assigned, I can check the status of my request.

It would be so very cool if they had information on my great-grandmother's first husband, Joseph St. Onge!  I can think of a couple of cousins who would be very interested in knowing more about their great-grandfather and his supposed criminal past!

I will update you with regard to their response time and the outcome.  I'm sure that particular section or department of the FBI has more pressing FOI/PA matters to pursue and requests to answer; odds are genealogical requests have the lowest priority, so I doubt I will hear very quickly.

Copyright (c) 2011 Wendy L. Callahan

Thursday, July 19, 2012

North Carolina & Virginia Ancestors

As one works their way up my family tree, they will mostly find New England ancestors.  I grew up on the south shore of Massachusetts in Plymouth County, and so did the majority of my ancestors.  Though some of them were scattered throughout Massachusetts, naturally all lines converged in Plymouth County, where all 8 of my great-grandparents lived out their lives.

Many also found their way to and from Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  There were a few in New Hampshire. Some inevitably worked their way down from Nova Scotia into Maine and Massachusetts.  Even my very recent Irish and Italian immigrant ancestors chose Plymouth County, Massachusetts for their home.

So you can imagine me as a 12-year-old first piecing together the family tree, under the assumption that everyone in my family had always resided in New England (or Italy, Ireland or Nova Scotia), then having those assumptions blown away when I discovered one line had not.

In my 20's, I was intrigued by my great-great grandmother, Georgianna Winsor. She was born 6 February 1851 in Duxbury, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, daughter of William W. Winsor, who was one of the founders of Port Angeles, Washington. I explored my 3rd-great grandfather's life in depth in December of 2009 and again in March of 2010.

While what I dug up about him was fascinating, it still did not astound me as much as great-great grandma Georgianna's ancestry through William's mother, Martha Howett.

I never located a death certificate for William and have not found anything on him beyond 1866.  Therefore, I had no idea his mother was not from Massachusetts.  His birth record in Duxbury certainly did not indicate as much.

It was about 10 years ago when a generous Winsor cousin sent me a photocopy of pages 340 to 345 out of the History of the Town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and a death certificate for Martha (Howett) Winsor that I realized my ancestry had an unexpected deviation from the mostly-New England history I knew so well.

After that contact, some online digging told me what I needed to know:

Martha Howett, along with her sisters Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Lydia each married a Winsor from Duxbury, and came to live in Massachusetts.  The girls' parents were Richard Howett and Lydia Sanderson of Tyrrell County, North Carolina.

Working my way back along the Howett and Sanderson families also brought me into Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, and Perquimans County, North Carolina - all very unexpected ancestral homes!

Often we think of New Englanders migrating out from the area, into New York state, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and beyond.  We often see patterns of westward expansion from New England.  We don't usually think about folks coming up to the area from the south!

There are still many questions about these particular ancestors, and this is my focus today: revisiting my North Carolina and Virginia ancestors.

Copyright (c) 2011 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Requesting FBI Records

My son is with his father this summer, and while I miss him very much, I try to make the most of the quiet time in the house.  Sometimes the silence is rather oppressive (like yesterday - it was a lonely one) and sometimes it is perfect for working my way through a variety of to-do lists, whether they are related to writing, crafts (scrapbooking and cross-stitching are my craft hobbies) or genealogy.

A long time ago, I wrote about Joseph William St. Onge.  Joseph was my great-grandmother Mildred Marian Burrell's first husband.  I descend from Mildred through her second husband, Herbert Benjamin Haley.

Joseph is a figure of some mystery and speculation; I'd go so far as to say he's really a family legend, because the only absolute truths we know about him are these:

1.  He was born 30 August 1893 in Marlborough, Middlesex County, Massachusetts to Joseph and Mary Emily (Fortier) St. Onge.

2.  He was married 15 April 1915 in Rockland, Plymouth County, Massachusetts to Amanda Angelina Jean.

3.  He and Amanda were divorced 6 April 1920 in Brockton, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.

4.  He was married 17 April 1920 in Dover, Strafford County, New Hampshire to Mildred Marian Burrell.

5.  He and Mildred had at least 4 children.  Whether or not Joseph is the father of William St. Onge (who was adopted by George Perry of West Bridgewater) is debatable.

