Records at RiskNot many family records survive. Most people have few if any items that once belonged to a grandparent or great-grandparent. Rarely is a descendant lucky enough to have inherited a locket or comb or watch or Bible or lock of hair, let alone any old letters, diaries, or photographs.

What happened to all those items that belonged to people living three or more generations ago? Almost all of it probably was thrown away because it became broken, unusable or, most of all, unwanted or unappreciated.

Generally, those bits of material with family heritage value that do manage to survive are not saved in proper ways, so they deteriorate or become damaged or ruined. The bottom line is your family records must be valued or they risk being thrown away. They must be protected to prevent damage, ruin or loss.

The information contained on this page comes from a variety of sources, but relies heavily on The Everything Family Tree Book by William G. Hartley (Adams Media, 1998) and Ancestors: A Beginner's Guide to Family History & Genealogy by Jim & Terry Willard with Jane Wilson (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997).

Suzanne's Story: Diary of a Diary Quest
Suzanne was lucky. Her great-grandfather left a tiny slip of paper upon which he'd written the townland from which her family originated in Ireland. It also included the name of his uncle, who just happened to be famous. That scrap of paper, given to Suzanne by her grandmother, was the catalyst which took her Irish genealogical line back to 1685!

Suzanne began her journey of discovery by going to the Family History Library where attendants helped her find references to the famous uncle, "Honest John" Martin. He had been a member of Parliament and a Young Irelander. Researching the Young Irelanders, she learned that John was accused of treason and sentenced to exile in Tasmania.

On a return trip to Salt Lake City, Suzanne focused on researching the records of the church the family had attended. After some digging, she was thrilled to find a book by Rev. Cowan that included a genealogy for both of Honest John's parents! When she read the book she discovered that most of the genealogical information came from the diaries of James Harshaw, an uncle of Honest John's. Suzanne was determined to read those diaries!

She went online and asked if anyone had heard of the Harshaw diaries. A thoughtful stranger forwarded her query to Marjorie Harshaw Robie. Marjorie had recently been on a national morning show discussing the recently discovered Harshaw diaries - news to Suzanne! - and was in Ireland at the time donating the diaries back to Ireland. The story of the diaries was a miracle all by itself. To learn more about their remarkable recovery, please see Suzanne's story in In Search of Our Ancestors.

Once Marjorie came into possession of the diaries, she began the tedious work of transcribing all 1,300 pages of the six volumes and shared them with the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. They agreed to microfilm them and notified the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), who declared the diaries "the most important historical document in all of Ireland." It was a diaries of a simple tenant farmer, but included items of infinite worth to the Irish people.

When Marjorie returned from Ireland, she lent Suzanne her own copy of the diaries, and Suzanne then spent the next three months going daily to her local Family History Center to read the microfilm. The diaries told of the sentencing and transportation of Honest John. She read about the deaths of John's brother and sister-in-law nine days apart, leaving seven orphaned children. She learned that John, a bachelor who had just returned to Ireland with a pardon, undertook the task of raising these children. The names on her pedigree chart came alive and she wept with joy, admiration and appreciation for the diaries of a simple tenant farmer.

Best of all, Suzanne and her family were invited to Ireland for the dedication of the new headstone for James Harshaw, the farmer who had kept this diaries. There they met numerous Irish relatives and walked in the homes of their ancestors.

So the ancestral quest that began with a simple scrap of paper ultimately led to diaries that featured Suzanne's family. Not all of us have family records as detailed and revealing as the Harshaw diaries, but virtually all of us have some scattered clues such as the scrap of paper that started Suzanne's journey. Whatever form they take, these family records are a critical component in our ancestral search. And once you've used them, you'll realize the importance of leaving some family records for your descendants!

Sheila's Story: A 4000 Year Family Tradition
Sheila remembered as a little girl of six or seven in her native China seeing a book with a red cover. Her father reverently told her that the book recorded the names of their Tseng ancestors and that it should be handled with great care. She kept that memory with her when she left China in 1949.
Because of events in China, it was difficult to communicate with her family for many years, but in 1979 Sheila was finally able to visit her mother, brothers and sisters. During this journey she hoped to see the red book, but was very disappointed when her mother told her that it had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Two years later, in 1981, Sheila returned to China to celebrate her mother's 80th birthday. At the banquet, she asked her siblings if any of them could help find the record. She knew what her mother had told her, but wasn't willing to accept defeat quite so easily. Her younger brother Shao-qiang agreed to go to Jiang-Xi province where their grandfather had lived and ask around.

