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Genealogy and Pizza, Searching Roots in Brooklyn

A few months back my Aunt was scouring and up popped a cemetery match for my 3rd great grandmother, Charlotte Ruttel Schellenberger, 2 of her children, and a child of her married daughter.  All circumstantial, but it opened the door to allow for me to order a death certificate and verify it was indeed our Charlotte.  Long story short it’s led to more records that have helped me locate the town, and birth dates of the Charlotte’s son-in-law and his parents.  I then discovered a match on of German records that are indexed; the town, birth dates, parent’s names, and sibling names are spot on so I’ve decided to invest the time to order the films and start going through those records.  My Aunt however is more interested in the family of our Charlotte’s husband and I’ve found a likely match on the index as well, the town is correct, approx birth is there too, the problem is I’d feel a little better if I could find a document such as his death certificate that tied things a little neater.   Since I don’t know exactly when or where his death occurred, I thought I’d take a chance and see if he was buried near his wife.  The burial ground where Charlotte was interred is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings County New York.  I viewed the “Green-Wood A National Historic Landmark”, and was surprised to see that it was a National Historic Landmark, as well as a very active cultural center. It may seem odd that a cemetery would be used for entertainment, but during the era in which it was designed such places were planned to be destinations for travel, family outings as well as final resting places.

There is a partial on-line database of burials, I recorded the plots for my family and made my plans.  I’m not a big fan of driving in cities, so I convinced my husband and history major son to accompany me on my quest.  My husband I am sure would have been happier to spend the day watching football, and my son made it clear he is interested in “historical events”, not people (forgive him he is 18).  However with a little ingenuity I came up with a bit of bait, pizza.  Whenever we travel my husband and son like to visit restaurants from some of their favorite food network shows, so I suggested we could try one of the pizza places they have wanted to go to in Brooklyn.  A plan was in place we would visit Green-Wood, followed by a trek to L & B Spumoni Gardens for pizza and spumoni.

We entered Green-Wood via the large gothic gate at the main entrance.   Once past the guard office we pulled over, it is there you can join a guided trolley tour, or purchase a map.  Right across from the guard in the main gates is an alcove with a computer inside. If there is a specific grave you would like to locate the program will print out a map directly to the area.  There are many famous “residents, and memorials which are works of art.  The most interesting tomb I observed had a giant bear lying across the top of the monument.  Infamous residents such as William Poole, Boss Tweed can be found in the cemetery, as well as notables such as Louis Comfort Tiffany.  There are plenty of humble folk such as my ancestor there as well.  It’s worth the visit to see some of the interesting pieces of art, and the natural setting.  I didn’t see them but there is also a community of wild parakeets living at Green-Wood.  Birds, history and art there is a little something for everyone there.

Unfortunately Charlotte’s grave was alone probably passing right before my German ancestors moved to New Jersey.  Ironically it was also about that time my husband ‘s Italian family set up their home in Brooklyn.  My family history portion of the jaunt was over, and my companions’ thoughts turned to food.

The distance to the pizzeria was approximately 5 miles it was interesting to see the different neighborhoods.  First we came upon a predominately Jewish area.  It was a beautiful day and families were out with their strollers and children enjoying the summer-like weather.  Slowly this section gave way to a more industrial neighborhood, reminding us we were indeed in a city.  A slight turn and we were back into a different residential area.  This time there were row houses with neatly manicured yards, and small gardens.   A house with “Il Tricolore “ waving proudly next to an American flag, and my husband announced, “we are in the Italian part of town we must be getting close”.  My husband’s family was one of my first projects.  I knew that his ancestors came from Sicily and spent a few years in Brooklyn.  It seems many from their little town of Santa Ninfa resided in the same area of New York when they first arrived to the United States.  Some ventured to the wilds of New Jersey, and most stayed in place.  While there is always exceptions the vast majority of my husband’s ancestors rarely moved once settled.  His surname is fairly uncommon, but a quick search via the white pages at shows 100+ listings in Brooklyn.  My son was fascinated and we talked about my husband’s family a bit until we came to the restaurant.  It reminded me that my children were very young when I created a little book for my husband’s family and perhaps it was time to reprint a couple of copies for them.


