12 September 2017


August and September break as I start a new job - will be back in October with a post about my methods of organizing documents, photos, electronic files and everything else that we all seem to accumulate in our family history search!

10 August 2017

Will the Real Matthew Woodruff Please Stand Up? (part 2 of 2)

Part 1 left us with the interesting coincidence of my consultations with the Society of Genealogists in London about the origins of Matthew Woodruff, my immigrant Woodruff ancestor, being immediately followed by outreach from a distant cousin, Leonard Lee Woodruff, who had further information to provide about Matthew.

I found it fascinating that Leonard emailed for the first time, after finding our DNA match, to ask if I had any information on the very topic I’d addressed the prior day!  After I shared my information with him, he sent me copies of what he had, which added to my own knowledge.  The documents he sent me in October 2011 included the results of three separate research projects that he had commissioned.  He later copied me on the results of a fourth project in January 2012.

What more was I going to learn about our immigrant ancestor, Matthew Woodruff of Farmington, Connecticut?

Map of Colonial Farmington, CT with Matthew Woodruff's house called out (See previous Blog entry for attribution)

29 July 2017

Will the Real Matthew Woodruff Please Stand Up? (part 1 of 2)

There has been much speculation about the origin of Matthew Woodruff of Farmington, Connecticut, my Woodruff immigrant ancestor.  Although no solid proof has been found, there is strength in the circumstantial evidence that points to his origins in Cambridge, England.

Legend has it (by way of several published genealogies which have translated to many, many online family trees) that Matthew and his wife Hannah were in Boston circa 1639 and then in Farmington by 1640 or 1641.  There is no evidence to back this up.  In fact, there is no mention of Matthew Woodruff in the exhaustive Great Migration project, which provides comprehensive sketches on all New England immigrants from 1620 through 1635 and a comprehensive index of all New England immigrants from 1636 through 1640. [i]

In her 1963 Woodruff Genealogy, Susan Woodruff Abbott states “Although it has been said that [Matthew] came from Hartford to Farmington in 1640-41, written evidence seems to be entirely lacking.” [ii]

From Susan Woodruff Abbott's book.

22 June 2017

Unconventional Great Grandparents (part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of my discussion about the perception that those who came before us led more rigid and strictly “conventional” lives.  My great-grandparents, as detailed in the previous posting, were all born during America’s Gilded Era, when Victorian principles were adopted and family life was conventional and predicable.  At least that is our perception of the time – in reality, life presented challenges and complications to the people of that era, just as is does with us today.  All four sets of my great grandparents experienced some unconventional aspect of their lives.  In my previous post I addressed my paternal great grandparents, one set divorced and the other set estranged.

In this post, I address my two sets of maternal great-grandparents.  For one couple, and like one set of my paternal great-grandparents, there was a long-term separation.  And for one great-grandfather, the story is one of tragedy compounded with further estrangement and manipulation, really a very sad reflection on the key players of a 100-year-old misfortune that still has an impact on his descendants today.

24 May 2017

Unconventional Great Grandparents (part 1 of 2)

My four sets of great-grandparents were of an interesting era: all eight of these individuals were born during America’s Gilded / Industrial Ages, with their collective birth years ranging from 1878 through 1886, an eight year span.  Their families represented a fascinating range of backgrounds, including industry, finance, law and medicine.  One great-grandfather grew up as the son of a minister.  They were all influenced by their times and circumstance, which mirrored the Victorian era in England and the Belle Époche in France.  These were special times and today we tend to think of the people of this era as rigid, tied to strict mores and more likely to live strictly conventional lives.  Divorce and separation were seemingly unheard of.

Interestingly, this perception does not apply to any of my great-grandparents.  The lives of each of these four couples factored in some unusual non-conventional family component.  The causes of their circumstances vary, but they all had a non-traditional aspect to their lives.

Today’s post will address my two sets of paternal great-grandparents.  Part two will discuss how my maternal great-grandparents failed to conform to the perceptions of the norms for their era. 

My great-grandparents, Sidney Bunting and Aileen Smith
with their wedding party in Montreal in 1910

21 April 2017

Dual-year dates and other calendar anomalies explained

When I first started my family history research, I quickly ran into some older date notations I didn’t understand.  They were listed as two years instead of one.  For example, I would see a birth listed as 21 January 1680/1.  I had no clue what that meant, and no one to ask.

I did, however, have the Internet and I assumed that I would only be one of many amateurs who were confused by this, so I looked at Ancestry.com, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society website (AmericanAncestors.com) and other genealogy sites, thinking this would surely be addressed in their FAQ section or on some “basics of research” page.  I was wrong – I could not find any such explanation anywhere. 

I did further research, finally finding a Wikipedia entry, which I paraphrase below.  At the end of this post, there is a link to the article (very interesting reading).

One depiction of a multi-year date from a Robert Hicks sketch.

Another depiction from a William Mann sketch.

09 April 2017

Correcting the Tree!

