One From the Photo Album: Will Deemer, Beaver Twp, Jefferson, PA

While not exactly wordless…or Wednesday, but:
I’ve always found this photo very compelling. I don’t know for sure where this was taken, although I assume it is in Beaver Twp, Jefferson, Pennsylvania. The subject is Will Deemer, b. abt 1868. I would guess this photo is in the 1920s, although it is literally a guess based on age. With the opening of PA’s death records, maybe I can finally get his death certificate to help date this photo a little better.

It’s one of those images that is not only full of emotion, but different emotions. Sometimes I look at it and it is so bleak and depressing, I can hardly stand to look at t for more than a few seconds. Other times, it is a story of survival in tough times. Still others, it’s not only about survival, but actually looking to take on adversity and beat it into submission.

He’s yet another in my tree that had no descendants (that I know of), so this is my way of keeping a small part of my 2nd great-granduncle alive.

Will Deemer. Taken, by estimation, in the 1920s, probably Beaver Twp, Jefferson, Pennsylvania

Posted in Family, Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

Family Lore: Is a Staats Family Mystery Documented In This Record?

Preface: While the evidence suggests a possible conclusion, more research is needed to confirm the family story and determine its validity. Another very good reason to write about this particular subject is because she left no descendants, and I feel the need to in some small way document the memory of those lives that might otherwise be lost over the course of time. Feel free to add your opinions on the case in a comment to the post.

Earlier this summer while visiting with my aunt, she asked whether I knew anything about a child that, according to a story she had heard, was left with my great great-grandparents and raised as their own. I had never heard anything about this and pretty much forgotten about it until today. I was updating the cover photo on my facebook page to a scan of the Dr. A. A. Staats family album page that recorded all of the children of this family.1 As I was playing with the photo in Photoshop to try and get the dimensions correct to display properly as the cover photo, I noticed something new about the entry for their daughter, Margaret Staats.

Margaret “Madge” Staats’ birth record shown below matches the date recorded in Noble County Probate Court. That county birth register lists the parents as A.A. Staats and Maggie Summers, although no name is given for the child despite the fact that A.A. Staats provided the information himself.2  Madge never married, and died in Columbus, Ohio on 1 Mar 1925 of heart failure at age 42. The informant on the death certificate was her uncle, E.L. Summers.3

First, when looking at the family record written in different hands, an effort is needed to try and determine who made which entry to better gauge when the original entry was likely written.

Family Record of A.A. Staats and Maggie Summers

Looking at the entries, you can see there are a number of different hands at work here. Comparing other sections of the album confirm that all of the original entries in the “Family Record” page, despite the differences in the “M”s, are written by Maggie (Summer) Staats. A close up comparison of the crossed out family entry with a signed narrative entry in 18924 show that the original entry was made by Maggie:

  • M: both start with a mid-line loop and have slightly smaller and narrower second humps
  • g: in both examples, the shape and slant are the same, and the first g ends rather than connecting to the second g
  • i and e: the shape, slant, and stoke of the letter combinations are identical

Signature comparison reveals that both entries are made by Maggie (Summers) Staats.

What about differences in those M‘s? Comparison of names from the family record with another marriage entry5 shows:

  • The M in the marriage entry shows the same Ms in the first two entries of the family record
  • Although the “Alexander” entry in the family record begins with a rounded A, the marriage entry As match the middle initial in the family entry.
  • The “Summers”, “Staats”, and overall hand are clearly the same. Comparing the family entries, signed narrative, and marriage entries together, it is clear that all are written by Maggie (Summers) Staats, although they were likely written at different times.:

Comparison of family record and marriage entry showing same hand and different formation of the “M”.

Is it possible that Alexander Staats had a similar hand and made some of the entries? Possible, but not very likely. Here is the title page which presumably features the hand of A.A. Staats, as he is gifting the book to Maggie. It also establishes the earliest date of the book as Christmas 1888.6

  • The “Maggie” does look similar, although th humps in the M are roughly equal, the g‘s connect, and the stroke of the ie combination is different.
  • The capital A and S and D are considerably different from those in the family register
  • The crossing of the t‘s in Staats is entirely different, as is the final s, which crosses over the beginning stroke here, whereas it doesn’t touch in the family entries.