Brooklyn Pizza

Finally we arrived at what my men consider the point of the entire trip, L & B Spumoni gardens at 2725 86th St,  The specialties there are Sicilian style pizza and spumoni, and both were quite good.  I’m not usually a fan of Sicilian slices but this was extremely light, and quite delicious.  I opted for pistachio spumoni, and it was fantastic!  While I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to have not made much progress on my family tree that day, the trip to the Italian neighborhood really was fun.  It was nice to spend some time with my grown son, and husband and talk about his family, and culture.

The day was fading and it was time to head back to New Jersey.  We departed via the Verrazano Bridge, which brought us along Coney Island and the long stretch of the New York Bay.  I’ve always been fascinated by Brooklyn, it’s my favorite part of New York.  It seems that the past and present residents have created an area with personality galore evident by the sign right before you get on the exit ramp..”Leaving Brooklyn Fuggedaboutit”.



If you do have ancestors in Brooklyn there are some very useful sites, and I would start with:





1. “Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online –”, 2011. Web. 15 Oct 2011. <>.



2.” Family History and Genealogy Records.” Family Search. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011. Web. 15 Oct 2011. <>.



3. “Green-Wood main page.” Green-Wood A National Historic     Landmark. Green-Wood Cemetery, 2011. Web. 15 Oct 2011. <>.


4. “White Pages – Find People for Free.” MSN White Pages. Whitepages Services, 2011. Web. 15 Oct 2011. <;.


5. “L & B Spumoni Gardens.” Spumoni Gardens. Spumoni Gardens. Corp, 2010. Web. 15 Oct 2011. <;.


Germany…Uncharted Territory

Life has been pretty busy.  My day job continues to be more demanding, I’m getting a few requests for small projects, and my twins are leaving for college.  My blog has been ignored a bit as a result, though I am sure few are missing me.  I’ve had managed to dabble a bit in my family tree, but sporadically at best.  For quite a while my goal was to see if I had a Revolutionary War patriot of my own and join D.A.R.  I’ve finally gathered what I think is sufficient proof and I am just waiting for the local chapter to get back into session in the fall.  I’m suddenly without a personal project.

Up to now most of my research efforts have been US, England and Italy and to be honest that has been decision I have made on my part.  From a professional standpoint my desire really is to focus in areas where I feel I offer value to a customer.  This is clearly New Jersey, though I’m pretty well versed in Italian and New England records.  There are some things you just have to do on location.  From a personal standpoint, I’ve had more than enough to keep me busy with my English speaking ancestors, and my husband’s Italian family.  Every so often I peek at my mother’s side of the tree and see Germany and Ireland and shy away.  I’ve always had the perception that this research will be more difficult, Germany because of the language issues, and Ireland I envision great reliance on local records.  Ancestors usually stay put, so no pressure to rush into anything.

This summer my mother came out for the kids’ high school graduation.  Although her interest in genealogy isn’t quite where mine is she will humor me and spend some time researching.  My mom seemed to recall that her great-grandparents owned a farm in Hunterdon County, and that her biological grandfather may have worked there briefly.  While that seemed a stretch we were near our county hall of records so we made a trip.  Much to my surprise it proved to be true.  I guess it was enough to pique’ my curiosity but not enough to get me started.  About two weeks ago my mother emailed me that my Aunt may have found her great-grandmother’s resting place in Brooklyn NY, it was on records of Green-Wood cemetery.  Since I’m a little over an hour from Brooklyn I volunteered to make a run in the fall and get some pictures.  Because I have been around the block once or twice before I run out there I wanted to establish it is indeed our Emily Schellenberger and if there will be any other graves I should seek.  So I need to learn a little about Brooklyn.

