Wikitree becomes evil / Chris Whitten is a liar

Several years ago I stopped using Geni.com because they decided to make previously private profiles public. I started using Wikitree instead because the founder, Chris Whitten, promised that Wikitree would not do this. He lied. Let me re-iterate. Chris Whitten is a liar. I wish I had saved screencaps where he told me Wikitree would not do the thing it has now done.

Wikitree decided to take private information and make it public.

I have profiles of people that I had set to private that were made not only public, but editable by anyone. Because Chris Whitten thinks he’s a better judge of what should be private about my family than I am.

While there’s nothing about people who died over 100 years ago that I am worried about, I no longer trust Chris Whitten. I would have no problem if he decided this is how privacy levels will work for all new profiles. But to retro-actively remove privacy protections for information tells me he’d be willing to do it again. What’s to say he won’t decide to make public information about living people? Or recently deceased? He’s shown that their privacy policy isn’t worth the electrons it was printed with.

Even worse, Wikitree will not let me delete the information they’ve let me keep private to this point. So I’m stuck with leaving that information with an untrustworthy shitheel.

So I repeat. Chris Whitten is a goddamn fucking liar. Wikitree has become evil.

Edited to add: Employee Eowyn Langholf is also a liar. In her response to my complaint with the Washington Attorney General she stated that: ” no private information has or will be made public “. Which is incorrect. The profile of my great grandfather Joseph Peter Weiss was made public.

Genealogy: do not trust, verify

The last couple of days I’ve been doing some quick research on an in-law, Andrew Fischer of Campbell County, South Dakota. He married Anna Lindemann, a relative of mine. I generally do some research on an in-law’s parents, siblings and anyone else that can be considered “immediate family” in case those people’s lives reveal something about my family.

Andrew Fischer was born in South Russia in 1903 and came to the US in 1910. His parents, Andreas and Magdalena Fischer, had more children after establishing themselves in Campbell County, South Dakota. (However, see my note in the final paragraph of this post regarding Andrew’s parents.) The one I want to highlight is his brother, Arthur Fischer. Arthur Fischer was born about 1918 in South Dakota, and that’s where things go wrong.

Somewhere along the line, someone found an Arthur Fischer who was born in 1918 and died in 1988 and was buried in South Dakota. They assumed this Arthur Fischer was the son of Andreas and Magdalena. After all, what are the odds of more than one Arthur Fischer born in 1918 and connected to South Dakota? Pretty good actually.

Searching the Social Security Death Index for Arthur Fischers born about 1918 with some connection to South Dakota results in seven people:

Name Birth Date Death Date Last Residence (City,County,State)
Arthur Fischer 28 Oct 1918 6 Apr 1988 57754 Lead, Lawrence, South Dakota, USA
Arthur Fischer 17 Mar 1918 7 Aug 1997 32798 Zellwood, Orange, Florida, USA
Arthur Adolph Fischer 4 Jun 1916 22 Sep 2010 57078 Yankton, Yankton, South Dakota, USA
Arthur Fischer 3 Jun 1915 Dec 1961
Arthur M. Fischer 20 Mar 1915 7 Sep 1999 57437 Eureka, Mcpherson, South Dakota, USA
Arthur J. Fischer 6 Sep 1922 4 Dec 1993 57437 Eureka, Mcpherson, South Dakota, USA
Arthur Fischer 22 Feb 1922 Feb 1984 55112 Saint Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, USA

Two had their last residence in Eureka, just a 21 minute drive from Artas, where the “real” Arthur Fischer grew up. So which one is he?

According to ELCA baptismal records, the son of Andreas and Magdalena was born 17 Mar 1918:

ELCA baptism record for Arthur Fischer

The second Arthur Fischer listed above appears to be the correct one. Looking for an obituary for him, Genealogy Bank has the following (citing an obituary in the Orlando Sentinel):

79, Greenbluff Road, Zellwood, died Thursday, Aug. 7. Mr. Fischer was a quality assurance inspector for the U.S. government. Born in Artas, S.D., he moved to Central Florida in 1986. He was a member of Zellwood Golf Association. He was also an Army veteran of World War II and a member of Disabled American Veterans. Survivors: wife, Lois H.; sons, Bruce W., Inver Grove Heights, Minn., Bradley C., St. Paul, Minn.; sister, Elvina Huber, Mobridge, S.D.; brothers, John, Corvallis, Ore., Walter, Baxter, Minn. Woodlawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park, Orlando.

