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Who you going to call? Brick Wall Busters!

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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-03-05 12:13 PM
Original message
Who you going to call? Brick Wall Busters!
I've only really gotten into genealogy the last four years or so; before that, I was just collecting facts and occasional family trees/anecdotes/essays from family members. Now I'm one of those nutcases who finds microfilm of city directories endlessly fascinating and has clocked the response times of various vital records offices (Current loser: New Jersey, in terms of length from inquiry to response).

A couple years ago I heard of the concept of the brick wall, a situation in which the genealogist reaches what appears to be a dead end concerning a particular figure: written records appear not to exist, or the path to the right set appears to be blocked.

How do you approach this problem? Do you have any success stories/conundrums you'd care to share? Weigh in here!
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woodsprite Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-03-05 02:32 PM
Response to Original message
1. I don't know, but when you find out, please share.
I'm running up against a grandfather who ran away from his family when his kids were little and never contacted them again. He didn't want to have kids, took all their savings from the tea jar and left my grandmother a note saying he'd send for her when he found work. Never sent for her and 7 years later she had their marriage declared null/void. The future governor of Delaware helped her move out of her flat in the middle of the night, leaving behind several items of furniture that she couldn't finish paying on. Of course, this was back in the 30's. I have NO idea how to find what happened to him. If I ever can, THAT will be the cherry on top of all the genealogy research I've done.

His family stayed in touch with my Mom and uncles. Never said anything more about him. Mom said she thought the one uncle had kept in touch with him because frequently he would visit the boys and want my grandmother to let him take them overnight someplace. Mom just always figured he was planning on taking them to see him. Mom was older (9yo when he left) and would have recognized him as their father. My uncles were barely 3yo and newborn. His mother blamed my grandmother on his leaving because she had the 3rd baby. As far as our family knows, he never met Uncle Harvey.

From my searching, I have found out there are at least 16 different ways to spell MacGuinness, and none of them are born at the same time my grandfather was.
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-05 01:19 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. I was looking for a link to an article on brick walls...
Some time ago, Family Tree magazine did an article about different methods for breaking through brick walls. I couldn't find a link (yet) but do recall the following suggestions:

*Study the social history of the group you are researching (e.g., turn-of-the-century Italian immigrants, Hessian mercenaries in the Revolutionary War, etc.)

*Expand research to other members of the family, such as siblings, cousins, and the like.

*Create a timeline containing all the things you do know and can verify.

*Show your problem to another genealogist.

*Look for connections within the community (business partners, fellow immigrants, friends) and research those.

*Question everything.

*Take a break from the problem and come back to it later.

*Create a theory.

Your problem is a special one, given that the relative apparently severed all ties and we do not yet have access to the 1940 Census (1930 just became available). My thoughts are that you could check:

*Searchable databases of newspapers which might contain references to your relative.

*Any documents and materials relating to the uncle who kept in touch. Maybe there's some future reference to the grandfather in an obituary or other public announcement.

*Look for some other connection to your grandfather -- a friend, a business associate, an organization. Did he serve in the military? Is there any chance he wound up in a veterans' cemetery?

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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-22-05 08:28 PM
Response to Reply #1
6. Hey woodsprite...
I'm quite good at getting past brick walls. My main search the last few years have been Smiths, so you know I can get results!

PM with your info and I can check Godfrey for you. It has a very wide open search that can help to find all kinds of great info you might not otherwise find.

I had one of those deserters in our branch as well. My great grand-aunt was married and outlived 3 husbands. But she divorced the 2nd one before he died. He ended up out in Nebraska later on, and did his best to avoid the census taker.

FSC
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Kindigger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-06-05 03:24 PM
Response to Original message
3. Someone said....
quit thinking about it for awhile. That's usually what I do after all the reasoning, timelines etc.... get all the info I can floating around in my head.

More times than not, within a couple days I will be daydreaming, and humming along when it suddenly hits me like a bolt of lightening.

Another thing that works for me...think about it as I fall asleep. I can't count the times I've sat bolt upright with the answer.
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Xipe Totec Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-08-05 06:42 PM
Response to Original message
4. If you're serous, try these guys
I hit a brick wall around 1740 in Mexico. My direct ancestor was adopted, records indicated he was an Amerindian. Turns out he was not. He was of direct Mideastern descent, which means his ancestors came on a boat, probably a descendant of Exilers, the Jewish/Muslim people cast out of Spain in 1492. Definitely narrows down the filed of search, and points me in the right direction.