Well, I know that Brooklyn is home to Coney Island, and Dominic the Italian Christmas donkey delivers gifts manufactured there.  I also hear that Green-Wood cemetery is worth the visit just because it’s so magnificent; at least that is what a fellow history nerd has informed me.  One ancestor has left a nice trail and the fine people at the LDS have indexed many of the records of that town.  I’ve got the list of tapes I need.  If the index proves correct I’m well on my way to filling out that branch nicely.  I email my mom she sends it to my Aunt. A sisterly debate takes place as to the veracity of my findings; wisely I stayed out of it.  In the end I get the virtual nod of acceptance and we all share trees.

I order a German ancestry book – a sure sign I am committed (or should be).  My Aunt likes what I found on the Steidle’s but she is really interested in the Schellenberger family.  There is quite a bit of family lore as well as some jewelry she inherited.  There are stories of a Hessen soldier, a colonial reverend and a duchesse in one line and much of it is conflicting.  So the best order of business of course is start with what you know and work backwards.

I worked for a German company for quite a few years, and have known many people who call Germany home.  I expected the records to be efficient and centralized; perhaps two sets one for East and West Germany.  It was then I recalled something else about Germany it has not always been one country.  Most of my former co-workers from Frankfurt and I had grown very accustomed to their accents, and management styles. After more than a decade our division was spun off and purchased by a company in Düsseldorf, very quickly I noticed a distinctly different accent and style.  I had a conversation with a friend from Frankfurt and mentioning the dialect differences, and comparing it to our own country with our regional differences.  He felt in Germany the difference was even greater.  He told me in their grandparent’s time that if a person from each of the two cities were to sit and try to have a conversation they would have barely been able to understand one another. Perhaps it is an exaggeration, but it could prove useful later.

Because I can’t fly off to Germany to research my family, I am dependent on the records I can order at my family history center.  Most of the records available are church records primarily Lutheran and Catholic.  Germany itself is not an old country, and it was a land of changing borders for a very long time.  Because of this it is really important to know where your ancestors lived, and then find the modern equivalent. The German baptismal and marriage records are one of the sets indexed by the LDS.  I imagine while prioritizing projects the need for an index of local records in Germany brought it to the top of the list.   I have to discover from where in Germany my Ferdinand haled.  In 1880  the Census indicated he was Darmstadt Hess, naturalization petition “Emperor of Germany”, and the rest just plain Germany.  Most records indicate he was born in March 1833, and I have found a match in Worms, Hessen, Germany.  However I need to get some more supporting data still.  Worms is about 26 miles from Darmstadt, so it’s not out of the question. The long and short of it is though because Germany unification occurred in 1871, when my 3rd great grandfather was born, it was not a unified country and church records are going to be the most reliable.

Given names are another issue.  I discovered my family in Ulm Germany each person had between 4-5 given names, and in all the families from Germany the first name was rarely used.  Here I thought I was unique using my middle name in everyday life, when my ancestors had been doing it for generations.  How very German, Prussian, Austrian or Bavarian of me!  My ancestors didn’t seem to know where they were from exactly or there names, how exactly am I going to find them?  When Heinrich stated on the ship’s manifest that his mother was Julie Steidle, what he really meant was that she was Anna Christiane Louise Caroline Julie Steidle.  I have to admit this piqued my curiosity.  Was this a naming convention unique to Lutheran Germans?  Time to dig a little deeper and find out German naming conventions.  The short version is that the first name is a “Holy” name and the middle the name used.  When you get into the areas that have multiple given/middle names there may be an indication in the church records of which name the person used in everyday life.   I’m sure I could do an entire article on the naming conventions and still miss something.  Suffice to say that it’s complicated.

I’ve just started my research of German genealogy so this is a very narrow view I am sure.  But it’s certainly has grabbed my interest, I love a puzzle.  Wish me luck in “proving” my family lore that my 3rd Great Grandfather who immigrated to the US in 1870, is descended from a colonial preacher, a Hessian soldier (yes as in 1776), as well as a mid 16th century duchess. I will not say that it is impossible because it seems whenever I cast my doubts about one of our family stories it ends up being true.  However I will continue with a very healthy dose of skepticism and find my Ferdinand’s death certificate, excuse me Fransiscus Ferdinandus’ death record.  Well I guess I have my new personal project.


Beware the Living; they can be more Frightening than the Dead….

