Monday, December 17, 2012

Learning Scrivener

I mentioned earlier this year that I would be taking an online course to better learn the ins and outs and bells and whistles of Scrivener1. Its makers at Literature & Latte describe Scrivener as “a powerful content-generation tool”; users refer to it as a word-processing program, as project management software, and  as “my favorite writing tool2.” While Scrivener’s click-here and drag-there interface makes the process of writing, brainstorming, and tinkering the text much easier—so much easier that you want to weep with happiness—than working in a traditional and more linear word processor, there are just soooo many options available that it’s easy to lose track of how to color-code cards on the corkboard or make a floating reference panel appear. I wanted to play with the toys, er… use the tools, without having to go on a darned treasure hunt to find them first.

Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Mac3 course met my needs perfectly.

The course consisted of four weeks of lessons, posted five days a week. Color screenshots illustrated anything that might be unclear or tricky to figure out from explanation alone, or gave us a reference point to which we could compare our own results at the end of a lesson’s instructions. Each lesson finished with a homework assignment, and I thought Gwen did a good job with those. They were each brief, but left scope for stretching and trying out the trick of the day on our own work after practicing on the course material. Gwen was clearly interested in having us practice what we’d learned rather than testing us on how well we remembered where to access what—the assignment instructions frequently included a parenthetical hint on which item we needed to find under which drop-down menu. (Thank you for that, Gwen!)

Students were subscribed to a discussion board where Gwen cheerfully and thoroughly answered questions, and where students could exchange ideas and ask each other questions. The discussion board remained open for one week after lessons ended, so that those who were catching up or those who simply wanted to keep practicing still had a place to get answers from Gwen.

Gwen had us set up a little mock writing project for the course so that everyone was trying the exact same thing; it made it easier for her, too, when one of us had a question, because she knew where we had started and what results we should have gotten. (And if any of us messed up our project too badly, she'd give us a copy of whatever form it was supposed to be for that day, so that we didn't lose time trying to fix things just to get going again.)

I spent an hour or two a day working my way through the lesson and doing the homework. Often I was a day or two behind, and judging from posts in the discussion board, that was a common occurrence, but the course is well-designed to allow for that. Some students clearly spent more time than I did on the lessons, applied the day’s new knowledge to projects of their own, tested variations of what we’d learned, and came to the discussion board with thoughtful questions (frequently with screenshots of what they’d tried).

Different people learn in different ways. Some folks coming to Scrivener will explore and play and master it well. Others will read the tutorial or manual or one of the commercially available books and watch the videos and read the blog posts and do just fine from there. But for those who need or would simply enjoy a systematic and comprehensive tour, Gwen’s course is IT. And the price is totally reasonable. Literature & Latte even offers a 30 day free trial of Scrivener, meaning a person can try it out thoroughly without the cost of the software, while taking this course. (Just to be clear: it’s the software that has the free trial; you’d still have to pay for Gwen’s course.)

So, bravo to Gwen Hernandez for designing an excellent online course for a wonderful piece of software! I think just about any writer would enjoy using Scrivener, and I look forward to more genealogists integrating it into their research and writing processes and then starting conversations about how they’re using it.



3 Gwen also offers a Scrivener for Windows course; see for both courses. Gwen is also the author of Scrivener for Dummies.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Post-NIGR: books that came home with me

I’m sure it will be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I acquired a few books during my several days in Washington. I carefully weighed my suitcase before leaving so I’d have an idea just how much I could add without incurring a charge for an overweight bag on the return trip, and I still had to shift about four pounds to my backpack when I checked in for my flight home.

I actually didn’t buy too much; my shelves already overflow with books waiting to be digested! But here are the goodies I picked up:

David A. Gerber, American Immigration: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). While the title claims “very short” and the book is a small 4.5” x 6.75”, don’t be deceived. The print is small but clear, and the text is 135 pages long; not a skimpy book at all. I expected a discussion of immigration laws and the identities of ethnic groups arriving at different times in American history and their reasons for immigrating, but Gerber goes much further than that. Laws are not created in a vacuum of course, and so he explains attitudes towards immigrants as well as politics. Much of it sounds painfully current and familiar. The book is well-indexed. I’m about half-way through this book; it’s the perfect size and weight to carry in a purse or bag.

John P. Deeben, Genealogy Tool Kit: Getting Started on Your Family History at the National Archives (Washington, D.C.: Foundation for the National Archives, 2012). One of our NIGR lecturers brought this one to our attention, but noted that it’s “very basic.” I browsed through a display copy and decided to get it (p.s. NIGR attendees get a 20% discount at the NARA bookstore, in case anyone needs more incentive to attend the institute). I’m still taking a close look at it, but I rather like it. While it assumes that the reader is new to genealogy, and it apparently covers only records at NARA, I think it will be especially useful to those like me who are unfamiliar with or weak on military records. Stayed tuned; I hope to write another post about this book soon.

Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Random House, 2008). I don’t know whether to be tickled or aghast that my close friends, upon reading a book about death on a massive scale, would think (correctly) “oh, Julie would love this!” Sad but true. Actually, my interest tends to be in community responses and recovery to said unhappy events, as well as (or more than) the causes. A friend and fellow NIGR attendee brought this book to my attention, and I am looking forward to reading it especially because my research that week was focused on Civil War records. I’ve been forewarned that it can be somewhat depressing reading.

One print item that I was glad to find and bring home was a single sheet of paper, “Exploring the Library of Congress via the Internet: Quick Reference Guide to the Library of Congress Web Site.” I find the web sites of both NARA and the LOC rather overwhelming, so this double-sided paper is a huge help. You think there’d be a link to it right up front on the LOC website, but you’d be wrong. The only way I was able to find an online copy was to google the title; here’s one of the links I found for the PDF: I’m rather tempted to check out the page within the website titled “Exquisite Corpse Adventure.”

NARA offers a wide variety of useful research and finding aids for their many (many) (many) record groups and series and subseries. Some of them are available on the website; many are available in print, free (my tax dollars at work; yours too). A couple of the NIGR lecturers passed out particular Reference Information Papers (RIP) as accompanying material to their syllabi, and I requested more while I was there. See for links to various free and $$ publications. I came away a number of publications including: Military Service Records at the National Archives (RIP 109), Using Civilian Records for Genealogical Research in the National Archives Washington, DC, Area (RIP 110), Black Family Research: Records of Post-Civil War Federal Agencies at the National Archives (RIP 108), and Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office (RIP 114).

Now to find a place for these new books on my already-full shelves….