In 1982, he wrote that there was, in fact, a distant cousin named Chi-ng in a neighboring village, who owned a set of ancient records. They had been carefully preserved by a relative, who had buried the records to save them from destruction. To learn more about their incredible survival in spite of fire and the Cultural Revolution, please see Sheila's story in In Search of Our Ancestors.

In the winter of 1982, Shao-qiang visited Chi-ng and asked if he could see the books. Chi-ng said that he would bring the books after Shao- qiang prepared a three-day feast. Sheila's brother did as he was bid and Chi-ng kept his end of the bargain. He arrived at the gala riding high on a tractor with a large package covered with a red cloth. A band of musicians led the way, a group of villagers followed, and the whole group enjoyed eating and drinking for three days and nights. At the end of the third evening, Shao-qiang was finally permitted to lift the red cloth and hold the nine books in his hands for the first time. They were indeed the Tseng clan compiled genealogical records. He quickly copied 12 generations of names and dates and transferred the names to a pedigree chart which he sent to his sister.

Sheila jumped with joy when she saw it, but knew that their job was not yet finished. She wrote back saying that she wanted a photocopy of the records, no matter what the price, so Shao-qiang invited Chi-ng for a three-day visit. To ensure the safety of the books, he also invited several escorts. He promised to reward the escorts by helping them start a business back in their home village and by giving each one a watch. They finally handed over the books and let Shao-qiang copy them.

But their endeavor was not yet over. Shao-qiang airmailed the first book to Sheila, who was then living in Singapore. It arrived safely, as did the second, third, and fourth! Just when they were becoming confident, though, they hit a snag. The fifth and sixth were sea-mailed together, but were stopped at Customs with the explanation that they were not allowed out of the country. Sheila had four books and her brother had the other five. What to do? Slowly, through a two-year process of sending a few pages at a time in airmail letters, Sheila finally assembled a complete set in 1985.

Was it worth all this effort? When reviewed, the records contained 172 generations of thousands of names, with detailed dates and places going back to 1950 B.C. And they included the startling but appropriate insight that Confucius {take them to the definition in the glossary} was very fond of one of Sheila's ancestors, Tsan. Many know that Confucius compiled five books as standard works for Chinese culture. It was her ancestor Tsan who compiled the sixth book on honoring one's parents and ancestors. This revelation made it clear that Sheila and her brother had indeed done the right thing.

Megan's Story: Dusty Memories
One of Megan Smolenyak's most prized possessions is a transparent red key chain from an auto repair shop. That may sound a little peculiar, but there is an explanation.

When she was about five years old, Megan went on a trip with her grandparents to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. On the way, they passed an auto shop with "Smolenyak's Auto Body" painted on one wall. Excited to see her own name, she asked her grandparents about it, but they quickly dismissed it.
Over the years, that memory became increasingly faint to the point that Megan almost thought she had made it up. But a part of her persisted in believing it, and it was this part that kept her looking for other Smolenyaks for 22 years. She had tried all the other usual tactics - vital, church, census, newspaper, military, ethnic and other records- but still had nothing to show for it. Still, that dusty childhood memory lingered in the back of her mind and wouldn't let her give up the hunt.

When the Social Security Death Index finally became available online, she was thrilled to be able to search it herself. She typed in "Smolenyak" and was almost delirious to find two "hits" for names she didn't recognize. She noted the zip codes and found them both to be in the Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania area. Taking advantage of having an unusual name, she called Information in this area and got several listings for Smolenyaks and Smolenaks. On her second call, she reached Mike Smolenak, who had also been researching his family for years with limited results. Megan now had a distant cousin and genealogical playmate!

Finding each other opened the floodgates in their research efforts. They discovered that the Smolenyak line came from Osturna, a small town in Slovakia. Because they found so much information, they started the Osturna Family Association and a newsletter to share the findings. More recently, they started a web site to make it still easier for Osturnites to share news and photos.