Recently I was asked to pull some records at the state archive.  They were not the regular birth, marriage, deaths but rather a manuscript from early 20th century.  Although the records are on the NJ DARM website, and only one set indicates that portions may still be considered unavailable, pretty much the entire set is currently closed.  I pushed a little and convinced the archivist to at least look into the index and see if the surname I was researching appeared.  It did not, but there wasn’t much of an index either.  I knew my client would be disappointed, when you are digging that deep it’s because many other avenues have been exhausted.  The archivist informed me that the reason the records were closed is they are 97 years old, just shy of 100, and technically some of the people mentioned could still be alive.  New Jersey has pretty tough privacy laws when it comes to records; I doubt you will ever see our birth/marriage/death certificates on-line at ancestry.  This can make it a challenge to find some of the more recent generations when conducting research.  Some may question why it is so difficult to find one’s ancestors in the lovely garden state, but I found out first hand sometimes you can encounter a living relative and there can be some implications.


One of my paternal great-grandfathers was born in 1886 and had passed away before I was born.  I had very little to go on with this family and I was a newbie to this family history thing.  After a year or so and having encountered my first brick wall (which still exists after 16 years), I went old school and sent out letters.  I included a letter on pretty stationary, my request for information, a SASE, and a family tree, as I knew it.  This hefty package was sent to about 20 recipients that had the surname in the vicinity of my forebears.  I wasn’t expecting much but I was desperate.  I got a call from one fellow that felt pressured to respond from a local historian he gave me some insight, but clearly he wasn’t really into the whole walk down memory lane.  I received a very nice letter from another woman, not much to share but she was interested and then I received the call.  He introduced himself and told me he had received my family tree and letter and he would be glad to help me the best he could.  Much to my surprise he was the same generation as my great grandfather, and in all honesty I assumed he had passed, and I just hadn’t found the record. My own grandmother (his children’s “peer”) was in her late 80’s.  After I picked up myself off the floor we talked quite a bit.  He was friendly, bright, and I really enjoyed speaking with him.  Towards the end of our call he wanted to ask me a question.  He noted on the family tree that his older brother had died, and asked me what proof I had of his death.  I only had the social security death index, and an obituary, but the name was very unique, and the address was one that he had lived for a while, so I felt fairly confident he had passed away.  I read the obituary, and my newfound cousin, said “yes that was my brother, I just had no idea he had died; you see we had lost contact.”  He explained that every family seems to have one that drifts away from the pack, and that was the case with his brother.  I didn’t know what to say, I really was speechless.  This was something I did for fun, and my activity brought sadness to another person.  I apologized profusely and was so sorry he had to find out in this manner.  He seemed ok, but I just had the feeling that he wished he spoke to his brother one last time.


I wondered how I could have missed the possibility that my relative could be living.  On reviewing my tree I did see I was descended from the first child in every generation, while he was descended from the youngest, and was the youngest of 13.  Throw in longevity that seems to run in my family, and it was not really extraordinary.  While I really didn’t divulge anything extremely sensitive such as a prison record, or a child born out of wedlock, still my research was a bit of a shock for someone else.  Because of this at all costs, I do my best to be conscious of how my findings may impact the living.  Not every footnote belongs on an online family tree.  I’m not saying hide facts, but consider the privacy of the living before you post it for the entire world to see.  If someone gets in touch, then fine be forthright, but in my opinion some things should be kept in that “private” tree.  When dealing with clients, of course disclose everything, but again tread with care.


While my client is very disappointed, the nature of the records in that box would have some personal information that could  be unsettling if one of the children is still alive.  Maybe the state is overly cautious; maybe it is not I guess it’s up to each of us to decide the boundaries.  Just be aware you might be providing some unwanted information that could impact another person.  There is probably a better way to deliver some data than on a piece of paper, stated simply as a fact.