I highly recommend Family Tree DNA for anyone doing serious genealogical research. I am definitely sold. Without the Y-DNA test I would have no real leads.

http://www.familytreedna.com

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shraby Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-22-05 12:59 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. I maintain a genealogy site for
the county I live in. I put tombstone transcriptions, marriages, bios, obits, etc. online. I can give you an idea of what causes some of those brick walls.
We have a burial of 7 sailors in one of the cemeteries who are to this day unidentified. Their ship went down in Lake Michigan near this town so the men were buried here. Their photos and a list of their personal items were put in the newspapers and 1 was identified many years later by a sister who happened to read an old paper and recognized her brothers things.
I ran across an article in the old newspapers. An account of a man killed when hit by a train...unidentified, he wasn't a local person.
In those days people didn't carry identification as they do now. No need to, they mostly rode horses, buggies or walked.
Many were lost on the Great Lakes as sailors. The shipmates would sign on in one port, get to another and change ships like I change clothes every day. Sometimes there was a record of who was on the ship, many times there wasn't.
I would venture to guess similar events happened throughout the country in the 1800s and before.
Sometimes you will never locate the "brick wall". My suggestion is to keep going with other parts of your family tree and just keep the brick wall in the files, but don't fret forever about him/her.
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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-16-05 01:08 PM
Response to Reply #4
12. Wow Cool!
I had never really considered doing it before, but now I really am.

My only problem is finding a son of a son of a son in our family. Neither of my dad's brothers had kids, and my brother and I are completely estranged.

My one cousin told me recently that supposedly our GGG grandfather (or possible GGGG, because of ages) traveled to America with John Jacob Astor. While our guy became a farmer in NY, Astor had the help of some powerful people in NY to help him get into the fur business.

Her father insisted on this for years, and many of the clues she's given me in the past have panned out. According to her father (and his parents and grandparents, obviously), our Schmidt came from the same town in Germany that Astor did. And that would make it Waldorf (as in Waldorf Astoria).

We know so much about my GG grandfather, but almost nothing about his parents. If I could find a Schmidt in Waldorf with the same DNA, I could begin figuring out the previous generations.

Anybody know how much you can do with mitochondrial in a case like this?

FSC
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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jun-24-05 09:27 PM
Response to Original message
7. I broke through one just yesterday! Yay!
My great grand aunt-- the one that outlived 3 husbands?

She had one son (Manford Jones) who was impossible to trace. Each census record, he showed up with a different last name, and with a different birthdate. And the lazy census takers would never specify if he was a Jones or a Webster, so I was not sure if he was from husband # 2, or husband #3.

Yesterday afternoon I was talking to his great niece (who I am going to visit next month..yay!) and I asked her if she might know anything about this guy. She mentioned her father talked about "Uncle Manny." He had evidently been pretty adventurous, and had gone out west to look for oil and/or gold. She thought he ended up in Alaska.

Whaddya know? I did a wide open search in Godfrey last night, and found the guy in the 1920 census working at an Alaskan Oil Exploration Compay in Nenana, near Fairbanks. I had essentially shelved this guy, thinking he was a lost cause. Miracles never cease! Now I have to sweet talk a RAOGK person into trying to find me a death cert or an obit.

FSC
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-25-05 07:07 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. Godfrey and RAOGK?
Refresh my memory, please. What do those terms stand for?

Congratulations on your breakthrough! I hope you get an obituary out of this. Sometimes there's some really useful info in an obit.
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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-25-05 09:22 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. Here they are....
I SCREAM about the Godfrey library every chance I get. There's no way I would have gotten everything in my tree I've gotten the last 6 months without it!

My original Godfrey post:
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph...

Shugah's Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness post:
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph...

Yep, I found about a bazillion obits in Madison this past month that have given me all sorts of new clues!