Friday, July 27, 2012

NIGR: wrap-up

Well, NIGR is over and I did not meet my goal of blogging about it every day. The days were full!

We had a similar schedule each day. We started at 9 am on Monday, but thereafter at 10 am so that those who wished could do an hour of research before the first lecture. We always had fifteen minutes between lectures and an hour for lunch. There’s a small cafeteria in the basement; leaving NARA to get lunch was an option, but most of us tried to minimize the number of times that we had to go through the security process and so stayed inside the building. If there was an optional evening event such as our visit to the DAR Library, there was enough time to get dinner between the last lecture and the event. NARA is open until 9 pm Wednesday through Friday, so research was another option those evenings. There are some wonderful restaurants quite near the Archives, providing the opportunity to end the day with a very nice meal.

Our classroom was actually the Archivist’s Reception Room (which explains why it was so beautiful). We were allowed to leave our NIGR notebooks and any papers in the room overnight, so that we need not carry them back and forth. I opted to take my notebook back to the hotel and just brought the syllabus of the day with me each time, and I think a few others did the same. There was always a good variety of drinks and snacks available in the room, which was much appreciated. I was surprised at how cool the old building was kept in the heat; several of us kept sweaters and shawls handy.

I was so impressed with our lecturers’ knowledge and presentation skills; there was only one instance where I felt that the lecture’s take-aways were rather elementary and the discussion of records anecdotal rather than systematic.

Figuring out the NARA security rules of the day was always interesting: did they want my laptop in or out of bag going through the machine? could I use a clear plastic bag for carrying laptop, cellphone/camera, and mouse into the documents room or not? It could be frustrating.

As I think I mentioned in my first post, I was initially glad that I had brought the Genie Guide to Research at NARA with me; but honestly, once the course began I did not consult it again. It will remain an important reference book on my shelf, but I don’t think I’ll need to bring it on future research trips—the research guides and record experts in the Finding Aids Room are the on-site resources for figuring out which records are pertinent.

Speaking of the experts—Navy experts don’t like to be asked about Army records; Army experts don’t like to be asked about Navy records. You’ve been forewarned!

One thing that surprised me was that I didn’t need to know all that “record group-subgroup-series-file unit-record item” stuff in order to request a record. I was even more surprised to find that my requested record did not come neatly labeled with all that info! (Call me naïve.) It kind of made sense when I saw the pull slip returned to me—it notes the physical location (stack, shelf, etc.) rather than the original administrative categorization. But this meant that creating a citation for my requested record entailed, you know, work. Thank goodness for Elizabeth Shown Mills’s recent post on just this issue: [1]

Most of my research this trip was in Civil War records, although I also made use of the microfilmed newspaper collection at the Library of Congress for some non-military research. Since I had the luxury of some extra days in Washington, I took time to go through the records I’d ordered rather than just quickly scanning them and going on to the next set of records. I spent most of my research time one day in looking at a three volume set of the Regimental Descriptive Books (Civil War) of the Sixth Michigan Heavy Artillery. I knew that my guy would only appear at the end (I was right) and that I was unlikely to find new info about him (right again), but it was very interesting to see what all was contained in those three volumes, and the number of different places that individuals (including civilians) were named.

I’m so glad that I was able to get to NIGR this year. I learned a lot, met interesting people, and enjoyed being in Washington. I’m eager to use my new perspective on federal records at the nearby Boston branch of the National Archives, and look forward to some future trip to Washington to do more research.

[1] For some reason, my footnote didn't come through. It should be:
Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 4: NARA Citations & Finding Aids,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : 24 July 2012).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NIGR: the firehose of information

Oh. my. goodness. Trying to take in everything at NIGR is like trying to drink from a firehose. Our first speaker on Tuesday morning explained that her one-hour lecture would be a condensation of a four-hour presentation. And then she was off and running, talking rapidly as we tried to keep up.  This was followed by another one-hour presentation by the same speaker. Followed by more speakers, each attempting to distill years’ and  years’ worth of experience into a useful package to enable us to navigate the 500+ record groups in the National Archives system.  This is key: the National Archives does not rearrange or combine the records that come to them. So, service records for a Civil War soldier are in one record group, his pension application in another, his medical records (if he ended up in a hospital due to wounds or illness) in another, and I refuse to even think about bounty land right now.  Anyway, we need to know that all these sets of papers are in different places and need to be requested separately.  Notations on papers in one set might well refer you to another set of papers… if you know how to interpret these things. Hence the firehose of information.

I’m beginning to feel less ignorant about military records—as in, I’m getting an idea of what I don’t know, which is the important first step. We have lectures on basic military records, Civil War medical records, pension records, discharge papers for the War of 1812, and Fold3’s military collections. Much of my own personal research time will be in the Civil War military and pension files of two or three men, supplemented (I hope) with some regimental histories. 

We had the DAR Library to ourselves for three hours last night with the undivided attention of four staff members; quite a treat! I found a North Carolina county history that I’d not come across before.  And then I found that the classmate sitting across the table from me was reading up on the same religious community in the same North Carolina county.  Gotta love the connections we make with other researchers attending NIGR! The DAR Library, by the way, is an amazingly beautiful space. I remember years and years ago when my family was taking the train cross-country and we changed in Chicago, our parents took us out on the street and we craned our necks at the skyscrapers, and Dad laughed at us little hicks awed by the city. Well, some things never change; decades after leaving farm country, I’m still awed by these things that we never saw amidst the forty acres of this and forty acres of that in rural Michigan. And so at the DAR Library I grinned to myself like a hick in the city, soaking up the beauty of the place.

Monday, July 16, 2012

NIGR: Day 1

I can’t believe today has only been one day long. Six content-rich presentations delivered with rapid-fire speed, NARA, Library of Congress (LOC), dealing with security at federal buildings, trying to remember the names of 41 other attendees (well, ok, I knew 3 or 4 already)… and now I still need to figure out what documents I want to order tomorrow.

Today’s take-away: just getting an understanding—or the beginning of an understanding—of what all is at NARA and LOC, how/where to find descriptions and finding aids, how to drill down to find the materials themselves, what all is online (whether info or digitized materials), and constant reminders of how to think outside the box when looking for info on people, places, and events. 

Things I’m still struggling with: The heat, occasionally. How to get from point A to point B (poor sense of direction!) Where in NARA and LOC I can take a tote bag or papers and where I can’t. 

Things that surprised me: How beautiful our classroom is (crystal chandeliers!); it’s well-air-conditioned too, thank goodness. The small size of the cafeteria at NARA (um, tad disappointed in options there). A lecture on military headstone records can be interesting. The Library of Congress takes the world’s worst ID photos; seriously,  makes the DMV photographer look like Annie Liebowitz. 

