Turn to the Internet to solve genealogical mysteries
Genealogy is a solitary activity in many ways. A solo expedition to a cemetery can be peaceful and rewarding when we can find a resting ancestor and perhaps commune with his spirit. Tucked away in the corner of an archives or library, it is easy to get lost in records that reveal the role an ancestor played in history. But when a researcher keeps stumbling over obstacles and makes no progress on the roots or limbs of the family tree, that solitary exploration gets lonely. I confess to being an introvert who prefers to travel the road less traveled. But eventually, even the most socially withdrawn of us must connect with others to solve genealogical quandaries.My friend Judy Jouglet, past president of the South Bay Genealogical Society, shared with me the reward she received by reaching out on the Internet for help. I shared one of Judy's successes with readers after she waded through thousands of names in a Chicago database looking for her great-grandfather, Anton Weiskopf. She finally found him hiding under the misspelled name "Weeskoph." The high from that victory soon led to frustration because she couldn't decipher the name of the town listed as his place of birth on his death certificate. She tried unsuccessfully to find a European city to match the scribbling. Weiskopf's immigration papers said he was Bohemian. Various censuses — and we know how diverse those can be — showed Bavaria as his wife's birthplace, and Austria and Germany for the children. Those descriptors cover a big geographic area, so Jouglet didn't know where to turn. As every good genealogist should, Jouglet looked for online options. She recently heard about a new mailing list call "Gen Team Austria." Jouglet joined the list and posted a plea for someone to help her decipher Weiskopf's place of birth. Within two days, several offered help. It didn't take long for them to unlock Jouglet's unreadable mystery: Weiskopf was born June 9, 1819, in Jechnitz, a spa town in the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. For any of us who had spent seven years trying to find an ancestor's birthplace, this might have been the happy ending to the story. But within a few days, a man from Germany contacted her to say he also was related to Weiskopf. He sent her the birth records for Weiskopf, his wife, and their children. Jouglet began sending documents to her German cousins. One other lesson Jouglet learned: Never accept a piece of information as fact until you explore all possible sources. Weiskopf's date of birth on his tombstone is 1810. Jouglet doubted this date, but the 1819 birth she found in other records wasn't necessarily reliable either. From her German cousins, she has more reliable birth records showing his date of birth as 1819. Those not familiar with mailing lists can learn about them at Cyndi Howell's website, www.CyndisList.com/mailing.htm. I love Howell's husband's description of mailing lists: "similar to old telephone party lines where one person on the list has something to say and everyone on the list gets to hear it."
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Baylife, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or [email protected] She regrets that she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching specific individuals.