Title page showing A.A. Staats handwriting

Looking back at the family record, the original entries were likely written by Maggie (Summers) Staats – probably near to the time the book was given to her, and likely before the signed 1892 entry used for the handwriting comparison. All of the other entries are written first name followed by the surname Staats. However, Maggie is listed as Maggie Mayood, with the Maggie later crossed out and Margaret written in a different hand, as well as what appears to be a third hand adding “[Staats” above the original entry.

As a doctor, A. A. Staats would have likely had a number of experiences delivering babies who needed a welcoming home. If in fact Maggie was one of those babies, and the family chose to raise her as one of their own, it would make sense that the county birth register reflect that decision. From that day forward, Maggie would be thought of as a true part of their family – one of their own children. Any information provided later by the family would also reflect that decision. But the family entry, written in the hand of the matriarch suggests, however subtly, the possibility that something was different about Maggie. Whether or not that’s true needs more investigation. Ultimately, it makes no real difference whether or not she was a blood child of the family, as she was clearly accepted and loved as one regardless.

Looks like yet another project has made its way into the queue.



  1. A.A. Staats and Margaret (Summers) Staats family album, ca. 1880-1930, “Family Record,” handwritten entries of birth and death dates, unpaginated; privately held by author,, Euclid, Ohio, 2012. Entries after Margaret’s death in 1919 were likely written by her daughter, Violet (Staats) Reed, who had possession of the book. []
  2. Noble County, Ohio, Record of Births, 2:57, unnamed Staats (1882); Noble County Probate Court, Caldwell. []
  3. Ohio Department of Health, death certificate, no.14532 (1925), Margaret M. Staats; Ohio Dept. of Health, Columbus. []
  4. Staats family album, Maggie (Summers) Staats, signed entry noting the death of daughter Mina in 1892. []
  5. ibid., “Marriages,” first entry on page. []
  6. ibid., title page, dated 25 Dec 1888. []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 3 Comments

Losing my GRIP: Days 4 and 5

The tower bells tolled high noon, cars were loaded, and GRIP 2012 came to an end. But what a whirlwind week it was.

All of us blogging from GRIP missed posting about Day 4, at least as far as I know. After a difficult homework assignment Wednesday night followed by the fourth full day of classes, Thursday was definitely the low tide of student energy. Up to that point, we bloggers had done a pretty good job of balancing the grueling schedule with our need to write and inform. As homework assignments mounted and available neurons became scarce, we gave in and decided not to post on Thursday night.

Lest you think I am complaining, I certainly am not. I loved the challenge, although I have to admit a certain amount of frustration at not being able to easily solve the problems with which we were presented. But you know what? At breakfast each morning we would gather and discuss the previous assignment and it became clear we all shared that common feeling of frustration. It would be one thing if only one or two of us were confused, but here we were, a group of experienced (and certified, in some cases) genealogists all in the same boat. We all doubted ourselves. None of us were completely sure we had the right answers. Then we came together, talked, and realized that we struggled largely because we were presented with truly difficult problems. There were no easy or obvious answers. There were no neat and clean resolutions – no smoking gun. That was the beauty of Tom Jones’ class.

Thursday night, we all needed a little break, which was conveniently provided by Cathi Becker Weist Desmarais and Noreen Alexander Manzella, who threw a release party celebrating the publication of their first NGSQ article1. Four articles appear in this issue, and the authors of three of them happened to be present (Tom Jones and Karen Maurer Green being the other two). Where else does this happen? Not too many places, I would guess. A couple hours later, everyone was off to their rooms to tackle more homework.

Friday was a mixed bag of emotions for me. Although my brain was about full, it was also the last day before returning to the real world. We reviewed the homework, and despite the fact I could only find one of the two documents we needed, I felt better about this assignment and glad I ended the homework on a positive note. I really enjoyed Friday’s first class: Identifying female ancestors and techniques for finding common poor folks were the first session. By the second session on Friday, we had actually caught up to Friday! This session was the highlight for me. We learned different methods of correlating information and evidence: using tables to compare evidence, making time lines to sort out identity, and creating ordered lists to make things more understandable to your readers. It really helped open my eyes to different approaches that will certainly improve some of my current projects.