Things I wish I had known: I should have brought a lanyard for the two clip-on name tags I have to wear (awkward!). The Genie Guide to NARA is available in paperback—I’d bought it in hardcover. (PS—I’m glad I brought it with me on the trip; I was using it last night to refine one of my research plans.)

Tomorrow’s line-up includes military records (one of my weak points) and an evening at the DAR Library.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Off to NIGR!

I’m off to genealogy heaven—a week-long intensive educational experience, the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), held in Washington D.C. at the National Archives.

My hope is to write a *brief* blog entry every day. I’ve heard that the days will be long and busy, and I’m not even sure I have a clear goal in mind for these posts, so we’ll see what really gets written here at Saint Cross Upheaval.

Right now I’m feeling over-packed and under-prepared. As was recommended for preparation, I’ve read Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (3rd edition). I had intended to have nice focused research plans for a few projects at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, but what with grading papers and putting together a seminar syllabus and life in general, my research plans remain less focused than I’d like. Which means my research time will not be spent as efficiently as it should.

I do have goals for the NIGR experience. I’m looking to learn more about federal records and become familiar with the Washington D.C. repositories that we’ll be visiting; I especially want to learn about military records, one of my weak areas. I’m excited about spending a week getting to know 39 other experienced genealogists, and meeting our instructors. I know a couple of the other attendees, and I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with them. I am NOT looking forward to the 100 degree temperatures that are forecast for next week!

I love to learn, so it should be quite a week!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cambridge Annual Archives Crawl: Day 3

A third beautiful summer evening for walking from archive to archive!

Mount Auburn Cemetery

There’s so much that can be said (and is said, and written, and photographed) about this 175-acre cemetery, delight of gardeners and bird-watchers as well as genealogists, but I don’t recall hearing much about their archives before. Curator of Historical Collections Meg Winslow and another woman (whose name I didn’t catch) shared their detailed and enthusiastic knowledge of the history, records, collections, and stories (was Mary Baker Eddy really buried with a telephone?) of the cemetery. Meg referred to the cemetery and its archival collections as “a balance of monuments, landscape, and lives.”

The cemetery, opened in 1831, contains over 98,000 burials today, and inspired the beginning of the public parks movement (including Boston’s beautiful Public Garden). Its historical collections (climate controlled) include a library, the cemetery archives, and a collection of ephemera. Meg explained that a burial produces several records, including: decedent card, burial record, entry on a lot card, burial permit, and death certificate. Lot files can contain a surprising amount of information: correspondence regarding care of the lot, letters stipulating that Uncle So-and-So is not to be buried in the family lot, detailed “planting plans” (the ones we saw appeared to be professional landscape designs), and plans for monuments  Cremations also produce records, even if the cremated remains are not interred at the cemetery; I was surprised to learn that a cremation requires a medical inspection (of the body) beforehand. The cemetery is now switching to digital files for contemporary records.

Meg and her co-worker seemed very open to researchers, but pointed out that appointments are needed and that photocopies of files might be provided instead of access to the originals.

The most surprising piece of information: Mount Auburn Cemetery has a book club. Honest! I was mentally making plans to ditch my burial plot here in Burlington and buy a lot in Mount Auburn, but then they pointed out that the book club is only for living people.

What I’d come back for: Anyone buried here. Meg pointed out that Mount Auburn immediately became so popular (really, if you aren’t from the Boston area, you must check out the photos on the website to see how beautiful it is) that many families bought lots for themselves and then relocated their deceased family members here from other cemeteries. So I’d be sure to note anyone who died before 1831 and look for their records not only at Mount Auburn but also at a previous cemetery.

Cambridge Historical Society

Located in the second-oldest house in Cambridge, the historical society (founded 1905) has a very nice archival collection, a resident archivist, and is digitizing some of its collections. Archivist Mark Vassar gave us an excellent overview of the history of the society’s collections and of the collections themselves. We were treated to letters and documents signed by First Lady Dolley Madison, Abraham Lincoln, and P. T. Barnum, among others. Collections include Revolutionary War diaries, family papers, some business records, photos, maps, plans, periodicals and newsletters pertaining to Cambridge, and records and papers of the Small Property Owners Association (local folks might remember them from the rent-control issues of not too many years ago). 

Specific collections highlighted included some sermons of Joseph Willard, president of Harvard in 1781, including a sermon he gave after the Declaration of Independence. Most of his papers are actually at Harvard, but some which had been in his grand-daughter’s possession made their way here instead. The Quincy-Hill-Phillips-Treadwell collection intrigued me, since it includes papers from a number of prominent families, covers a large time span, and includes correspondence with people outside the families. The account book and estate papers of Andrew Craigie, a big land speculator of late 18th and early 19th century Cambridge, are here; this one caught my attention because there are a number of Craigie’s papers in the Shattuck Collection (for which I wrote the finding aid) at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. I learned that more of Craigie’s papers are at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, and re-learned (I’d forgotten) that Craigie owned the Longfellow House (our next stop) before Longfellow did. And for fans of American patriot Dr. Joseph Warren (you know who you are!), the good news is that Mercy Scollay’s letters are here at the Cambridge Historical Society. I think we were told that they are now digitized, but check the website to be sure.

The Cambridge Historical Society is open to the public for research, by appointment only. My impression is that they prefer that researchers have specific questions or targeted research plans. In other words, be prepared to discuss your specific research needs with the archivist beforehand as well as setting a time for the appointment itself.

What I’d come back for: I’ll definitely be returning to the website to take a more in-depth look at the collections, their finding aids, time periods covered, and family names. Some of the families probably interacted with one or two families that I’m slowly researching, plus I’d like to have an even better overview in my head of the various collections.

Longfellow House/Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site

Our last stop of the evening was the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also called the Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House after the three families who owned it, and the Washington Headquarters National Historic Site in recognition of George’s presence here for nine months during the siege of Boston. Built in 1759, it’s now a National Park site.

We saw very little of the house itself as we made our way to the basement archives. The collections here are focused mainly on the house and families, especially (no surprise) the Longfellow family. Longfellow’s son (or grandson? my notes fail me) traveled widely and commissioned photos during his trips in the 1860s through 1880s, creating a rich and unpublished travel archives—the mention of photos of Japan during this time particularly interested me. Longfellow’s [grand?]son also had a good sense of developing an archival collection, and made purchases to increase it. Some of his acquisitions were laid out for our viewing: a certificate bestowing military rank signed by Catherine the Great; a letter to H. W. Longfellow’s grandfather Peleg Wadsworth signed by George Washington; and a 1789 order for payment signed by King George III.