Good luck! Both are very valuable!
FSC
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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-22-05 12:47 PM
Response to Original message
10. Hey cb...
Edited on Mon Aug-22-05 12:51 PM by fudge stripe cookays
These two books are really great for that....
-Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems
-More Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems

(The Amazon link I posted doesn't want to work). They're published by Family Chronicle magazine.

I bought the first book at Origins Bookstore in Janesville, Wisconsin when I was up there doing research. It has some GREAT ideas in it! I can only assume the second book is just as good.

Here's the Origins online store, opened to the "General Books" link:
http://origins.safeshopper.com/67/cat67.htm?110

To see what else they have, hit the little blue "Home" button on the left, then the products are listed there, so you can check the other categories.

The nice thing about their store is they give you coupons for a future discount after you've bought 7. I have most of the local interest books for Rock County ones now; the general ones are good too.

Good luck!
FSC
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-23-05 09:55 AM
Response to Reply #10
11. Many thanks.
I was looking at the titles on the Family Chronicle book page and was most intrigued by the psychic genealogy book! Who knew there was such a thing? Maybe I can think my way through that brick wall, huh?

But I will look into that. I wasn't even familiar with Family Chronicle in the first place, and more resources are always welcome. Thanks, Fudge Stripe.
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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-16-05 01:16 PM
Response to Reply #11
13. Hey it worked for me!
Our guy who went to Canada had one son named George who did not go to Canada with him, nor did he stay in North Dakota. I had info that he moved to Minnesota.

I found him in Wabasha County, MN in 1920, and then he disappeared. I had no idea where he'd gone. Back to Wisconsin? Another county in Minnesota?

And then one day as I browsed the genealogy section at our local downtown library, I came down the Minnesota aisle. Looking down, I saw a Minneapolis phone directory from 1934.

Thinking to myself, I considered. Now, if I were living out in the boonies, dealing with harsh winters and no one around, what would I do? and my instant answer was "move to the big city."

I opened up the directory to Smith, and there he was. And I knew it was him, because it listed his wife (Miranda) with him. Not a common name. AND it also listed all of his unusual kids' names living with them or nearby (Ihla, Velva, etc).

So don't discount intuition in cases like these!
FSC
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-03-08 03:49 PM
Response to Original message
14. Still looking to break through some brick walls.
Edited on Thu Jul-03-08 03:55 PM by CBHagman
Since my Great-Great-Grandpa died on July 3rd back in 1900, I am thinking about him today and wondering I'll find the next biographical tidbit. I went looking for his marriage license, banns, anything but so far nothing has turned up. It may take a road trip to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to pore over microfilmed records and bust through the wall.

We know Henry was an Irish immigrant, a Roman Catholic, a mason, and a naturalized citizen, and that's about as far as I've gotten. Even his headstone is missing (We're down to a big family headstone marked DUGGAN and an individual marker or two in Cathedral Cemetery, Scranton).

Here's the obituary from July 4th, 1900:

Henry Duggan died at his late home on Railroad avenue yesterday afternoon. The deceased had been a resident of this city for the past thirty-six years and was highly respected. He is survived by a widow and the following children: Bernard, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Agnes Beckett; Mrs. John F. Nolan, Katie and Nettie, all of this city, and one sister, Mrs. Katherine Burke, of Dunmore. Funeral Thursday morning.

Thus far I've got the death record and will for Great-Great-Grandma, Anna Devitt Duggan, plus death certificates for my Great-Aunt Nettie and Great-Great-Aunt Katherine Burke. FamilySearch would have it that Katherine Duggan Burke was from Ballycastle, County Mayo, but I have no independent confirmation of that.
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Spider Jerusalem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-03-08 08:42 PM
Response to Reply #14
15. Irish Catholics are difficult if not impossible to trace.
The Records Office in Dublin was burned in 1922, and a lot of records were lost. Couple this with the fact that Catholic births and marriages were often not recorded by the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, and Irish genealogy can be very frustrating. (one of my brick walls is my great-great-grandfather, who was born in County Cork and emigrated to America as a child.)
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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-23-10 08:12 AM
Response to Reply #15
28. Not to mention the fact that ALL of my Irish ancestors
were named James and Charles. Seriously.