To this point, I’ve not quoted any of the syllabus material in my recaps, but the final 20-minutes of the last session focused on continuing your education as a genealogist. It featured one of the biggest take-aways of the week for me. As someone who writes and is really self-critical, I would never think of submitting something for publication that I didn’t deem completely perfect. That idea is wrong. Instead, Dr Jones encourages: “Don’t expect yourself to produce work the quality of what you see in print. Few people can do that on their own – most articles result from the work of a team of editors and readers working with an author.”2.

And so it ended. I learned more than I can easily summarize. I benefited not only from the knowledge of our instructors (who were without rival), but also from conversations with classmates. There are so many personal research projects I want to revisit with my new genealogy smarts. Many of us are on the BCG clock, or will be soon. Our conversations, along with input from BCG trustees, really helped clarify how we are going to approach our portfolios. I made some potential connections that will likely bring some business. And best of all I got to know some really great people, and know them better than if we had met at a conference. While you can probably meet MORE people at conferences, the institute experiences really enables you to get to know people a little BETTER.

In short – I loved it. I don’t know what next summer will hold for me personally, but I do know that Elissa Powell and Deb Deal have really created something special here – something top-notch. Take a look at next year’s schedule (go to Stone House Research  – GRIP’s site is not yet updated), and trust that if any of the courses interest you, you will be in for one awesome week in the genealogical bubble.

Goodbye ’till next year!

  1. Cathi Becker Weist Desmarais and Noreen Alexander Manzella, “Who Fathered Jacob and William Northamer: Pennsylvania Tax Records Help Determine Kinship,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (June 2012): 123-132. []
  2. Thomas Jones. “Continued Advancement,” Advanced Research Methods, prepared for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (July 2012): 3. []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off on Losing my GRIP: Days 4 and 5

GRIP Day 3 (AKA, My 20th Anniversary)

I don’t know how you guys celebrate anniversaries, but I’m guessing there only a few of us fool-hardy enough to do it by leaving our spouses and heading to a genealogical institute for a week of intense learning. I’m lucky I found a good spouse…make that a great spouse, and really, I’m not just saying that so I won’t be beaten when I return home. Really.

Yet another rocking day here at GRIP. After a late night of homework and blogging, I was a little groggy this morning. When you need to jump right in and get going, starting off the day with Claire Bettag is a good thing. It also helps that we share a favorite topic – land records. Most of what I know is more at the deed level, so I really enjoyed learning more about federal land records – primarily original land entry files, but also bounty land and private land claims – all instruments by which land passed from the government to an individual, granting original title.

Because the government only holds records for the 30 federal land states, Claire said anyone who didn’t have any interest in those states could take a break or leave…ya, right. As if anyone was going to miss out on this gem. Interesting things learned included the fact that the indexes on the BLM-GLO website index both a preemption file and commuted Homestead file as a cash sale, and there is really no way to know until you order the file and see, Why is that important? If your ancestor was involved in one of those transactions, you can find lots of additional info such as marriage information, children, affidavits of the applicant as well as neighbors, and even naturalization records. I also learned I probably need to spend more money getting records from NARA. Don’t we all?

Next up was Tom Jones. How intense is the class? How much info is packed into it? Well, coming into today, we were still in the middle of Monday. Documentation and citing sources may not seem like an exciting topic, yet somehow it is. Often genealogists are told that we primarily cite sources so we can follow our trail backwards or so others can re-create our work. In reality, we do it so we can better understand the sources we use, and so that readers can assess the quality of our sources and decide for themselves the soundness of our research. Yet another gem of a quote from Tom in this lecture: “Placing two footnote numbers separated by a comma is like wearing a T-shirt that has ‘AMATUER’ [sic] written across the front – and it’s spelled wrong.” Classic.