What I’d come back for: I’ll certainly come back for the house tour sometime; it’s long been on my list. As for the archives, I don’t have an immediate sense of anything I’d be looking for here. Fanny Longfellow is from a family I’m researching, but she’s far enough removed from my client’s branch that I probably wouldn’t need to work my way down into Fanny’s own papers.

The Cambridge Archives Crawl
turned out to be as interesting as I had hoped. For local readers, I hope these three blog posts gave you a little idea of some historical collections that you might not have been aware of. For non-local readers, I hope it gives you some ideas of the types of historical repositories you might have in your own area. Happy researching!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cambridge Annual Archives Crawl: Day 2

Day One of Open Archives was focused on Cambridge city collections; Day Two will be Harvard collections, Day Three cultural collections, and Day Four (to which I’m not going this year) MIT collections. There will be less walking on Day Two, since we’re staying within Harvard.

Harvard University Archives

The archival collection of all things Harvard is located in the Pusey Library. Just walking down the hall to the Archive’s rooms was a treat: we passed the rooms of the Harvard Map Collection (, the rooms for the holdings of the Harvard Theatre Collection (, a hallway display about Theodore Roosevelt, and another display about the war of 1812.

The staff of the archives had quite a number of items for us to examine (and lemonade and cookies in an adjoining room, thank you staff!). It wasn’t too difficult for them to find items in keeping with this year’s theme of “Famous and Infamous,” but they did tend to favor “famous.” Two documents signed by John Hancock illustrated the evolution of his well-known signature; it was not quite so fancy back in 1754, but its boldness was already apparent. FDR’s update for the class anniversary report noted his current occupation as “President U.S.” and in the space to describe how much he had traveled he wrote “about 1,000,000 miles.” Other items were about the university and events (e.g. ‘60s protests) rather than about individuals.

I was most fascinated by the class book of 1837, which was open to Henry David Thoreau’s page. Each member of the class wrote long-hand, himself, about himself (no herselfs back then), and the class secretary later kept each person’s entry up-to-date with news clippings, notices of occupation and death, sometimes photos, etc. These class books, forerunners of the red class books and anniversary reports, are in handwritten format pretty much only for the 19th century. I need to go back to one of my New England research projects—I think there are some Harvard students in there, and how cool would it be to give my client a copy of something her ancestor wrote about himself in his youth.

What I’d come back for: I’m not particularly interested in the history of the university itself. I’ll be back for the 19th century class books, and maybe materials about events pertinent to the time that my research subjects were there.

Houghton Library

Wow, what a gem this building is! Its mission is the collection of rare books and manuscripts, and it has one of the largest collections of incunabula (books printed before 1501). Major collections include the books and papers of Longfellow, Edward Lear (also the subject of the current exhibit), Keats, e.e. cummings, and T.S. Eliot. One entire oval room, stunningly beautiful (it was decorated like a piece of Wedgwood jasperware, honest!), was devoted to a collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s works. We were treated to a view of the first book printed in British North America, a book of Psalms published in 1640; one of only thirteen copies, it’s more rare than a Gutenberg Bible.

Once again my interest was most taken by an item about ordinary individuals. Mary F. Peirce was a teacher at Cambridge High School in the late 1800s and left a collection about the school (a little more than a linear foot of material) that made its way to the Houghton Library. The papers include school records, report cards, newspaper clippings, letters, and more. Our guide admitted that it’s one of those miscellaneous undescribed collections that no one really knows about until someone takes the trouble to go through it. (My thought—Writing a finding aid/collection description would be a great little volunteer project for someone interested in Cambridge history.)

I’d love to see this building again and learn more about what’s here. The Edison and Newman Room to the left of the lobby displays the current exhibition and is open to the public without needing a researcher’s card. Tours of the building for the public take place every Friday at 2 p.m., and we were told that they are more in-depth than the hour-long tour and discussion that we had, so I’ll be back one Friday soon!

What I’d come back for: Besides the tour, I’m curious to know what other non-literary collections like Mary F. Peirce’s might be here. Longfellow intersects with a family I’m researching, so I’ll be keeping his papers in the back of my mind.

The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

We didn’t see much at all of the interior of this library, built in 1908 partly with Carnegie funding, but we were given a good overview of the types of material they collect here. Most of what we were shown was from collections about or from particular women, including Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Amelia Earhart (including her baby book which contained a lock of her very fine very straight and very blond baby hair), Judy Chicago, and Julia Child (who knew an Emmy is so large?). The Beecher-Stowe family papers, including those of Harriet Beecher Stow, are at the Schlesinger, and are in the process of being digitized. Collections not specific to particular individuals include the Black Women’s Oral History project of the 1980s.

Unlike the procedures at other Harvard libraries, research at the Schlesinger does not require that one first obtain a Harvard researcher card—as the archivist put it, we could walk in off the street to do research.

What I’d come back for: I didn’t come away feeling that I needed to keep any particular collection in mind, but that I should probably take a more thorough look at the Schlesinger’s website before dismissing it as a genealogical resource.

Cambridge Annual Archives Crawl: Day 1

Genealogists love archives, and this week is a sort of mini-tour of genealogy heaven in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The fourth annual Cambridge Open Archives, aka the Cambridge Archives Crawl, will visit twelve archives in four evenings, and I’m going to three of those. This year’s theme is “Famous and Infamous,” and you can learn a little more about the event at Please visit each organization’s website for more information about their collections, research hours, and procedures.

The Cambridge Historical Commission

Many of the archives we’ll be visiting are not set up for large groups, so we’re broken down into three groups of about ten people. Each group starts at one of the three archives for the evening, and we each move on to another archive at one-hour intervals. My group began at the Cambridge Historical Commission, located next to City Hall on the edge of Central Square.

The theme “Famous and Infamous” lends itself well to highlighting individuals, but the Historical Commission focuses more on architectural history. So the folks here drew on a scrapbook in their collection of a late-19th /early-20th century sergeant of the Liquor Squad, and used it to spark a history lesson of the pre-Prohibition “no license” (= no alcohol) movement in Cambridge. Locations and photos of taverns (a popular spot was just inside the Cambridge town line next to a dry town), owners of taverns, the sentiment behind the “no license” push (possibly veiled anti-immigrant feelings as the composition of neighborhoods rapidly changed), and an annual newspaper devoted to the topic (Frozen Truth) were all woven into the discussion. Our small group included a couple of people who were deeply knowledgeable about Cambridge history, and they saw the local anti-alcohol issues of the time as leading into the later development of what comprises “good government” in Cambridge.