Hello old foe, I see your have returned from my youth…

Back in the groovy 60’s and 70’s when all our neighbors drove down to the Jersey Shore each weekend we had to be different, the King family headed to Stonington Connecticut. We would visit my grandparents and enjoy the Rhode Island beaches a few miles away.  I brought along my personal companion, motion sickness…. My parents would plop me in the back seat with several brown grocery bags doubled, make me buckle-up, and tell me to try to sleep.  The trip usually included a fog of cigarette smoke and me asking them to pull over, which usually fell on deaf ears (pretty typical of most parents of that era).   Three and a half hours later we would arrive at our destination, and I would bounce back once on solid land.  I recall kissing the ground on one of the trips, stunning my grandparents.   I had gotten sick 11 times that ride, and my 9-year-old self must have decided to be a bit of a wise guy.  Though today I can’t read in the car, I usually don’t have motion sickness when traveling.

When I started genealogy back in the mid-90’s there was only one way to get census records, and that was via microfilm.  Two Saturdays a month I would trust the husband with our 2 year old twins, and take a few hours to go to the basement of Alexander Library at Rutgers University.  I had to cram a lot of research in those brief times so I did everything as quickly and efficiently as possible.  To be honest I was also afraid that my husband would decide 2 toddlers were too much for him, so I would fly out of the house as quickly as possible.   Don’t get me wrong I love my children, but my sanity was at stake here!  I would skip breakfast grab my bag and a coffee and head to my few hours of quiet.

I recall the relief of finally understanding out how Soundex worked and then finding my family on the 1920’s census.  Ironically my first dip in the genealogy pool had the family I was researching, Fennimore indexed as Tenimore, so I had to go line by line manually through my hometown.  It was during this long search that my old buddy motion sickness crept back into my life.  I think at the time I had it confused with a more recent acquaintance morning sickness, but I was able to rule that out easily enough.  To say I was less than pleased is an understatement.  I had to cut one trip short because it was just so bad, and I even questioned if I would be able to continue with this obsession, hobby.

I decided I wouldn’t be beat so easily, and tried some strategies to keep myself from feeling icky.  It never occurred to me to ask fellow genealogists for solution, because I assumed I was the only person to have this malady.  Recently I attended the spring program sponsored by the Genealogical Society of NJ, and struck up a conversation with a fellow attendee.  I believe we were discussing the convenience of online census records, and feeling friendly shared that I tend to get sick when viewing microfilms.  Much to my surprise she told me many researchers encounter that same problem.  I guess I need to get off the Internet, out of cemeteries and talk to actual living people a little more frequently!

This past Monday I was at our state archives and thanks to a protest practically had the place to myself.  I had headed out extra early to beat the demonstrators and made it in right before they closed off the road.  I meant to grab a protein bar, but the voracious teenagers beat me to them (schools out) so I went sans breakfast.  I was speeding through the reels, had a good machine that didn’t need to be manually cranked and the drawers were all mine, so no waiting for others to grab 10 films…Nirvana!  It was then my stomach lurched a bit, and my old pal said “I’m baaaaackkk”.  Luckily I was a little better prepared this time and employed my sour stomach avoidance strategy.  While this may not work for you it seems to work for me.

Tips to avoid “Motion Sickness”:

  1. Do not look at the screen while you wind forward – I can’t stress this enough!  It is better to scroll past and back track than constantly keeping your eyes on the screen.
  2. Do not research on an empty stomach – My theory (non-scientific) is that there must be too much acid in the stomach, and it needs food to keep it busy.  My hypothesis may be wrong, but it does help to have something to eat before the symptoms set in.
  3. Mints or Jolly Ranchers – Again not sure why but a tic tac, or a hard candy seem to help relieve the queasiness for me.
  4. Fresh Air – Particularly if you are in a basement or small-enclosed area, a step out to get a few breaths seem to close down the symptoms.
  5. Drink some water.  Can’t say if it’s the actual act of leaving the machine to search for a water fountain, or the drinking of the water that provides relief but it seems to help.

So weak-stomached genealogists unite!  Please feel free to share any tricks that have helped you over the years, or at the very least know that you are not alone.  I’m going to need  them I have some newspapers searches to do, and unfortunately I have only “decades” as dates.