The obituary does not list his parents names, but the birthplace matches up. More importantly, Andreas and Magdalena had children named Alvina, John and Walter. Research on Alvina shows she married an Edward Huber. The Arthur Fischer who died in 1997 is the correct Arthur Fischer.

There are currently 10 family trees on Ancestry.com other than mine that include Arthur Fischer. As of today, all of them have his lifespan matching the first Arthur Fischer in the list above. And someone found the Find a Grave entry for the first Arthur Fischer, connected him to Andreas and Magdalena, added a bio, and included a photo.

That Arthur Fischer, however, was born in Napoleon, North Dakota, as his obituary states:

1988 obituary for the other Arthur Fischer

Maybe most of the people on Ancestry treat their trees there as “experimental” as I do, meaning, copy this at your own risk, as I haven’t verified everything. What’s on Find a Grave should be correct, however. People make mistakes. But it’s clear that noone has done much verification on the information for Arthur, they simply copied what someone else had. If you value the accuracy of your tree, do that verification before you copy a tree into your own. Assume that people make mistakes.

I’ve let the maintainer of the Find a Grave entry know, and I expect it’ll be corrected before too long. But those ten Ancestry trees, along with others on services I don’t use, will probably remain incorrect for years to come. A lesson from that is to remember that correctness of genalogical information is not proven by majority vote.

In my case, the easy things to find on Arthur Fischer didn’t reveal anything about Andrew Fischer, husband of Anna Lindemann. He died before Arthur, and I haven’t found any crossover in their records after childhood. In fact, in my better database (not my Ancestry tree), I haven’t included anything about the parents of the Andrew Fischer I’m interested in because I haven’t found a solid connection between Anna Lindemann’s husband and the rest of his family. Those same ten family trees are what suggested he is the son of Andreas and Magdalena. There’s a lot of suggestive evidence that backs that conclusion from those trees, but nothing solid, much less sufficient for a G.P.S. proof argument.

Alt Metten in Bohemia

My second great grand uncle (by marriage), Joseph Zimmerman, died in 1908 in Los Angeles. I had his death certificate and brief death notice from Los Angeles to establish the details around that event, but I knew there were obituaries for him in Iowa, where he’d resided for many years before removing to Los Angeles. I’d seen a transcription for one from the Guttenberg Press on a GenWeb site. Last week I remembered that, like a lot of other Iowa county libraries, the local library probably had a web site hosting digitized versions of their old newspapers. And the Guttenberg Library does have a newspaper site!

In addition to the Guttenberg Press obituary, the site also has one from the Clayton County Journal (only the first portion shown):

Obituary for Joseph Zimmerman from the Clayton County Journal
Obituary for Joseph Zimmerman from the Clayton County Journal, 11 Dec 1908, page 8

Unlike other evidence which listed either Austria or Baden as his place of birth, this obituary gives a fairly precise location: Alt Metten in Bohemia.

Being the curious and detailed person that I am, I want to know where Alt Metten was. I know there are gazetteers for historical Germany, but I didn’t know offhand if any such things cover the Austrian Empire or Bohemia in particular. And I like maps. So I perused the David Rumsey map collection web site to see if it had any for Bohemia. It does, and the approximate date is 1838, which is really close to Joseph Zimmerman’s year of birth.

Unfortunately, Alt Metten was not immediately apparent. So I made a copy of the map and, using GIMP, started crossing off place names that were not Alt Metten. Below you will see my handiwork, which is still not complete. The red marks tick off places that are within the Kingdom of Bohemia according to the map. Then I started with yellow marks for places outside the borders shown but which could conceivably be considered Bohemia. A couple of places I circled in green for further checking in case I can’t find better candidates. I still have some places to check.

Map of Kingdom of Bohemia  from Allgemeiner Hand Atlas der Ganzen Erde
Map of Kingdom of Bohemia from Allgemeiner Hand Atlas der Ganzen Erde

So far, nothing that is clearly Alt Metten.

Post-glacial Rebound near Håkansön

I attended a genealogy seminar on 25 September 2016 at the Swedish Club in Seattle, put on by SwedGen. The final portion was on the historical maps available from Landmäteriet. I’ve used that web site for the current maps, mostly as a gazetteer. I didn’t know the historical maps were available.

So I poked around looking for maps of Håkansön, the village where both my great grandparents are from. Some of the old church records identify the farm numbers where my family lived. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any land reform maps for the village, which would show the individual farms.