I was hoping to get an overview of what archival materials the Historical Commission holds, but they didn’t explicitly cover that.

What I’d come back for: Hard to say without checking their website. Offhand, I think I probably wouldn’t come back for genealogical research unless I were researching a Cambridge resident and wanted to draw in very detailed information about his home and neighborhood. (Something that’s always nice to do, but there’s that little issue of time!)

The Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library

Second stop: the Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections. This is in a brand-new light-filled and spacious space, and now has a full-time (and enthusiastic) archivist. Because both the facility and archivist are relatively new, the collection is still being processed and described; the archivist is quite excited about the collections she is finding.

The archivist had a number of items on display for us. Lucius Paige wrote a definitive history of Cambridge in the late 1800s, and his papers make up one of the many collections here; part of his manuscript was on the table for us to look at. Paige was a long-time city clerk and a minister, so he knew everyone; he spent years extracting information about Cambridge and its residents from various records, and those research notes are in his papers also. One of the other tour members mentioned that the full text of his Cambridge history is available on Google Books, but that its index is not.

A few late-18th century letters were available (in clear protective sleeves) for us to examine. My favorite was a letter from one man (“Mr. A,” let’s call him) to Mr. B, politely informing him that B Jr. had gotten A’s daughter pregnant. He mentioned that the bearer of this hand-delivered letter was his (A’s) son-in-law. One wonders about that son-in-law—was he a banker who held B’s mortgage? a thick-necked low-browed knuckle-dragging hulk, just a tad intimidating? a young minister? or simply someone who was very adept at resolving delicate situations?

What I’d come back for
: I’m somewhat tempted to return and finish reading that letter, and then see if I can find out how the story ends! But more seriously, I’ll come back here for any Cambridge resident I’m researching—or at least check the collection information online and send an email to the archivist to find out what might be available for my target timeframe and social group. I should go back once just to scan the stacks in that room and make note of some of the books that I might want to use as reference in the future.

Cambridge Department of Public Works

I was looking forward to this stop, because I wasn’t sure what to expect. The DPW is in a modern building, and we spent our time in the basement where records are stored. I was surprised (happily so) to find that half of the records area is climate-controlled. Records here go back to about 1850, although the weather reports date back to 1814.

The records are about what you’d expect to find—information about sewer lines and other such things. One of the surprises was how beautiful and detailed the old hand-drawn engineering designs are; a large sketch detailing a footing and support for an arch was on display for us to admire. Records are not limited to geographic Cambridge; the 1934 example illustrating this concerned a piggery in Lincoln and Waltham located on the drainage area of the Cambridge Water Supply. Local folk who are familiar with the location of the Cambridge reservoir at route 128 on the Waltham/Lincoln line can envision how this might be an issue!

The record set that most interested me were two small field books, now scanned and available at the DPW as downloads to a thumb drive (but not online). The first is titled simply F.B. 1, 1868-1935, and is the less interesting of the two for any genealogical purposes. There are some sketches pertinent to certain neighborhoods, and a fair amount of measurements concerning water—soundings in the Charles river; and tables of time, velocity, and flow of the Vine Brook in Bedford (again, outside of Cambridge). I found F.B. 2, Claims + Accident Reconstructions, 1889-1937 much more interesting. Each page contains a detailed sketch of the location of an accident, with names (sometimes) and dates. One page illustrates the precise situation of a sidewalk on November 9, 1898, where   “[a] man fell and hurt his knee last night”; details include “bricks sink where shaded,” “this end filled with dirt,” and the depth of an apparent hole (the small writing on the photocopy we were given is somewhat difficult to read; the original, and presumably the scan, is larger and clearer). Another page, dated October 3, 1906, concerns an incident where “[a] horse fell from bridge to top of cars” (presumably train cars), and notes “picture taken.” I’ll bet this sad accident made the news! I’d come back to this booklet if I had a family story of an accident in Cambridge, especially if seemed likely to lead to a lawsuit.

What I’d come back for
: Again, I’d probably come back here only for house and neighborhood background information, such as when certain city services came to the neighborhood or street where someone lived. The historical weather information intrigues me; if I wanted information regarding a storm or drought that affected my family being researched, I’d keep these records in mind.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Family Patents

The Legal Genealogist reminds us today that it's the 222nd anniversary of the adoption of the first U.S. patent law. I grew up knowing of two family members who (supposedly) held patents, and another popped up when I was doing some searching a few years back.

I'd heard in my childhood that my grandpa Warnke's brother Clem (1897-1971) had invented a bean-puller, and one of my uncles told me that it hadn't been a big commercial success in the U. S. but had found some popularity in Africa for harvesting peanuts. Somewhere buried deep in my family files is a newspaper clipping with a captioned photo of my mom's younger brother posing with a piece of Warnke farm equipment. I'm not sure if the item in the photo is a bean-puller, or if Clem also sold other machinery with his company name; hunting down that clipping is on my long to-do list! The photo was in the newspaper sometime in the early 1970s, and I think the occasion was the closing of the company.

Clem's invention quickly pops up if you search Google Patents, patent number 2240970, filed in 1939 and issued in 1941. While my memory is that it was called a "bean puller," the machine is actually described as a "vine lifter ... for lifting vines having pods attached thereto... so that the pods are not cut [by the cutter blades of a mowing machine]." I don't know what eventually superseded it, or whether his ideas contributed to the continuing improvement of harvesting machinery, but it looks very clever to non-mechanical me.

My uncle Paul Michutka was talented in drawing and story-telling, and was something of a character; we sometimes weren't sure how much of his stories to believe . He claimed to have filed for some patents, and I remember my Aunt Pearl (his sister-in-law) telling me that one of his patents had actually been bought out because some aspect of it resembled something that someone else was filing for. I haven't been able to verify this yet; not all patents filed before 1976 are searchable online simply by surname, and I haven't done any further digging. It would be interesting to see just what Paul had come up with!

You will get results by entering "Michutka" in a patents search, but it won't be Paul. Paul's brother John and some other men filed for a new design of a "Dairy Bar building" in 1953, and had patent number D174520 issued in 1955. Judging from the sketches in the application, I'd guess that this was something like a Dairy Queen or other ice cream place; perhaps a cousin will know more.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Census by census: George (& John), 1910

I finally found my grandparents George and Valeria Michutka in the 1940 census, living in Fairfield Township, Shiawassee County, Michigan. But before looking at them in 1940, I thought I’d focus on each of their census records through the years.