The most remarkable experience, though, was in 1996 when a gang of boisterous Americans took a reunion trip to Osturna in Slovakia. Thirty-seven Americans whose parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents had come from this village went back to meet their cousins for the first time. They were genealogically blessed as they discovered that the mayor was a Smolenak who was delighted with the onslaught of American cousins - and even made Mike and Megan honorary citizens. They were entranced to find that the village had been historically preserved and looked just as it had when their ancestors emigrated. And it didn't hurt that the village was nestled in the picturesque foothills of the Tatra Mountains and was wonderfully quaint. In fact, they liked it so much that they're going back for another reunion!
So what does all this have to do with a key chain? On the reunion, one of Megan's fellow travelers was none other than Andrew Smolenyak, the man who had owned the auto shop that had kept her looking for all those years. He told her that she had great timing as he had closed the shop shortly after she spotted it as a youngster. Andy gifted Megan with a "Smolenyak's Auto Body" key chain, which she considers to be symbolically appropriate as it opened the door for her to hundreds of cousins! And that is why a red rubber key chain is one of her most treasured possessions.

Jeff's Story: Home to a Place He Had Never Been
Jeff Gallup always felt a special bond with his Sicilian roots through his immigrant grandmother, Nona. For 25 years, he ate Sunday dinner at Nona's house. She and her husband had immigrated to the United States with their oldest children around 1920. Every Sunday, the entire family would gather to eat the traditional foods and talk in Arbresche, the language of the Italo-Albanian people. Nona was the family's physical and emotional link to the old country.

When Nona died, she left Jeff and the rest of the family with a tremendous feeling of emptiness, a desperate need to reconnect with "their people" and to understand more about the life that their grandparents left behind. For years, they tried to research their roots in Piana, their Sicilian hometown, but never succeeded in obtaining any records. Jeff's mother, Virginia, tried to help, too, but was repeatedly told that the records had burned. After about fifteen years, they gave up any hope of finding records in Piana.

The whole family was frustrated at not being able to get any genealogical information, so Jeff and his brother, Craig, decided to try a different approach -- to take their mother and Aunt Rose, who had been born in Italy, back to Sicily.

When they arrived, they were greeted by many cousins. One of their cousins, Graciella, knew the local archivist and was convinced that the fire story wasn't quite true. After years of rebuffs, the family was not quick to accept Graciella's word. Hoping against hope, a cluster of them descended on the Municipio (make sure this word is in italics) to see whether the records really existed or not.

Within a few minutes of their arrival, Aunt Rose found her own birth record in a ledger! The records had not burned, but were very much intact. What they hadn't known is that an excuse such as "the records were burned" is considered the polite way to turn down requests that one simply doesn't have the time or resources to fulfill.

Jeff, Craig and Virginia Gallup were able to visit Piana and discover their ancestors' records for themselves, connecting them to past generations. While we can't all make such a pilgrimage to the land of our ancestors, many people feel this same sense of belonging and connectedness as they uncover, layer by layer, details about the events that shaped their ancestors' daily lives. Vital records speak to the commonality of our experiences as people and as families, and are an important component of your genealogical search.

Greg's Story: The French Connection
New to genealogical research, but armed with the research his sister had already done, Greg Spacher began by searching through Catholic church records for Rochester, New York. His objective was to find children born in the mid-1800s to his great-great-grandfather, Jean Spacher. In the baptismal records for St. Joseph's Church, he found the records he was seeking. They clearly noted the children's dates of birth and baptism, parents' names and, best yet, the place of origin for both parents!

Greg's family had always believed that the family came from Germany, but the village that Greg found in the records was in the Moselle region of France. Using church records for Farebersviller, he found still more records for his family. Ultimately, the church register in Rochester led him back through ten generations of Spachers -- five in France and five in the U.S.

Excited with his finds, Greg initiated contact with his French cousins. Last year, he went there for the first time to meet them. When he walked through the village of Haute Vigneulles, where his 6th great-grandfather settled in 1690 and his 5th great-grandfather was born, it became evident that he was expected. Doors of the homes opened and people came out to meet Greg as he walked. He repeatedly used his basic French to protest that he wasn't that important. This was always met with an insistence that he was, indeed, very important, because he was the first American to return.