The fascinating blog of the NEHGS, vita-brevis.org
Vita Brevis (the blog of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, located at vita-brevis.org) has recently posted a number of fascinating articles about the correction of family trees – information that’s been accepted as correct, sometimes for many generations, that proves to be incorrect under further scrutiny.  I don’t know how common this is, but I expect it’s pretty prevalent.  In my own case, the act of putting my genealogy under the microscope resulted in multiple changes to the accepted “common wisdom”.  There were various reasons for these changes – willful misdirection, confusing records and accepted published histories that are changed due to scholarly review are all causes of changes to my own published genealogy.  I’ll start with the  most compelling of these circumstances: willful misdirection!

26 March 2017

How I Make Use of Internet Information

I’ve written before about my cousin John Black, who died at the age of 90 in 2014.  As the family historian of his branch of the family, he was part of my inspiration to pursue my own family history.  I did, however, adapt his advice to accommodate current technology and Internet resources. Sometime around 2005, I had a conversation with him about information I had found searching the web. He said “you can’t trust anything from the Internet!” To say that he was “old school” would be a tremendous understatement!  In his 80s, he was not an Internet user (he sent letters to me by postal mail, typed on a manual typewriter), but he had certainly heard stories from other genealogists about the danger of taking data from Internet sources. He had valid reasons for his distrust of the Internet, but that was just part of the story. 

The Internet can be a source of good information as well as bad.  As with any type of research, data found from something other than the original source should always be verified.  For me, I consider “original source” to be a somewhat fluid thing: reproductions of original documents work for me, as well as transcriptions or abstracts from trusted sources. Published research (private or public) conducted by genealogists and researchers of good reputation is also considered solid.  But a lineage taken from an online family history service or private website should be taken with a grain of salt.  I have developed the following process to validate the data I find online.

08 March 2017

The Unknown Relation (part 2 of 2)

(Continued from March 1, 2017)

Althea Chase Rowland Woodruff circa 1947
with 11 grandchildren!
In 2006 I received the last big batch of general family documents from my mother’s side of the family.  I added them to the filing cabinet which already contained my father’s family papers (inherited from him in 1992 and added to by other family members over the years).  The combined batch of documents filled more than six lateral file drawers and were not organized or protected in any way.

As I have mentioned in past posts, I am slowly making headway through the family papers in my possession.  The was the case, too, in 2010.  It was to these papers that I turned to try to solve the mystery of the woman I met in 1985 on the day of my graduation from college (see part one of this post).  I had made some small headway, at that point, in getting through the crowded file drawers (this is how I had previously come upon Althea’s wonderful photograph in the first place), but now I went back to these papers to see what I could find of Althea’s children.
The Rowland Descent, updated in 1999


01 March 2017

The Unknown Relation (part 1 of 2)

Althea Chase Rowland Woodruff "Woody"
with 11 of her grandchildren circa 1947
In June 1985, I graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles.  My maternal grandparents, Barbara and Joel Dirlam, came out from Rhode Island for the ceremony and stayed in Claremont with Barbara’s first cousin, Jack Woodruff.  Bear in mind that this is my mother’s line – Woodruff is my father’s line, so it was odd to find a Woodruff cousin on that side of the family.  As it turns out, there is an entire branch of maternal Woodruff cousins who grew up in the Los Angeles area.  

My great-grandfather, Edward Gould Rowland (b. 1878), had two younger sisters, Althea Chase Rowland (b. 1880) and Eleanor Harris Rowland (b. 1882).  In 1904, Althea married Clarence Merle Woodruff and they settled in Akron, OH.  Widowed in Akron in 1922, she raised her children there and then later moved to Santa Barbara in the 1940s to be closer to her adult children and her sister in Los Angeles.  In 1947, she sent this photograph from southern California: Althea Woodruff and all but one of her grandchildren (the 12th had not yet been born).  She sent the photo to her niece, Barbara Rowland Dirlam (my grandmother) to introduce Barbara’s young daughter Hilary (my mother) to all of her Los Angeles cousins.

21 February 2017

Lifelong Influence of World War II Deployment

My maternal grandfather, Joel Baxter Dirlam, was an economist who consulted and was a university professor throughout his career.  He obtained his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1936, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and earned his doctorate in economics from Yale in 1947.   The delay in his PhD was due, in part, to a move he made to New York City where his social life revolved around musician and artist friends.  In New York he also met and married (in 1941) my grandmother, Barbara Burdick Rowland.  The young couple moved about as he worked to support them and to complete his degree.  Eventually my mother, their oldest child, was born in 1943, as Joel worked on research with his best friend and fellow doctoral candidate, Alfred Kahn (who, many years later, would become semi-famous for de-regulating the airline industry under President Jimmy Carter) and getting his thesis in order.  He was then further delayed by world events.