Plus a VERY common Irish surname and the fact that my people didn't come directly from Ireland. :P
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Gormy Cuss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-04-08 02:51 PM
Response to Reply #14
20. Did the Duggans live in a heavily Irish neighborhood?
Sometimes that's helpful in terms of confirming which was the county of origin. Many times the Irish in one smaller city or neighborhood came from the same geography back home. Word got back to the old homes that the area was a good place for jobs or the place where your cousins went so you'll have family, etc.

Have you found his naturalization record? Sometimes you get lucky with a little more detail than is necessary in the petition.
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-04-08 07:23 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. Good questions.
My great-great-grandfather landed in New York, at Castle Garden, from what I can tell, and settled in Scranton. Scranton was a big destination for Irish from County Mayo, and indeed FamilySearch suggests that my great-great-aunt was born in Ballycastle. But I don't know the source of the FamilySearch info and nothing else I've turned up points to any specific county or townland.

I've got copies of the naturalization papers, and they are a treasure, but tantalizingly short on details. For example, there's a birth year but no birth month or day. Great-Great-Grandpa's character witness was in the same trade (masonry) but born in the U.S., not Ireland.

However, thanks for the suggestions, and I'm going to keep beating the bushes for information.

:hi:
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cornermouse Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-03-08 09:43 PM
Response to Original message
16. If it's before 1900, I look for the inlaws.
Edited on Thu Jul-03-08 09:47 PM by cornermouse
Also, I had a great great grandmother move back here 20 years after they moved away from the area. She died and is buried in one of the cemeteries that was popular with the family. Once I found out she died of TB I realized they had moved back to the area because the state had built a brand new TB facility which was still in existence. If something like this applies to you, you might want to consider the possibility that the hospital might have kept some of the records for historic reasons. However, you should also keep in mind that you may not be able to get access to those records. Probably the first step would be to talk to whoever is in charge of the records.
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-04-08 11:48 AM
Response to Reply #16
17. Yeah, got to go after the siblings, neighbors, associates.
My great-great aunt was considerate enough to hang on until 1912, by which time the death certificates in Pennsylvania were more detailed and I could get a little background information on her. And I think it's time to check out John L. Travies, the guy who was the character witness for my great-great-grandfather's citizenship application.

The contributors in Family Tree magazine have recounted things like using obituaries of siblings to get the straight dope on a particular ancestor. I can testify that an obituary turns up information that may appear nowhere else, as I first found my great-great-grandmother's maiden name out of an obit in 1966!
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cornermouse Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-04-08 12:24 PM
Response to Reply #17
18. That reminds me.
I got my g-g-g-grandfather George's civil war pension records and found his married daughters, in-laws, and siblings had all made signed affidavits and vouchers. I don't think any of the signed statements was by anyone who wasn't related. And his half brother John's civil war pension gave me the date of death of their father and other info.
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-04-08 01:14 PM
Response to Reply #18
19. I've just come from checking HeritageQuest online.
Any of you genealogists who haven't already done so ought to check to see if your local library allows access to HeritageQuest and other genealogy materials from your home computer. All I have to do is provide my library card number when signing in and I can search books,the Census, and other materials right from home.
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Gormy Cuss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-04-08 09:57 PM
Response to Reply #17
22. To spur you on with checking out the witness, here's my story.
My Irish immigrant set met in the U.S. but were both from west Galway, as were most of the Irish in their community. He lived to an old age and much was know about him. She died in her 20s in 1908, so little was known of her.

In his naturalization petition my g-grandfather had two character witnesses named and I noticed that one had the same surname as his wife. By tracking down that character witness (a first cousin, as it turned out) I was able to piece together the story of his wife's side, first by associating relatives in censuses and city directory listings, then by tracing each of their immigration records. All came through Boston and several came after the longer declaration forms came into play so I was able to record the parent's names and residences as well as confirm even more relatives in the states including my g-gmother's older sister with her married name. With that piece of info I was finally able to figure out which immigration record belonged to my g-grandmother. I still don't have a birth record for her but I'm fairly certain where the family lived around the time she was born.
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CBHagman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Nov-05-10 09:47 PM
Response to Reply #16
29. Update on the Duggans.
Edited on Fri Nov-05-10 09:51 PM by CBHagman
Just found out there's a book, The Burke-Duggan Family: From Oppression to Freedom, available for perusal at the Library of Congress. It lists Ballyglass, County Mayo, as the home of my great-great-grandfather's sister, Catherine Duggan Burke. I simply stumbled on the title of the book when I was searching for Duggan online.