We then raced through census and census-substitute strategies, finally making it to Tuesday morning by lunch on Wednesday. Lesson of the class: Genealogists often fail because they focus too narrowly rather than broadening their search geographically or chronologically, One of the examples from this session featured another quotable line: “This was not a very literate family, or a very sober one.”

After lunch, we were off to the races with Rick Sayre and Map Strategies – basically documenting resources and techniques for using maps in your research. You all probably know I’m a land geek, but I have much less experience with maps, so this was a good one for me. Many excellent resources were mentioned, including: the online map room at the Library of Congress, David Rumsey, USGS Map Store, as well as other sites like Historic Pittsburgh and Places In Time (Philadelphia). The summary seems a little short, but the demonstrations are something you’d want to have seen. Another great lecture and lecturer. I am hoping I can make it back to GRIP 2013 to take his land class.

Last, but certainly not least was Tom Jones again. We took on two presentations – Tax roll strategies and the beginning of the land records session. Again – especially to the non-genealogist – sounds like a pretty boring afternoon, but ohhhhh the stuff you can learn from tax records: estimates of birth, death, marriage; actual direct evidence of those things; and much, much more. Tax research can be tedious, but as Tom warns, the year you skip to save time is guaranteed to be the year in which the taxman noted your ancestor’s father’s name. We didn’t get too far into the second lecture about land – a topic near to my heart, but I agree with Tom’s assertion that land records are probably the most reliable genealogical record – although we all know that ALL records can lie to us.

The day ended with yet another Tom quote: “I know you all are dying to get to the homework…or just dying.”

And what a homework assignment it is, so I better get to it. I had to skip the evening lecture tonight to make sure I get some time in on the assignment. Too bad, as this was a two-hour presentation by Rick Sayre about Pennsylvania research and I would have loved to have heard it.

So long today from GRIP. See you all tomorrow!

Posted in Fun!, Thoughts and Musings | 6 Comments

GRIP Day 2 Recap

Day 2 is in the books, and by the time I post this, it will likely have turned to Day 3. I had planned to post a stunning summary of the day, but was slightly stunned by the homework. I vowed to tackle it, and I did, even though it cost me most of the evening. It’s also entirely possible that I over-thought it, and did a little more than I probably had to but I’d rather err on the side of over-doing versus under-doing.

I can’t add much to what my classmate, Cathi Desmarais, posted this evening about the details of the day, other than to say yet another awesome day with two new and awesome instructors – Claire Bettag and Rick Sayre. We took Washington D.C., NARA, and the LOC by storm! It was kind of like driving by on the freeway, but the handouts were excellent, and will serve as pretty good tour guides when I get a chance to go back.

I’ve taken lots of classes from lots of places. Lots of them claimed to be challenging. I can honestly say that there is something unique and special about this environment in general, and the course in particular. I think all of my classmates will agree: each successive class causes you to re-evaluate what you thought you might have known when you walked in the door. Even in the cases where we actually did know end up knowing what we thought we knew, the material is challenging enough to rattle that knowledge around, and you really have to fight to keep it straight in your head. I love that.

I’m exhausted and excited for tomorrow’s classes!


Posted in Fun!, Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off on GRIP Day 2 Recap

GRIP: Day 1 Recap

My opening lessons came in the wee hours of the morning today. First was the reminder that I had forgotten to bring my own pillow. The dorm beds had a least I think there was a pillow inside the case – it was really hard to tell.

Secondly, for all you folks here at GRIP who are over 4’6″ tall and having trouble with your dorm temperature: You’ll need to squat down to see the magic control lever that you use to adjust that rather important setting. All the way to the left is “Woolly Mammoth Preservation”, which is what mine was set on last night.

On to the institute. Wow, just wow. As expected, billed, and reviewed, I am loving Tom Jones’ class. We had four sessions today…and we were still somewhere in the middle of the second lesson when the end of the day arrived. We were forewarned that this would happen, though. The focus of most of today was on evidence orientation – evaluating source, information, and evidence. In the last session, we moved on to research planning, which I really enjoyed given that I just did a presentation on this topic at the OGS Library in Bellville. The structure was part lecture/part group discussion within our tables, and really got people thinking about the topics discussed. Somehow, I ended up being the table spokesperson. I swear – I’m actually very quiet. Why will no one believe me?