Even Greg is surprised at how close he has become to his French cousins, and it moves him to see how much he has affected them. When he boarded the train to return home, his compartment companion turned to him and said, "I think this might be for you." Greg looked out the window and saw about 20 people congregated there, all shouting his name and jumping up and down! His cousins had traveled the 30 kilometers from Haute Vigneulles to see him off! And then he saw one of his youngest cousins, little Camille. She was waving, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. Greg confesses that he broke down and cried like a baby. He never expected the warmth and love that they shared with him, and it was then that he realized they were truly family.

Beth’s Story: Grave Matters
Three years ago, just after she started her family history research, Beth Uyehara decided to take her first genealogical field trip. She headed to Pennsylvania, armed with optimism and what turned out to be a remarkable streak of beginner’s luck.

Her journey began in Schuylkill County, where she managed to locate her great-grandfather’s grave and accidentally stumbled onto some valuable family papers in the local courthouse. To learn more about this first unexpected find, please see Beth’s story in In Search of Our Ancestors
From there, she headed west a few hundred miles to research another line. At the Clearfield County Historical Society, Beth learned where another great-grandfather was likely to be buried. When she found his grave, his old, marble headstone was leaning at a dangerous angle, ready to topple. So in addition to buying flowers, she called a local monument company and arranged for the stone to be repaired and straightened.

She was positive that her great-grandfather had not lived long enough after immigrating to apply for citizenship, but on her way out of town she stopped at the courthouse anyway. Beth asked the woman at the counter about 1870s naturalization records. She pulled out a little index box, and there was his name. The woman found his file, and inside was not only his final certificate of citizenship, but also his own personal copy of the Declaration of Intention. He must have left it behind at his swearing-in as a citizen. Since he had died just 12 days after becoming a citizen, he had never returned to pick it up – and there it sat for 120 years. “This belonged to him,” the clerk said handing it to Beth. “We have our own copy. Why don’t you keep it?”

As Beth and the woman examined the file together, the woman gave a little gasp. “Good heavens,” she said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s signature.” Her ancestor had been the character witness for Beth’s ancestor when he applied for citizenship, so they had obviously been friends. The two stared at each other, then hugged and exchanged family information and addresses. The genealogical kicker to all this is that the certificate included the great-grandfather’s date of immigration and port of entry, which Beth had not known before.

When she left the courthouse, she headed 30 miles back to the cemetery, instead of to the turnpike. Feeling slightly foolish, she patted the wobbly old stone and whispered, “Hey, I just met your old pal Richard’s great-granddaughter. And I found the Declaration you left behind. I’m going to frame it and pass it along to future generations.” And she added as she left, “Thanks!”

Beth was especially moved to have found the final resting place of this immigrant ancestor because he had all but been forgotten as his family moved on and made its way in the New World. She was delighted to be able to resurrect his memory through his cemetery and naturalization records. She has a sneaking suspicion that the flowers helped in her search!

Darius's Story: It Just Showed Up
Although he'd long been interested in family history, a trip to the Family History Library wasn't on Darius Gray's to-do list. Whenever someone would ask if he wanted to go, they were met with a polite, "Thank you, no." That was until a friend invited him to join her for a research jaunt. This time, for some unknown reason, the answer was yes. Living in Utah, Darius has easy access to this incredible genealogical resource, but because he's African-American, he wasn't optimistic about finding much there.
Having accepted the invitation, he called his mother to verify a few family facts, including his deceased father's birth date. During the conversation, she casually mentioned that she had something he might want -- a paper written in his father's hand. His interest soared when he learned that the paper contained a list of all his father's siblings and their birth dates, as well as the birth and death dates of his parents! Darius couldn't imagine why his mother hadn't shared this treasure before, so he asked her where it came from. She had no idea and said it had just showed up a week or two earlier.

With this unexpected windfall of information, Darius ventured to the library with the intent of learning more about his father's family. A couple of helpful people at the information desk told him how to get started, but after many tedious, unproductive hours of scouring , he had found nothing. Patience had never been his most apparent quality, and he was getting fed up with this whole research idea.