Grandpa—George—arrived in the U.S. in September 1907.[1] I have not been able to find him in the 1910 census; he was almost certainly living in New York City, in Manhattan. Our non-Western-European last name is both a blessing and a curse—unique enough to easily track, but so easily misspelled, misread, and misindexed that it is often garbled in print. So George remains unfound.

Valeria, 23, was still back in Makov in 1910. Her mother had died in 1902, and I believe her father was still alive (future research). If I had to guess, I’d say Valeria was living with her married older brother and his family.

Well, that takes care of the 1910 census; not much to say. But as my grown children will probably tell you, I do like to make a short story long. And although I have not found George, I did find his brother John, and his situation was probably comparable to George’s.

First, the Michutka family situation in 1910. Widowed Johanna Pavlik Mičutka had immigrated to the U.S. in 1906; her sons Jan (John) and Juro (George) followed a year later. They joined other relatives, both Mičutkas and Pavliks, as well as others from Makov and the neighboring village Vysoka nad Kysucou. Sometime in 1909, Johanna returned to Europe with baby daughter Mary; by coincidence (or not) Mary’s father also returned to Makov that year.[2] Johanna’s other surviving children were still in Makov: Sophie, who later came to the U.S., and Veronika who died in Makov in early 1910 at the age of 8. Johanna’s mother was likely still living, and perhaps the children were with her. So John and George were young men in 1910, living and working in the middle of an immigrant population that included family members and others from “home.”

John Michutka, 1910 census, Manhattan (citation is at footnote 3)

John Michutka was enumerated in the 1910 census as a boarder at 539 East 13th Street in Manhattan, in the household of a Slovak man named Rubinitz (first name difficult to read) and his wife Mary.[3] The household included the couple’s two children, “Rubinitz’s” brother Paul Kubinitz and their mother, twenty-five year old Joe Bungala [sic], and John Michutka.  Probably the name Rubinitz was a mistake, given the name of the brother, the name of the next family enumerated in the building (Anton Kubinitz), and the fact that the names Kubinec (pronounced a lot like “Kubinitz”), Bugala, and Mičutka/Michutka were all family names from Makov. One of John’s cousins would later married a Kubinec back in Makov, so perhaps the association with this family was even closer than fellow-townsman.

John was not the first Mičutka to live at this address; his father’s sister Marianna and her husband Cyril Bartek had been living there in 1906[4] and John’s mother Johanna as well as Mary’s father lived there in 1908.[5] One could speculate that this was one of the places where immigrants from Makov landed.

This address, on East 13th Street between Avenues A and B, is in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a few decades earlier this area was the most densely populated part of New York City and one of its worst slums. Tenement lots sometimes had a second multi-story building behind the first, contributing to the high population density.[6] Various ethnic groups lived this neighborhood, and in the early 20th century “Eastern Europeans” had a strong presence here.

Viewing this address on Google Earth, one sees today a rather handsome four-story red brick building between two somewhat taller lighter-colored stone-fronted buildings; the building has 3 windows across the front of each of the upper floors. The framing of the ground floor leads one to think that it might have originally been designed for a shop or other business. 
539 E. 13th Street, from a real estate map.
Atlas of the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York: Desk and Library Edition (New York: G. W. Bromley & Co., 1916), Plate 29; digital image, New York Public Library, “Atlases of New York City,” NYPL Digital Gallery ( : accessed 28 February 2012).
A 1916 real estate atlas of Manhattan shows that the building did indeed have a ground floor store (as did many of the buildings on the street) indicated by the "S" appended to the number of floors ("4S"), and was 25 feet wide and 52 feet deep.  The building did not have a basement--not surprising since the map indicates an old water course directly under the buildings on that side of the street! 
But the 1916 map shows a four-story rear building as well (which no longer exists); this is reflected the census records, and was likely the building that John was living in.  The 1900 census indicates five families (twelve people), mostly Germans, living at #539, and eight more families (forty-two people) living in the rear building.[7] The 1910 census makes it difficult to see that there are two buildings on the lot: the address appears twice, several pages apart, enumerated on different days, the second time (where John appears) on sheets labeled “suplementary” [sic]. The apparent front building in 1910 housed six families of forty-three people, and the apparent back building, six families of thirty people. These seventy-three people lived on a lot 25 feet wide by approximately 100 feet deep.

In 1920, two buildings are clearly indicated again, one with five families (thirteen people) and the other with six (twenty-seven people), mostly Russians. The 1930 census shows four families (eighteen people), mostly Poles; either the second building was gone, or I missed finding it (enumerated separately again?).[8]  In each of these censuses for this address, “family” very often included boarders.

John and the other men with whom he was living were working as “stripers” (strippers) in a tobacco factory, stripping the tobacco leaves from the stem.[9] Many others in the buildings around him were working in garment factories; a few were laborers in construction work. Wherever George was, he was probably engaged in similar manual labor.

John probably did not remain a boarder in this tenement apartment much longer, as he married a month later in May 1910. Surprisingly, his brother George was not one of the two witnesses on the marriage record, again leaving us without a clue today as to just where George was at the time of the 1910 census.

We don’t have any photos from the family’s time in New York City, but there are collections of photos of early twentieth century life in the Lower East Side at the following websites:
  • The Tenement Museum:; click on History, then on Photo Search.
  • H. A. Dunne and Co.,
  • Although it is set about fifteen years earlier than the 1910 census, the Oscar-nominated film Hester Street provides a glimpse of tenement life for immigrants.

[1] Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: NARA), roll 986, 10 September 1907, SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie, for Georg Micutka, stamped p. 104, line 26; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” online database, ( : accessed 17 August 2009). indexes George’s surname as “Mientka.”
[2] Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: NARA), roll 1750, 4 October 1911, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, for Johanna Micutka, stamped p. 153, line 13; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” online database, ( : 19 August 2010). The manifests indicate the time period that each was previously in the U.S.
[3] 1910 U.S. census, New York County, New York, population schedule, Manhattan, ED 1681, p. 22A, dwelling 24 [but Xed out], family 362, [illegible] Rubinitz; NARA microfilm publication M624, roll 1033. This appears to be a continuation of dwelling 24 on pp. 16B and 17A, and is likely a case of two buildings on one lot/address.
[4] Saint John Nepomucene Catholic Church (New York, New York), baptismal ledger [volume not noted], unpaginated, Josephine Bartek (1906); St. John Nepomucene Parish office, New York. By 1910 the Barteks had relocated to Connecticut.
[5] City of New York, Department of Health, delayed birth certificate no. 10742 S (issued 17 June 1927), Mary Pavelia, born 25 September 1908; Municipal Archives, New York City.
[6] Eric Homberger, The Historical Atlas of New York City, revised and updated (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005), pp. 110-111.
[7] 1900 U.S. census, New York County, New York, population schedule, Manhattan, ED 334, sheets 15A & B, dwellings 41 and 42, families 371-383; NARA microfilm publication M624, roll 1096. Dwelling 41 is indicated as the front one, and 42 the rear.
[8] 1920 U.S. census, New York County, New York, population schedule, Manhattan, 6th Assembly District,  ED 518, sheet 3A, dwellings 5 and 6, families 55-65; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1196. Dwelling 6 is indicated as the front one, and dwelling 5 the rear.
1930 U.S. census, New York County, New York, population schedule, Manhattan, ED 31-195, sheet 12B, dwelling 39, families 275-178; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll [?].
 1930 ed 31-195, sheet 12B, ancestry 24/36.
[9] ( : accessed 27 July 2009).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