There’s really no way to try and capture in a simple blog post what you cover and learn in the course of a day at something like this – especially given the rather exhausting schedule. The only thing that is probably saving me tonight is that our homework assignments don’t start until tomorrow. What I do want to highlight is the opportunity that the institute offers for making new friends.

While the schedule is pretty demanding, there is ample opportunity to get to know people. In fact, if you don’t take the time to do that, you are pretty much wasting ample opportunities. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner I sat with different groups each time. Again, I am pretty quiet (really…no really), and that’s not necessarily something that’s easy for me to do, but I love listening and participating in different conversations. Everyone has something different to offer, yet we are all united in out passion and interest in genealogy, so there aren’t a lot of pregnant pauses.

I won’t get on the networking soapbox, but I will provide a specific example of why you might want to do it: Talking to people here, there are a number of us that are either on the BCG clock, or are doing the work to be ready to submit once they are. After lunch we were discussing our fears, concerns, specific examples about certification. Suddenly, someone had a revelation about their submission idea. Then we discovered we were making more of some of the requirements then necessary. And then I had a sudden spark of inspiration and discovered a KDP project for which I had done most of the work already and just need to clean it up some. All this because a group of us had the opportunity to get together and talk in a creative and charged environment.

And since being in class all day and talking about genealogy for every available minute wasn’t enough for us genealogy junkies – most of us also attended an additional lecture this evening – an excellent lecture by Pamela Stone Eagleson about writing a family narrative.

I’m telling you – if you are on the fence, get off. This is far more beneficial and less stressful (so far!) than the hectic and disjointed conference experience often is. Now, if I’ve mastered the thermostat and my new pillow purchased from Target works out okay, I’ll be all rested up, batteries recharged for tomorrow

Posted in Events, Fun! | 4 Comments

GRIP: Registration Day Recap

Phew – what a day, and the thing hasn’t even started yet. After a quick stop at Walmart for supplies, I picked up fellow genealogist and friend, Jean Hoffman, and off we went on the 2.5 hour drive to Pittsburgh. Funny how time flies when genealogists get yakking about dead people we’ve known and researched, isn’t it?

We were still chatting away at the first toll booth in PA, waiting in line to pay the toll, when a wild burst of horn-beeping broke out. I looked around to see what was the matter (like the “Night Before Christmas” reference? See what I did there?). And what to my wondering eyes should appear but Dr. Debbie Abbott waving and smiling in the next lane over. I knew this was gonna be fun.

Registration was smooth and trouble-free, and we had an hour or so to find old friends and make new ones before dinner. I met Becky Wiseman, who is an occasional commenter on this blog. I met a few other facebook friends for the first time in real life, like Patti Hobbs and Cathi Desmarais (who is a Ruffner cousin by marriage). Of course, I got to catch up with all the Great Lakes APG regulars and even ran into John Humphrey, who will be speaking in Cleveland this fall.

The cafeteria was the next stop. I like these – especially when they have ice cream. Also, I did eat the broccoli so the wife would be happy. Although the place was a bit noisy, good conversations were had, and I finally got to meet my 4th cousin twice removed, Malissa Ruffner. You can bet we’ll be exchanging and comparing info over the course of the week.

After dinner, the ProGen alums met briefly to introduce ourselves and get our picture taken. There are a few folks I need to catch up with from that group over the week . Left to wander on my own, I got to chit-chat with a few other friends before retiring to my room to work on the homework some more and tell all of you about the fun. I’m not sure I’ve ever had this many conversations about genealogy in such a short time span. I can’t imagine what the rest of the week will hold.

A sincere congratulations and “atta-girls” to Elissa Powell, Deb Deal, and all who helped make this happen. Even though we haven’t officially started, it’s pretty clear I made the right choice to attend. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off on GRIP: Registration Day Recap

Getting a GRIP on the Institute Experience…Like Right Now

Well kids, the time is upon us. Tom Jones awaits. Some of you have already set off for the ‘Burgh, others of us are making our final preparations. Most of my things are packed…and I do mean most of my things. Outside of the lawn mower, stereo system, and dresser – I think I have everything else stowed away in my trunk…just in case. I want to be ready.