As a last resort, he pushed himself away from the microfilm viewer and offered up a silent prayer: "God, if I'm supposed to be doing this, if you want me to find something, it's got to be soon or I'm outta here!"
After his silent prayer, Darius returned to the viewer. In one last attempt, he pushed the button to advance the film and waited. When the machine stopped, he glanced at the page. To his absolute amazement, there in front of him was the 1880 entry for his grandfather's family. For the second time, the information he was seeking had "just showed up."

Darius remembers clearly the emotion of the moment when he found that census record. He cried with joy, relief, and gratitude. Words can't really describe the feeling that comes when the link is made to your family and its history. In the beginning Darius hadn't held out much hope, but the message was clear: He was doing what he was supposed to be doing.

Susan's Story: Finding her Father
Susan Hadler was born in January 1945, just three months before her father was killed in an explosion in Germany. A V-Mail letter from her father, dated February 15, 1945, was taped to her baby book:
  • "Dear Susan,
  • Yours is a pretty good family as families run. Your dad is a bit on the off side. Your mother is the most wonderful person I've ever known. I've always marveled at my great good fortune to have loved her and been loved by her. If you will follow her dictates and examples, you may expect to meet life in the best possible way, and your path will always be the right one. For me, adhere to a belief in tolerance, a genuine liking for others, and always give to life to the fullest. Your father, Dave"
This was all Susan ever knew of her father. In 1992 - nearing her 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of her father's death - she felt the need to fill the void. A few calls led her to the American WWII Orphans Network which, in turn, told her how to get her father's service records.

The records arrived, singed on the edges from a fire that struck the St. Louis repository. In two minutes they revealed more about her father than Susan had ever known. A letter found among the records, dated January 1951 stated that an investigation had failed to reveal a "grave at which to pay homage." It seemed shameful that there was no grave, no final spot that belonged to her father, to his family.

Encouraged by these initial results, Susan worked up the courage to contact members of her father's battalion. One man led to another, and she slowly learned about the circumstances surrounding his death.
Still, this wasn't enough, so she decided to go to Europe to follow the battalion's route across France, Belgium and Germany. With the help of details from the investigation of her father's death and special maps, Susan and her husband drove down a neglected road and eventually came to a place surrounded by barbed wire. Below them was a bowl-shaped crater, where the earth had been carved out.

Susan sat down cross-legged and looked into the crater at the spot where her father died. Her eyes were drawn to a white birch tree on the far hill, which had become radiantly beautiful. A white-gold light shone from the center of it. Heaven had opened. Her father was all right.

When she returned to America, Susan called the American Battle Monuments Commission to arrange for a marker for her father. On July 28, 1997, her father finally got his long overdue funeral - with full ceremony - at Arlington National Cemetery. Her father is no longer lost "somewhere in Germany." In an odd way, he has come home.

Lori's Story: A Dash of Larceny
Lori Hammell-Davis's grandfather was a special man. He was reserved and carried himself with a sense of class. She always wondered about his past and suspected he grew up differently than she had in her middle class neighborhood, but she sensed she wasn't supposed to ask him any questions.
After his death, she felt it was safe to ask her grandmother about his past. Her grandmother said that she thought his family had been well to do and that his father had died when he was a young man. That was as much as she knew. Lori was shocked to discover that her grandmother knew so little about her husband of all those years.

The curiosity about his past lingered, and she finally decided to gather some clues. After two years of research, she finally had a breakthrough. While searching online, Lori found a connection to her grandfather's first cousin. This woman never knew her grandfather personally, but had heard many stories of his mother. Her mother told her that Lori's great-grandmother was a high society lady in San Francisco, but thought she may have been in some trouble with the law.

Now Lori's interest was soaring, so she decided to do a newspaper search to see if she could learn more. She went to the library and was guided to newspaper records for the San Francisco area. Looking for her great-grandmother's name, Dorothy Hammell, she came up blank, but she did find numerous listings for a Barbette Hammell. Could they be the same woman?