Filling in the Gaps, when Vital Records don’t exist


New Jersey officially started collecting vital records in 1848.  Some towns and counties did have vital records collected, but it is not consistent and varies from locale to locale.  I have found the period of 1820-1848 to be some of the most difficult records to track down.  This is when you really need to go to alternate sources.  Some are easier to obtain than others, and creative problem solving as well as analyzing the quality of the sources is imperative.

Church records and cemeteries are usually my first starting point.  I try to find a historical association for that area, check out their website, or pay an in-person visit.  Quite frequently they will have a list of churches active at the time, or even some of the church records.  I visit cemeteries and that certainly can yield information, but not everyone has a tombstone when interred, or they can be damaged with age.  You can even inquire at a particular church to see if they have records, or look on family search (LDS) if you have a family history center near by and order the tapes. 

Bible records are another source of vital statistics.  It was a long-held tradition to write the births, deaths and marriages in the family bible.   The Genealogical Society of New Jersey has an extensive collection of bible records.  They are housed at the Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Alexander Library Special Collections room.  Like anything else bible records need to be reviewed with objectivity.  Does the handwriting meet the period?  Or does this look like something added a century later?  Is this your ancestor, or one with the same name?  In some cases this may be the only data you will ever find on an ancestor so bible records can be a very important source.

Bible and church records are some of the more obvious sources of data, but there are some obscure records that you will need to be creative to obtain.  This is where local history, libraries or genealogy groups come into play.  I had one ancestor that I couldn’t pin down the date of death; I searched in her county of last residence but no luck.  I did know the family used a specific undertaker, a town over (and in another county) so I was hoping to find his records at a historical society.  I ended up finding them at the town library, in records room that was rarely visited.  Not only did I pin down my ancestor’s death date, but also two children that were born and lost at an early age.  The journal indicated what was ordered for each funeral, how much it cost, where their grave was and many times cause of death.  The information not only provided the basic dates, but also gave a brief glimpse of life, as they knew it. 

A good genealogist does not take every record at face value and assume it is correct.  A certain amount of analysis needs to be deployed.  This is true even with official vital records.  My one brick wall ancestor his death certificate has the same date for birth as well as death, but listed old age as cause of death.  That is obviously incorrect even though it is what was gathered when the certificate was issued.  The same is true of less traditional sources of records, proceed with caution, if at all possible having multiple independent sources of information is the best bet. 

Following is a list New Jersey groups/libraries I have found that have historic holdings.  Most are located in my areas of research Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset Counties.  I’m sure there are more out there, but this is the short list: 


Bernardsville Public Library  – 1 Anderson Hill Rd, Bernardsville NJ

Bernardsville Library has a local history room, but limited to specific hours. Vertical files, Local books, pictures, and copies of the Bernardsville News 1932 onwards.


Bernards Township Library – 32 S Maple Ave Basking Ridge NJ

Although it’s not listed on it’s website there is a room with historical records.  You need to approach the Reference Desk to get access.  They don’t generally want you poking around in there alone.  This library has a free genealogy group that meets the 4th Tuesday of most months.  They usually have a program/lecture at these meetings and a mingling period.


Long Hill Township Public Library – 917 Valley Road, Gillette NJ

There is a local history room open Weds 1-3.  I have yet to get there in that time so can’t speak to the holdings, which are not in their online catalog.


The Historical Society of Somerset Hills – 15 West Oak Street, Basking Ridge NJ

This society’s main interest is Bedminster, Bernards Twp, Bernardsville, Far Hills, Peapack & Gladstone.  I have not yet been able to get there in-person but there is a library with some genealogical items.  Limited hours, check the website beforehand.


Hunterdon County Historical Society – 114 Main Street, Flemington NJ 

I plan on trying to make a visit shortly; it appears there is quite a bit of data for genealogists.


The Tewksbury Historical Society – 60 Water Street Tewksbury NJ

Very small, but contains quite a bit of information on the town of Tewksbury (New Germantown).


North Jersey History and Genealogy Center – (Morristown and Morris Township Library) 1 Miller Rd, Morristown NJ

This is probably my favorite place to visit.  Quite a few holdings, great facility and very generous hours.