But there were some general maps for the area, and I noticed something interesting. The first image is from Google Maps of the peninsula today. The marker on it shows where Håkansön was according to the old maps (I thought it was slightly south of there).

Map of Klubbviken 2016
Klubbviken 2016

The second image is of the same area on a map identified as being from 1858-78. The peninsula is shorter, with an island just off the tip.

Map of Klubbviken from 1859-78
Klubbviken 1859-78

What was an island in the 1800s is now part of the mainland. I’m betting the change in sea level is due to post-glacial rebound. The entire area was under thousands of feet of ice 20,000 years ago. and it is now rising because the weight no longer presses down.

Kind of neat to see a long term geological process actually reflected in the maps.

Mary Evelyn Frederick’s SS-5

An update on Mary Evelyn Sorenson, the daughter of Alfred and Mae Sorenson. Between Ancestry’s Social Security Applications and Claims Index database and the death certificate of the person who had that Social Security Number, I had an idea that I’d found what had happened to my first cousin twice removed. However, her death certificate did not list parents, so I wasn’t certain that I had records for the right person.

In July I requested the Social Security SS-5 for the person with Mary’s Social Security Number. That’s the original application for a social security number. It has date of birth and parents on it usually. Here’s what I got:

SS-5 - Mary Evelyn Fredericks
SS-5 – Mary Evelyn Fredericks

Many of the items in this application match what I know about Mary Sorenson:

  • Father’s full name.
  • Mother’s first name.
  • Approximate year of birth.
  • Place of birth.
  • Name matches the name of Mae Sorenson’s daughter in the daughter’s announced marriage to George Grantzow.

That’s a lot of matching points. And unless someone took over her identity it’s the same woman who died in 1990, the S.S.N. and date of birth match the death certicate. I’m considering it pretty safe to assert these are all the same person.


Armed with that information, I was able to find a marriage record for Mary Evelyn Sorenson and Herbert George Fredericks in Los Angeles from 1935.

Marriage certificate for Herbert Fredericks and Mary Sorenson
Marriage certificate for Herbert Fredericks and Mary Sorenson

For some reason, Mary Sorenson thought her mother’s maiden name was Radtke. The other indication I have for Mae’s maiden name comes from Mae’s marriage record, which gave her name as Gibbons. She was raised in an orphanage, so I don’t know how accurate either name is.

I can start to put together a timeline for Mary Sorenson now:

Date Event Place Source
9 Mar 1914 Birth Madison, Wisconsin Death certificate
SS-5
1 Jan 1920 Census, recorded living with parents Madison, Wisconsin 1920 US Census
8 Sep 1935 Marriage to Herbert George Fredericks Los Angeles, California Marriage certificate
24 Feb 1937 Residence Redondo Beach, California SS-5
1 Apr 1940 Census, living with Herbert Fredericks Inglewood, California 1940 US Census
23 Nov 1943 Marriage to George William Grantzow Unknown, but announced in Madison, Wisconsin Two announcements in the Wisconsin State Journal
23 Jan 1948 Divorce from George Grantzow Madison, Wisconsin News in Wisconsin State Journal
7 Jun 1948 Marriage to James “Shorty” Reigle Dubuque, Iowa Announcement in Wisconsin State Journal
1 Nov 1949 Marriage license with James “Shorty” Reigle Madison, Wisconsin Announcement in Wisconsin State Journal
18 May 1951 Divorce from James Reigle Madison, Wisconsin News in Wisconsin State Journal
7 Jun 1951 Divorce from James Reigle vacated Madison, Wisconsin News in Wisconsin State Journal
26 Mar 1952 Divorce from James Reigle Madison, Wisconsin News in Wisconsin State Journal
May 1956 Name under Frances Marie Sorenson U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
Oct 1956 Name under Frances Marie Newton U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
Nov 1957 Name under Frances Marie Vonhauzer U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
16 Nov 1958 Residence, name under Evelyn Tanner California Mother’s obituary in Capital Times
13 Oct 1990 Death, name as Frances Marie Newton Lynwood, California Death certificate

There’s still a lot of gaps in her life that I could research and document, in addition to better documenting the known events.

  • how and when did her marriage to Herbert Fredericks end
  • what was the deal with incongruent marriage records for Mary and James Reigle
  • how did Mary get the name Evelyn Tanner, and did she marry to get that name
  • when and where did she change her name to Frances Marie
  • did she marry to acquire the surname Newton
  • did she marry to acquire the surname Vonhauzer

Ysola Chaves Ryan’s Sensational Will Contest

It’s no secret that I love a scandal in my family tree. These situations make for the best stories. I found this one involving my second great uncle Elgie Jerome Ryan earlier this week.