Pulling the actual articles, the first entry she found for Barbette contained a picture of a stunning looking woman wearing a suit edged in fur. The headline read, "Beauty Flees S.F. Fraud Net - Barbette Hammel Hunted on Jewel Theft Warrant - S.F. Beauty Suspected of $100,000 Fraud Plot in Bad Check Deals." This was certainly interesting! She went to the next article and the next until she came upon one that gave her great-grandfather's name as her husband. Lori remembers feeling exhilarated that she had found her and, at the same time feeling quite sad when she realized that this was her grandfather's mother. Now she knew why he never shared his past.

Since then, she has continued to gather articles on her great-grandmother. At last count, she had over 100 that span a period of almost 40 years. From the information she found, she pieced together a magnificent tale. Her story is best summed up by a March 1947 San Francisco Chronicle article which reads:
"Will you ever forget Barbette Hammel? Now there was a woman with chic, dash and imagination to say nothing of larceny. There was nothing bush league about Barbette. Big or small, she bilked 'em all. With money she fast talked out of others, she opened a swank beauty salon on Powell called Salon Barbette, promoted The Hammel School for Subnormal Children, and sold a bill of goods on The Hammel Vegetable Concession - an outfit to sell shelled peas to fancy hotels and restaurants . . . The cops called her "the cleverest confidence woman to work here in years." The newspapers couldn't make up their minds whether she was Lady Wallingford, The Siren of Swindle, or The Female Ponzi. A jury in Superior Court eventually decided she was just plain guilty. Pretty Barbette entered San Quentin with a flourish worthy of Hildegarde. She looked around and sighed, 'It's such a lovely old place.' Yes, whatever happened to Barbette Hammel?"

You can be sure that this last question is one her great-granddaughter will answer!

Bruce's Story: Robert's Legacy
Going through musty old books in the court house, running microfilm through the reader, walking through cemeteries, and taking photos are all Bruce's idea of a good time. Each year, he and his wife Mary Kay devote some time to traveling in their RV to places where their ancestors lived.

One of these trips found them in the old Fulton County Courthouse in New York. Each time they stumbled on the surname they were researching, they were sent off in another direction. Soon the table was full of references of books, census and cemetery records, and other documents. They went through each one and transferred all the information into their files and made copies. Then they went back in the RV and reviewed their work in dismay. All of this information, but no real connection to the family.
After dinner, a deep discussion ensued. They had set aside two weeks for this search in New York, but a good part of the allotted time had elapsed with no results. What was going wrong? Then they remembered who they were looking for - the ancestor who had come from Scotland in 1787. Instead of using a shotgun approach and finding many slivers of information about all sorts of people, perhaps a rifle aimed directly at the one central name would work better. The key was to find him: Robert Stewart.

The next day they traveled to the new Fulton County Court House and headed directly to the Probate Court Office. In fairly short order, they found Robert's will in the index. After being sent to the basement to dusty, but carefully labeled, file cabinets, Bruce came up triumphant, clutching several envelopes filled with documents. He was practically jumping around with impatience as he waited for them to be copied. When he had the precious copies, he took them back to the RV and looked through them over lunch. Comparing the will with the earlier research, it was clear that he had the right man.

The will revealed not only the structure of the family, but also of, the personality of the man himself. Bruce was touched that his ancestor had taken pains to provide for even the smallest needs of his wife, Jane after his death:
  • " . . . my said son, William, provide a horse and waggon for his said mother to carry her to meeting and to any other place where she desires to go . . . as much firewood as she shall need, to be brought to her chopped and left at the door, ready for her use"

By today's standards, these kind of "privileges" might seem rather minor. But in the early 1800s, they reflected a man who deeply loved the wife who had borne him 12 children and had left all that was familiar to her to venture to the New World with him.

From other details in the will, they were able to find the location of Robert Stewart's old homestead. Even today, it is still known as the Stewart Farm, though now owned by another family. As Bruce stood there looking at the remaining foundation and the old road overgrown with trees, he knew that this was where Robert and Jane's American legacy was launched. He savored the view with a palpitating heart, and then taped it so that others in the family could experience the same sensation. Their research effort had been tremendously successful. Bruce had met his great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Stewart.