The family story is this:

Joseph was a rum-runner during prohibition.  His children saw him sometime in the 1940's and knew him as "Joe Brown" from New York.

Research has not turned up a Social Security Death Index record, so Joseph either died in prison, on the run, or before Social Security was enacted.  Alternatively, he applied under a completely different name.  I have not found a 1930 census record for him or a death record for him.  There was a Joseph St. Onge roughly the same age in the 1930 census in Utah, however I obtained that one's death record and it was not a match.

If Joseph was a criminal, and particularly if he was involved in any organized crime or rum-running, it's possible he had an FBI file.  Today I have written to the FBI to request a look-up for Joseph and his alias, "Joe Brown".  I gave them all the information I have, which seems like so very little to go on.

However, if they have anything whatsoever on him, it will be worth the effort.  If they do not, then I am back to square one: not knowing what happened to Joseph.

Requesting a file from the FBI is very straightforward and they lay out the process for you on their website.

You may make a request via mail, fax or e-mail.  They tell you what information to include in a request.

If the person's date of birth is less than 100 years ago, they require proof of death.

You can name the amount you are willing to pay for information, and the form letter specifies that you would like to be contacted if the fee exceeds that amount.  I erred on the side of an amount close to that which one would pay for a Civil War pension file.

I do not how timely they are in responding to requests, or what fees to expect if I am lucky and they actually have a file on Joseph.  However, I will definitely blog more about the process once they respond, whether they find a file or not.

Copyright (c) 2011 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An Apology & Essential Genealogical Advice

I must apologize for the dearth of posts.

Only 3 days after my last post, I found out I was pregnant.

It's been a very uncomfortable first trimester - nothing like when I was pregnant with my son!  My dear Gavin was an easy baby (well, until he was born - then it was a different story; but he's come a long way from being an infant who wanted to be held all the time, which is something I obliged, and is now such an adorable, almost-10-year-old boy.  People constantly remark on his compassion, consideration and good manners.  Let's hope they say the same about #2 when he or she is that age!).

This little one has certainly challenged me.

However, my energy has returned and any discomfort has finally abated as I enter the second trimester.  I can finally concentrate once more.

So while the newest Mayflower descendant and Callahan family member progresses toward his or her first encounter with this world, I am back to work with genealogy.

During my "I'm too tired to move" days, I managed to do some research for friends.  One friend in particular has quite a mystery about his family, but I don't think it's nearly as complicated as it initially seemed.  Once I started locating vital records, I found that whatever information he was given was simply incorrect.

Unfortunately, parents or grandparents can forget things sometimes, which leaves us with more questions than answers.  I think that's why the first thing I urge people to do, when they come to me for advice about how to research their family tree, is talk to family members.

In particular, I encourage them to speak to their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, and the cousins who fall under those particular generations.  I know my Nana's first cousins have shared some very interesting information that my Nana or others did not recall, or share with me.

These older generations are precious.  You may learn everything you need to know from one person, or you might get conflicting information from a few people that can help you narrow down some of your questions.

I'm really grateful that my great-great aunt, Espezzia, took the time to share her story.  It was 1991 and she, along with her sisters, Elsie and Lia (my great-Nana) put together a typed document of recollections about their parents and their childhood.  They were all nearly 90-years-old at the time, and the document itself is invaluable to the Galfre descendants.

Had anyone thought to ask Elsie, Lia, Espezzia, and their others sisters and brothers about their childhoods or their parents' lives in Italy?

I don't know, but I'm so glad these women took the initiative to put their thoughts on paper for future generations.

Likewise, I've "interviewed" my Nana, my grandfather, my grandmother, cousins of theirs, an aunt, and my father.  It's not just about adding names, dates and information to a family tree, but stepping back in time and putting yourself in their shoes.

Talk to the older generations in your family now - don't let the chance pass you by!

Copyright (c) 2011 Wendy L. Callahan