Fred Kahn and Joel Dirlam in 1938
working on their dissertations
Front of Discharge Certificate
Growing up, I was always conscious that Joel had served in Europe during World War II, with my grandmother and mother back in the States.  My mother recounts that one of her earliest memories as a little girl is being woken up late at night and being allowed to help ring a church bell to signal the end of the war to the countryside in North Stonington, Connecticut.  But beyond this little bit of information, I had no knowledge of what my grandfather did or experienced in the war.  He didn’t avoid the topic nor was it a taboo subject.  Rather, his life was a busy and fulfilling one, which he lived very much in the present up to the day he died, so it simply didn’t come up.  After his death in 2005 at the age of 90, I found his discharge record, officially his “Enlisted Record and Report of Separation – Honorable Discharge”. This two-page summary of his involvement proved to be a wealth of interesting information.

05 February 2017

Where to Begin? At Home!

The television ads make it seem easy: enter your name and information, then that of your parents and grandparents.  By then you’ll have found a link to someone else’s family tree to which you can connect and have your genealogy laid out in front of you!  That can happen to a limited extent, but generally there’s a whole lot more work involved.  The family tree service provided by Ancestry.com is invaluable and it is definitely one important early step in getting your history organized.  But it’s not the first step.  To begin properly, you need to start at home.

There are sources of family history and genealogical information all around us, but we don’t necessarily recognize or make use of these resources.  As a quick reminder, I define “family history” as the family narrative (anecdotes, legends and stories) and “genealogy” as my lineage (who descends from whom).

John Baxter Black II in 2007
John's two volume book:
A History of 

The Family of Frank Blymyer Black
In 1996 I was given a copy of a family history that was written and self-published by a second cousin once removed by the name of John Black.  He was 72 years old at the time and I knew of him through other family members, but we had not yet met.  I wrote, asking for a copy of the book and invoked the name of my grandfather, whom John had known since childhood.  John sent me the book and we carried out a written correspondence for several years before I finally met him in person.  John became a strong influence in my life, both personally and from a genealogy standpoint.  John was the family historian for his side of the family and he and I found our love of family history and the stories associated with that history to be a great factor in our strong friendship.  We remained close friends, despite the forty-year difference in our ages, until his death at the age of 90, in 2014.  

25 January 2017

The Life of an Aspiring Young Actress - New York in the 1930s

From its founding in 1902 to around 1952, the Three Arts Club in New York City served a noble purpose – to house young women who were pursuing careers in the arts.   The three arts referred to music, art and drama, and the Club provided dormitory style housing, meals and an environment in which these young women would be among people experiencing the same struggles and frustrations (and sometimes success).
The Three Arts Club
at 340 W 85th St, NYC in 1910.
This building was replaced in 1927.

According to an article about the Three Arts published in the Los Angeles Herald newspaper in 1909, there were four rules of admission (quoted):

  1. All applicants must be studying with a view toward self support or working in one of the arts.
  2. They must be under 30 years of age.
  3. They must furnish at least two satisfactory references.
  4. Admittance only by application card.[i]

17 January 2017

Getting Started and Getting Organized

In 2006, soon after my maternal grandfather died (my grandmother having predeceased him by five years) my cousin Tamala emailed me a question: was it true that one of our ancestors had been a governor of Rhode Island?  As kids, my cousins and my brother and I all spent time during the summers with this set of grandparents in Rhode Island (although, because of age differences, not at the same time).  Our grandmother had told us all of the ancestor-governor, from whom she was descended. 

Tamala asked the question of me, in particular, because she knew that all of our grandparents’ papers, particularly family history information, had been entrusted to me.  This seemingly innocuous question forced me to face a closet full of boxes which were not just from those two grandparents, but from my father’s side of the family as well.

05 January 2017

The Story of Annie Allender Gould

Empress Dowager Cixi
whose Decree caused
such bloodshed
The Boxer Rebellion was a violent movement in China which targeted Christians, missionaries in particular, between 1899 and 1901.  It was initially a nationalist group (“Boxer” was the English translation for the name of this group) that pushed for expulsion of foreigners and their interests and eventually grew into a much larger movement. 

When the Boxers finally blockaded the Legation Quarter of Beijing, which housed many foreigner delegations and missions, the Empress Dowager Cixi (believing that armed invasion to lift the siege was immanent) weighed in and supported the Boxers through an Imperial Decree “declaring war on foreign powers”.  This led to the killing of many foreigners and significantly more native-born Christian converts in China, mostly in the northern provinces near Beijing.

According to Wikipedia, a total of 136 Protestant missionaries, 47 Catholic nuns and priests, 53 foreign children and thousands of convert Chinese citizens were killed during the rebellion.  In all, between 2,400 and 2,600 people were killed after Empress Dowager made her proclamation supporting the Boxers.[i]

Annie Allender Gould was my great-grandfather’s first cousin and was, therefore, my first cousin three times removed.  She was also a Presbyterian missionary in China and one of the 136 Protestant missionaries killed by the Boxers.