Cathy's Story: Island of Tears
In looking for the passenger ship arrival records for all of her father's family, Cathy Horn began a search for her great-aunt Catharina (née Horn) Spiegel and her three daughters, who arrived from Hungary in the early part of this century. She knew that Catharina and her three daughters - Margaret, Elizabetha, and Catharina - had arrived in New York in late November 1910.

During a research trip to the National Archives, she looked for "Spiegel" and located the ship. A search of the ship's passenger arrival records uncovered the listing of Catharina and her three daughters. As was her practice, Cathy then turned to the end of the list to review the list of detainees, those persons who were detained on Ellis Island while waiting to learn whether they would be allowed entrance into the U.S. Surprisingly, she found Catharina's three daughters listed there. This meant there was a story, and Cathy couldn't wait to go home and call her cousin Maria, Catharina Speigel's granddaughter.

That night, while waiting for her cousin to call, she reread the copies of the passenger list and detainees list, wondering what story they held. So excited was she on finding the list of detainees, that she ignored the obvious answer which lay before her. But at long last, her mind finally registered the surprising piece of information on the list that she had overlooked. Catharina Spiegel had a fourth daughter, Apollonia, only 15 months old!

In the entry next to her name, it looked as if someone had written the words "died December 3, 1910." Finally, after what seemed like years, her cousin Maria returned her call, and Cathy told her about Apollonia. After a long silence Maria began to speak, saying that she had vague recollections of her mother and grandmother discussing Ellis Island, a baby who died there, and their longing to know where the baby was buried. Maria said that her own mother and two aunts had remained on Ellis Island for several days, alone and frightened children in a foreign country without their mother. Maria also recalled that her grandmother and baby were taken to a hospital, where they were separated. After a few days, her grandmother was told that the baby had died. So Catharina Spiegel, upon her release from the hospital, continued on to Ellis Island to pick up her other three other daughters. Together they traveled to Pennsylvania, where she and her husband lived until their deaths, never knowing what happened to their baby, Apollonia.

During another research trip to the New York City Municipal Archives, Cathy's search of the death records for Richmond County, more commonly known as Staten Island, turned up Apollonia's death record. She and her mother had stayed at the Hospital for Contagious Diseases on Hoffman Island, a small island located off of Staten Island. According to the death certificate, 15-month-old Apollonia died ten days after the ship arrived in New York.

Apollonia's death certificate also showed that she was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Queens County, New York. On writing to the cemetery, Cathy received a letter confirming that Apollonia was buried there in an unmarked grave and a map showing the location within the cemetery where her body was interred.
After being lost to her family for 83 years and almost lost to memory, Apollonia had finally been found. Although she never landed on Ellis Island, known both as a gateway to America and an island of tears, her name will be remembered on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. Baby Apollonia will never be forgotten again.

Taylor's Story: A Revolutionary Past
Taylor McDonald had always heard bits and pieces of his family history at family gatherings, but it wasn't until his grandfather, grandmother, and father all died in the late 1960s and early 1970s that he realized how little he really knew. Their deaths were the impetus for his decision to learn more about his roots.
He knew that his grandparents had lived in Northern Mexico and worked as ranchers and farmers in the early 1900s, around the same time as the Mexican Revolution. He also recalled tantalizing tidbits about the family having some sort of connection to Pancho Villa, but the details were hazy.

By interviewing the remaining older relatives, Taylor was able to learn more. He decided to write a family history to preserve this information for future generations. Researching the Mexican Revolution for background for his book, Taylor managed to find some books and theses with helpful topics. In the bibliography of one thesis, he was stunned to see tape-recorded interviews with his own grandparents as one of the sources. What a find!

From the taped interviews, he was able to hear his grandmother describe in her own words their unplanned, but pleasant, "run-in" with Pancho Villa. After his soldiers had intercepted them on the road, he hosted them at his camp, serving them a chicken dinner and arranging for his band to entertain them. The next morning, he sent them home with a guard.

Taylor took all this information and included it in a published family history, which all his family members now hold dear. He can rest assured that the revolutionary past of the Taylor family will never again be forgotten.

Originally published as part of the PBS Ancestor's documentary at
The original website have been removed.