1940 census: John Michutka (Mitchell)

The hunt for my grandparents George and Valeria Michutka in the 1940 census continues, rural township by rural township. George appears with a specific address in a county directory in 1940, but perhaps the information was actually collected in 1939 and the family had relocated again by census day, April 1, 1940.

In contrast, it took me only a couple of minutes to find George’s older brother John in New York City. I knew that John and his wife had remained in one home from before 1930 until shortly before John died in 1952. An enumeration district conversion tool and the knowledge that they lived in Queens Assembly District 3 (aka College Point), block G, made for quick work.

John and Carrie in front of their house. The reverse of the original copy reads: "Dear Jennie, I am sending you picture taken front of our house. me and aunt Carrie second from left and brother inlaw and wife and others are friends from Norwalk Conn. this was last summer taken" [no date]  

Their house as it appears today. (Google Earth)

John and his second wife Caroline “Carrie” Bachor had bought their two-story two-family house at 131-10 14th Avenue sometime between 1920 and 1930; the house had been built in 1910, so it wasn't very old at whatever time they purchased it. A comparison of their 1930 and 1940 data is interesting. Their home was valued at $9000 in 1930, and their tenant Claus Wiebach paid $35 monthly rent.
1930 U.S. census, Queens County, New York, population schedule, 3rd Assembly District, ED 41-861, page 6B, dwelling 71, family 114, John Mitchutka; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1593.
In 1940, coming out of the Depression, their home value had decreased to $3500, and their tenant Martin Gerhardt was paying $28 a month. John’s neighbor, also renting out part of his house, shows a near-identical decrease in value and rental income.

1940 U.S. census, Queens County, New York, population schedule, Assembly District 3, ED 41-474, page 4A, household 79, line 34, John Mitchell; digital image, ( : accessed 4 April 2012); NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 2729.
Some time between the two censuses, John changed his last name to Mitchell. (This change made it impossible for me to find information about him for several years—try searching for a particular John Mitchell in New York City some time!) John and Carrie were still using Michutka when Carrie paid a visit to her home village in Czechoslovakia in 1931,[1] but when John applied for a Social Security account in 1937 he was using the name Mitchell.[2]

John and Carrie’s places of birth are recorded as Austria in this census. Not quite correct--I’m pretty sure the enumerator was supposed to record the place of birth by the current political designation, which would have been Czechoslovakia at that time (but part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time they were born). On the other hand, maybe the enumerator didn’t question John’s saying they were born in Austria. ‘Cause you know, Mitchell is such an Austrian-sounding name….

In spite of changing their name to something more American-sounding, and buying a house and settling down for years at the same place, neither John nor Carrie appear to have taken steps to become citizens; they are both still aliens in 1940.

Consistent with the 1930 census and with his 1937 Social Security account application, John is doing auto metal work in 1940. In 1930 the census specified “sheet metal” work, and in 1937 he was employed by Bayside Auto Body Work in Bayside, Long Island.

1940 U.S. census, occupation and industry columns for John and Carrie

Carrie will not be found in the 1950 census when it is released in 2022; she died of cancer in 1945. John lived for several more years, visiting his brother George’s family in Michigan at least once. He died in 1952 in College Point, Queens.[3] His only child had died in infancy,[4] so he has no descendants.

John's and Carrie's gravestone, div. 10, row 46, plot 43, Mt. St. Mary Cemetery, Flushing, New York. Whoever took care of John's burial arrangements apparently did not have John's name added to the headstone. Photo taken by Julie Michutka, November 2009.

[1] Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, 1897-1957, microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, roll 5035), SS Europa, for Karolina Michutka, p. 151 [stamped], line 20; digital image, “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” online database, ( : accessed 10 November 2006). [corrected from original posting, which mistakenly cited Carrie's 1905 manifest entry]
[2] John Mitchell, SS no. 104-03-8281, 20 May 1937, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
[3] City of New York, certificate of death no. 2346, Caroline Mitchell, 15 March 1945; Dept. of Health. Also, City of New York, certificate of death no. 156-52-403649, John Mitchell, 11 April 1952; Dept. of Health.
[4] City of New York, death certificate no. 29574, Caroline Mitchutka, 27 September 1911; Dept. of Health. John's daughter was the child of his first wife Mary Perdoch.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

1940 census: the first find

Well well well... I found great-grandma Johanna Pavlik Micutka Luzenia AND she landed on the lucky line! So this is just a quick post of what I saw; I haven't even examined every column and thoroughly analyzed the family info yet.

Andy, Johanna, and Mary are found living on Warren Road in Middlebury Township, Shiawassee County, Michigan. I knew they'd been living in Middlebury Township before and after 1940, so it was a safe bet they'd still be there. They owned their home (ok, gonna check for deeds next trip back to Michigan!), it's a farm, and it's valued at "900" and that's in line with the neighbors' home/farm values.

1940 U.S. census, Shiawassee County, Michigan, population schedule, Middlebury Township, page 9B, ED 78-12, household number 187, line 54, Andrew Luzenia; digital image, ( : accessed 3 April 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 1820.

Johanna was the informant for the family information. I'm rather surprised at the accurate spellings of the surnames; I wasn't so sure that she was literate. Mary's surname is especially interesting. While I know that it's supposed to be Pavela, the only place it's spelled that way is on her baptismal record. It's misspelled as Pavelia on her New York birth certificate, and that misspelling followed her to the end of her life. (How do I know that the baptismal record is correct and the birth certificate is wrong, and not the other way around? Because I recognized her father on the baptismal record by his unusual first name--he was from the same village as the Micutkas, and was himself a Micutka descendant, and his surname was most definitely Pavela.) Did Johanna pull out her daughter's birth certificate or other document, or did she know how to spell the family names?