This will be my first immersion into the reputedly intense institute experience, and I am embracing it with somewhat trembling arms. I have the exact same feeling that I generally do before playing soccer: that mix of excitement, nervous energy, and fast-muscle twitching as I wait to run out onto the field. I want to get there, figure out what the game is, and rock it to chants of “MVP! MVP!” Okay, maybe not quite that wound up, but close.

I’ll be headed out in about two hours, stop at Walmart for supplies, pick up friend and cohort, Jean, and off to PA we go! Still much to do before then. I have to re-read the homework assignments, try to get some more of it into the databases I’ve started for them, eat something, finish packing up the plantation, heck – I may even shower.

Can’t wait to see you all there, and I hope I have a little time to keep those of you not there at least a little entertained with tidbits about our experiences as the first-ever GRIP attendees!

Posted in Fun!, Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

One Year Ago Today…My Speaking Career In Review

Warning: This post is not entirely about genealogy and is slightly self-indulgent.

One year ago today I made my speaking debut at the Ohio Genealogical Society’s Library summer speaker series, presenting the first-ever performance of “Using Deeds In Your Genealogical Research”.  Honestly, I was scared to death. They say that in order to grow, you should do things that scare you, and I think that over the course of the past year, I have definitely grown, and not just as a speaker. After that initial presentation, I received several offers  to speak at various local societies. I took them all because I saw it as a chance for continued growth.

And you know what? I’m still not really comfortable speaking – at least not in the first few minutes. I often tell people that, “oh, I’m not a natural speaker.” When I say that, I’m being honest, not modest. I’m really not a natural speaker. Here’s the catch, though: after I survive the first few minutes of terror and my throat doesn’t need me reminding it to open up and breathe now and then, I REALLY like talking to people about genealogy. I like sharing what I know. I love that people want to learn, that they’ve chosen to learn something from me. That’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

Today, I returned to the Ohio Genealogical Society library for an anniversary of sorts. I had about an hour-long presentation planned about developing a research plan. I actually managed to finish in about the right time frame, and pressed on to the case study in which we were supposed to take a look at a complicated real-world research problem, show the initial research plan that I developed, and as a group develop research plans to help solve the larger problem from there.

However, after we created the plans, the audience wanted to know about the results – what actually resulted from the research plans. So I started to explain it on the fly, never having once practiced this part of the program. I explained how I correlated evidence, resolved conflicts, and then made suggestions for further research. They questioned the whole way through. They were absorbed. I was absorbed. Two hours went by and not only did no one leave, no one looked like they wanted to leave. Once we went to the case study, I tried my best to keep relating everything back to research planning but ultimately it evolved into a different, second presentation about evidence analysis – one I hadn’t even thought of, much less practiced.

What is the point of all this? I loved it – more so the second, unplanned half than the first. When you as a speaker love what you are doing, the audience will generally love it too. For me, it all comes back to the research process. That’s what I love. From now on, all of my new presentations are going to be case-study based. Once I have the audience engaged, then I can slip in methodology, the GPS, and whatever else is appropriate.

Do what you love. Money may not necessarily follow, but happiness probably will.

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

SNGF: Time Travel Via Microfilm? Yes.

It’s been awhile since I played along with Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, but this week, the planets aligned, and here I am posting it up.

Now, you can’t tell me that you never thought that if you were able to crank the microfilm reel fast enough, you would surely time-travel…or..ummm…am I the only one?

Here’s the scoop:

1)  Go to the The Newspaper Clipping Generator ( and create one or more articles using this tool.

2)  You could generate articles that didn’t appear in the newspaper, or articles you wish had appeared in the newspaper, or even your own obituary (in the future).

3)  Share your newspaper clippings with us as an image or a screen capture on your own blog, or a comment to this blog post, on a Facebook Status post, or a Google+ Stream post.

4)  Please give me a link to your clipping as a comment to this post.

Here’s something I hope you see on Chronicling America one day:

Posted in Fun! | 2 Comments