My second great grandfather’s first wife (my ancestor), Mary Parker, died in 1875. William Dennis Ryan re-married a year later to Mary Powers, and they had three children: Elgie Jerome, Glenn Alexis and Arch. William already had six children with Mary Parker: Alice, Frances, Mary, Julia, Laura, and Leo. Glenn and Arch died before age 30. Over the years, Elgie lived with his siblings in Merrill and Colorado before moving west to Tulare, California and establishing a very successful drug store.

Elgie’s first wife was Barta Holford, who was from Bloomington, Wisconsin, just a few miles away from the Ryan farm. Elgie married Barta on 22 Aug 1905 at the Eastern Star Lodge in Bloomington. Shortly after that Elgie and Barta were established in Tulare.

The following are photos of Barta and Elgie taken from a family photo album.

Barta Holford Ryan (left) with Allie Ryan (right)
Barta Holford Ryan (left) with Allie Ryan (right)
Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)
Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)

Elgie died on 28 Jun 1926 in Tulare. The following obituary appeared in the Bloomington Record on 7 Jul 1926. I suspect the obituary is in the public domain, but out of caution I have included only the parts necessary to my story. Notice anything about the obituary? There is no information about who his second wife was.


Until this week, that’s all the information I had. It wouldn’t be too difficult to get Elgie’s death certificate to find that out, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to it. Last time I spent much time researching Elgie, I didn’t have access to too many California newspapers. But I recently upgraded to the “Publisher Extra” service at Ancestry’s Newspapers.com web site, which includes the Los Angeles Times. On a whim, I’d searched for “E. J. Ryan” and the following article from the 2 Mar 1927 edition of the Times showed up:

Headline from article on suit over Elgie Ryan will
Los Angeles Times, 2 Mar 1927, section 2 page 11 col 6, Sensational Will Contest

Now that’s juicy! I’ve included only the headline under fair use. Additional information that the article gave me included his second wife’s name (Ysola Chaves Ryan) and that an autopsy found poison in Elgie’s body! The death was ruled a suicide.

That was enough information for me to track down their marriage record on FamilySearch. I’ve no idea why I wasn’t able to find it earlier. They got married on 22 Mar 1925 in Los Angeles. Other articles in the Times say that Ysola was a teacher in the Tulare schools at the time of her marriage, but she appears to have resided in Los Angeles most of the time. Her sister was Mignon Le Brun, wife of silent film actor Cullen Landis.

Even stranger, at the time of Elgie’s death, Ysola may have left him and returned to Los Angeles. She maintained that Elgie didn’t commit suicide, but instead consumed strychnine accidentally. Now, it seems odd to me that a druggist, even a despondent one in ill health, would commit suicide in one of the most painful ways possible (strychnine) rather than a relatively painless one such as an overdose of morphine.

Eventually though, the courts ruled for Ysola Ryan that she was entitled to the entirety of the $118,000 estate ($1.6 million in 2016), and Elgie’s death remained a suicide officially, denying Ysola the benefits of Elgie’s life insurance. From the 5 Mar 1927 edition of the Santa Ana Register:

Santa Ana Register headline on resolution of suit of Elgie Ryan's will
Santa Ana Register, 5 Mar 1927, page 12, column 4, Wife of Suicide Awarded Estate

Ysola doesn’t appear to have remarried, dying in 1964 under the name Ysola Chaves Ryan.

Alfred Jaquith dies in Mexico City

Because I research descendants of my ancestors, I get to learn about a lot more jurisdictions than I would were I to be researching ancestry only. My first cousin three times removed, Clara Josten, married an Alfred C. Jaquith. He was a businessman, and operated in Merrill Wisconsin, Des Moines Iowa, Dubuque Iowa, and Denver Colorado at various times. The Denver Public Library has an index of obituaries that appeared in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, so I knew that Alfred died in late September 1927. I haven’t actually looked up those obituaries yet, and I assumed he’d died in or around Denver.

That appears not to be the case, however.

Ancestry.com now has index to civil death registrations from Mexico City, which is based on the death registration images from FamilySearch.org’s Mexico, Distrito Federal, Civil Registration, 1832-2005. FamilySearch’s index does not seem to be as extensive as Ancestry’s.

Ancestry’s index led me to this death registration for Alfred Jaquith.