Johanna sometimes named herself Annie or Janie in other documents, as she did here. Johanna was born in late 1870, Andy in late 1883, and Mary in late 1908, so the reported ages are pretty close. Relationships and places of birth are accurate--really, great-granny, I'm impressed, you haven't always been so careful with little things like facts in the past!

Levels of education are minimal--just a few years of formal schooling for Johanna and Andy; well, that argues for Johanna being able to spell names at least. Mary was mentally retarded to some degree and had no education.

The family was living in the same house as in 1935.  I should look for deeds before that date, then.

Andy apparently had taken out "first papers" for naturalization. I've looked for them rather half-heartedly in the past, not sure if he had ever pursued citizenship. Now I know to get serious about searching. He was a farmer, worked 60 hours in the last week of March 1940 and 52 weeks in the 1939. He didn't earn wages in 1939, but did receive income of $50 or more from sources other than money wages. Lastly, he's number 100 on the farm schedule, so now I have to find out if the farm schedules are available.

Johanna's basic information shows that she was still an alien, and that she didn't earn work for pay.

Her supplemental information is, alas, about what I expected. Her parents were both born in Czechoslovakia (which was what it was called in 1940, not in 1870 when Johanna was born).

Married more than once, first time at age 18 (that's right--in January 1889); but what's the number in line 50, for "number of children ever born"? I'm going to have to wait for clearer images, plus compare the enumerator's handwriting in other entries. 

So, my homework will be to look for a deed for property out on Warren Road in Middlebury Township, probably purchased before 1935 and sold in the mid- to late-1940s. And if Andy still owned the land when he died (Johanna predeceased  him), there might be a probate file. I need to check for naturalization records again; first stop (online or in person) would be the county courthouse. I should also eventually send for the Alien Registration forms that both Andy and Johanna would have had to fill out in 1940. I've been lazy about noting whether farm schedules for the 1940 census survived and are available, so it's time to find out.

Back to searching; I still need to find George and Valeria.

The 1940 census: looking for Michutkas

It made the national news—to some extent—but you might not have picked up on what an exciting day yesterday was, unless you’re really into genealogy. Yesterday was the release of the 1940 census, seventy-two years after it was taken. This is a gold mine of information for anyone researching family history.

Each census asks a slightly different set of questions, so tracking a family from one census to the next in ten-year snapshots shows more than just the fact that everyone aged ten years. Some censuses ask the year of immigration (for those not born here) and their citizenship status; this is hugely helpful information for then finding a person on a passenger list or locating their naturalization papers. The 1910 census asks each woman how many children she had, and how many are still living; this is often the first clue that a child was born and died since the last census, or that an adult child who can’t be found in other recent records is actually deceased.

The first targets of my searching will be my Michutka grandparents, and my Grandpa Michutka’s mother, step-father, and half-sister. The 1940 census isn’t indexed yet; that will take probably six months, so I have to plan my search geographically, identifying enumeration districts and then reading line by line, page by page. Grandpa and Grandma Michutka moved around a lot, nearly every year, but remained in the area of Ovid, Michigan. I’ve already read through the 1940 enumeration district in Clinton County where they lived in 1930, hoping they might still be there. I found their former neighbors, the Hoffmans and Burls; I saw my dad’s godmother, Mrs. Waydak; and I ran across the family of one of my dad’s best friends growing up, Glenn Decker. But no Michutkas.

What do I expect to see, once I do find them? My grandparents George and Valeria Michutka were almost certainly living on a small farm. The census will tell me whether they owned or rented, and the value of their home if owned, or what they paid for monthly rent. Honestly, I don’t expect they owned. I’ll be able to see how their home value, or rent, compared with others in the area. This census asks the citizenship status of those foreign-born; George did not become a citizen until later in the 1940s, although he took out “first papers” in the 1920s. A new set of questions on this census asks where each person lived in 1935, but I don’t expect any surprises there.

I expect to see sons Don, Victor, and Vincent living with their parents. Eldest children John, Jennie, and Josie were out on their own by then. I’m betting that middle children Joe and Paul were “farmed out,” living with and working for other families in the immediate area. The question is, will they be enumerated with those other families, or with their own family?

There’s a chance that I’ll find my grandparents living with great-grandma and her second husband. At some point, George and Valeria were having a tough time economically (ok, they always had a tough time economically!) and they shared a house with George’s mother and step-father. My dad said that one family lived in the front of the house, the other in the back of the house.

I’m really curious to see this great-grandmother’s family enumeration. Johanna Pavlik Mičutka Luzenia and her second husband “Big Andy” Luzenia always lived near my grandparents, but often over the county line in Shiawassee County. Johanna’s illegitimate daughter, my grandfather’s thirty-year-old half-sister Mary, lived with them. I never know what surname Mary will have in a census, or what her relationship to the head of household (Andy) will be; both have always been wrong in the past. One new thing with the 1940 census—the person providing the information is identified. So, if Mary’s info is wrong again, I’ll know who the guilty party is. Actually, I’ll be shocked if Mary is enumerated with her correct legal surname Pavela, that of her biological father. It took me over twenty years to find that particular piece of information, and it apparently was not known to her nieces and nephews.

This census also asks about a dozen questions regarding the employment status of everyone age fourteen and older. Will it show that my grandmother did field work, or only that she was a housewife? I’m interested in finding out George’s and Andy’s income in 1939, and how that compares with others'. They worked their small farms, but also had other odd jobs such as section hands for the railroad, or digging ditches for a WPA project.

The 1940 census has an interesting variation: one person on each page was asked supplementary questions. Those enumerated on the lucky lines (lines 14 and 29) were asked about their parents’ birthplaces and the language they spoke growing up, their status as a veteran, whether they had a Social Security number (this will be handy for researchers!), more questions about their usual occupation, and for women who were or had been married, whether married more than once, age at first marriage, and number of children ever born. I’d love to see great-grandma Johanna’s answer to the last question, as I know of seven children (four lived to adulthood) but have one document that says she gave birth to eight children. We’ll see if any of the family ended up on one of those lucky lines.

So in the odd half hour here and there, I’ll be looking for my Michutkas. I’m not expecting any surprises—well, if I expected them, they wouldn’t be surprises, would they?!—but I seldom get a new document but what it has information I totally didn’t know about before. So, I guess I’m remaining open to the unexpected. Stay tuned.