I'd found Catherine Duggan Burke's obituary a while back. Here's a link:


http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~alaine/obit/bur...

Catherine _ Burke - 8 Mar 1912
Scranton (PA) Times , Sat 9 Mar 1912

Mrs Catherine Burke, 80, died yesterday at the home of her daughter, Mrs Catherine Gilligan, Webster Ave, Dunmore. Lived here 60 years. Survived by children, Rev HP Burke of Hawley, Thomas J Burke of Binghamton, W J Burke, Mrs Catherine Gilligan & Mrs R H McGuire of Dunmore. Funeral Mon, St Mary's Church & Cemetery.






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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-07-08 11:52 AM
Response to Original message
23. Jungian Synchronicity always been my best tool.
I cracked my biggest brick wall accidentally - or as Jung would call it, through Synchronicity.

I have ancestors who immigrated 25 years before the Germans to America series started. Without a passenger list or without any idea where they came from in Germany, I'd always be looking through that haystack for the needle. All the records I had been able to find simply said "Germany." And there were precious few indexes available for any time before Germans to America. I only had a vague notion of what years they might have come over.

One day, I'm looking at an old census book in the library and notice that the shelf next to it - where the immigration and passenger lists were shelved - contained a few new volumes. They covered several ports, but, as I walked by I randomly picked the one for New York that covered 1829-1833. It was a very small window but - you never know, right?

Unbelievably, my ancestors were there. Plus, there was a great deal more family who died in the crossing and a rare mention of the city they originated from rather than simply the country. It was a treasure trove that had me literally shaking with excitement.

I know this isn't helpful, except to tell you never to discount a possibility - especially one that just happens to catch your eye. It could mean something more than simple observation.



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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-08-08 10:53 AM
Response to Reply #23
24. Fabulous!
Great minds think alike!

(see my post #14 about the Minneapolis directory....) :hi:
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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-08-08 05:03 PM
Response to Reply #24
25. Now that's what I'm talking about - exactly.
Edited on Tue Jul-08-08 05:05 PM by sybylla
It's strange how some days all you run into are brick walls and other days everything just falls into place - even when you aren't trying.

I've had it happen on several occasions. Like finding an old cemetery for a long dead city no longer on a map by driving straight to it instinctively (that one was in Green County). Or turning into a 20 acre cemetery and stopping the car right in front of the stone of a family member I didn't even know was buried there.

Those are the days I live for - genealogically speaking. They make all the other unproductive drudgery worthwhile.

We have got to get together one of these days in Mad City. Summertime always consumes my weekends, but if you're planning a trip, let me know. I might be able to wedge a day free.

I'm also applying for a temp job in Middleton. If I get it, I'll be commuting part of the time and staying part of the time in Mad City with my college bound sons. It means I'll be around a lot more for genealogy - especially on week nights. So cross your fingers and send good vibes my way for both reasons.
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fudge stripe cookays Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-08-08 05:08 PM
Response to Reply #25
26. Will do!
I'm sending good vibes!

I'm actually going to have to concentrate on some other areas for awhile-- the visiting cousins part of the endeavour, but will do my best to get together SOON.

Get THIS piece of serendipity--
On my way up to Minneapolis, I stopped in Menomonie. I had one couple end up there, and knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't at least give it a quick shot, say I failed and get on with it.

I was going to try to find their old house-- if I ran by the cemetery all the better. They lived on 13th Avenue, but I hadn't checked that closely. Off the main drag, I saw 13th Street and turned on it. Wouldn't you know....it led me RIGHT to the cemetery! It was ON 13th Street!

I drove around for a bit, thinking...surely they have a flat stone and I'll never see it. But as I rounded a curve, I saw a HUGE Smith monument. I thought...surely it couldn't be this easy...it NEVER is.

It was them. Now THAT was cool! AND I even found the house after that!
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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-09-08 03:15 PM
Response to Reply #26
27. Fabulous!
And a Smith, too. It's like they're all of a sudden calling out to you where ever you go now that the rumor is you're looking for them.
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