Alfred Christian Jaquith death registration

It’s the same Alfred Jaquith. While I can’t read Spanish, there are references to Clara Kuchenberg (Clara’s step-father was Mathias Kuchenberg), Denver, and the dates match up with the obituary index.

So now I’m going to have to start learning a bit about Mexican genealogy records.

Header image Cathedral taken by Jeff Kramer (CC By).

Pedigree – color coded by birth place

I’ve seen this on a couple other genealogy blogs recently, and for once a meme has piqued my interest. The idea is to take a pedigree chart and color code the people in it by place of birth. The following is mine. Note that this is not the extent of my known pedigree; it’s the part where I’ve documented birth places.

my pedigree chart, color coded by place of birth
Legend
Legend

Mine is all over the map. After coming to America, most of my family didn’t stay long in one place before moving on for more opportunity. Sweden, Wisconsin, and Washington are the places with the largest number of people. Not surprisingly, those are the areas I’m most familiar with researching.

Additionally, all my German ancestors immigrated before German unification. They came from countries like the Kingdom of Hanover, Bavaria, and Prussia, which is more complex research than Denmark or Sweden. Each of those states that became part of the German empire recorded information differently. A couple of relatives were born in the Province of Canada, that short-lived colony that predated Ontario.

With this many places, a genealogist has to become familiar with a lot of locations. In some ways, I envy people whose families stayed in one area for generations. On the other hand, I get a much greater variety of stories.

Anne Falconer (1926-2014)

I started working on my family history in 2010 at the request of my grandparents. I poked around for a while at my father’s side of the family. No one alive knew about our history before my great grandfather, Joseph Weiss. His father, Anton Weiss, died in 1910, and his mother, Clara Voigt, died in 1915. She had moved to California to reside with her children there.

That was family that none of us knew about any more.

I researched Anton and then began working on his descendants. Through that work and a little bit of serendipity, I got in contact with Anne Falconer. She is a great grandchild of Anton and Clara. Because Clara had gone to live with the California children, Anne had her photo album.

After emailing a few times, Anne very kindly made copies of the photos and mailed them to me. She even sent a 150 year old print of a photo of Joseph Weiss as a very young boy. The photos she sent were the first visual depiction of many of my family that I’d ever seen. The following was taken at Anton and Clara’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Anton and Clara Weiss 50th wedding anniversary group photo
Anton and Clara Weiss 50th wedding anniversary

I was browsing Find A Grave this morning and came across a memorial for Anne. She died a year ago. I never met her, but she was a help and inspiration for me early on in this pastime.

Philip Helfer is Phil Hartman

Recently, while tracking down the family of my great great grandmother, Maria Hein (Mrs. William Solle), I looked into her sister, Mrs. Anna Helfer.

On 9 Sep 1887, a Philip Halfer committed suicide in Springfield. The next day, both the Illinois State Journal and the Illinois State Register ran lengthy news reports on his death. I’ll write another post later about the circumstances of the suicide. However, there were two pieces of information in the Journal’s report that compel me to write before I’ve completed much additional work.

The Journal’s report does not give Mrs. Halfer’s name. She is merely referred to as Mrs. Halfer. But it does say she is a sister of Mr. Charles Warner of East Springfield. Emilia Kibele’s obituary lists her siblings, including Mrs. William Solle, Mr. Charles Werner, and Mrs. Anna Helfer. It appears that suicidal Philip Halfer is the husband of my 3rd great aunt, Anna Hein. I love it when I can piece things together and make a connection.

The second intriguing things was the item title: “Philip Hartman Finds Rest”. Throughout the article, the text refers to Philip Halfer. Philip Hartman sounded odd, but sometimes Springfield newspapers of the time were sloppy with spelling. Indeed, every other record gives the surname Helfer rather than Halfer, and his grave marker spells his first name as Philipp. Perhaps the paper was even sloppier than I thought. However, I didn’t completely read the article because the quality of the microfilm scan degrades toward unreadable the further down the page one goes. But it isn’t all unreadable:

Philip Hartman Finds Rest
While contemplating suicide the day before his death he told Mr. John T Rhodes that his real name was Hartman and not Halfer.

Now that’s an intriguing tidbit! I’ve already got my great grandfather’s unexplained name from Öman to Hallin and the mystery switch of Mary Evelyn Sorenson to Frances Marie Newton. Now I can add the mystery of Philip Hartman to Philip Halfer. (More on the spellings later…)