Wednesday, January 10, 2018

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 2

Favorite Photo

I didn't know my paternal grandfather, Philip Ficarra, he died when I was three years old. My only memory is a very old, wrinkled man sitting in an upholstered rocking chair. 

I have several photos of Grandpa Phil, the photo below is a favorite. It was taken in Chicago, Illinois sometime in the 1930s. My father George, said he remembered his father wearing a straw skimmer hat all the time. Grandpa is wearing a tie, and with his shirt sleeves rolled up, it looks like it might be summer. I don't know what the event might be, or maybe he's at work and just stepped outside when the photo was taken. I got this copy from my sister, Sharon. She actually started on the genealogy journey in the 1980s. I picked it up in 2000 where she left off. She's been great to help me when I run into a snag with our family history.

Grandpa Phil was married four times. Two of the women happened to be both of my grandmothers. His second wife, Angie, was my father's mother, he married her 1922. He married his fourth wife, Jennie, sometime in 1946. Jennie was my mother's mother. I'm still looking for their marriage record. This is how my parents met. Father and son, married mother and daughter.

Grandpa Phil was my "brick wall" in my genealogy search. I couldn't get past him to his parents or grandparents. A few years ago, a friend of mine actually found his parent's marriage on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. I've been grateful ever since. I still don't have Philip's birth record and I can't seem to find his family in any census or New Orleans, Louisiana city directories. They have once again become my "brick walls."


Copyright 2018, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott
#52ancestors #genealogy #familyhistory

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Writing My Story

I'm getting back to writing. I signed up with Amy Johnson Crow's: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. I belong to a writing group once a month through my local society. I struggle, but the group helps me make sense of what I'm trying to say. I may not make all 52 weeks, but I'm willing to start.

I came across this great motivator from Thomas MacEntee's Twitter feed and on Facebook: 18 Writing Tips for 2018: How to Tell Personal and Family Stories with Confidence. I especially like tip number 3, Make a Time Line of Major Life Events. I really like the concept. After reading the whole article, I shared the link on my society's Facebook page and sent the link to my writing group.

I found a notebook I had and emptied out pages that had writing on them. Then I started to write down each year I've been alive. Left a page or two between each year and started adding in some of the big turning points of my life.

I don't have to write about ancestors. I'll write about whomever I want. I just want to START!

Copyright 2018, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott
#52ancestors #genealogy

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

German documents transcribed

About two years ago, I ordered German church microfilms from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The only way to save the images was to snap a photo with my cell phone. The images weren't great, but using Photoshop Elements, I was able to piece two or three images together into one document. 

I could make out a few words like legitimate, baptism, family surnames but that was about all. Using a German dictionary, German word lists from Family Search Wiki, and Google translate - German to English, I still couldn't make out what the documents said. 

Earlier this month, I attended the FGS Regional/Wisconsin State Genealogical Society's conference at Wisconsin Dells, WI

On the second day, I attended a session by speaker Antje Petty. Her lecture was: “Max Kade Institute: Resources to help with your German-American Family Research”. My ears perked up, this was just what I needed. Part of my road trip this month was to research my mother's German paternal line. I spoke briefly with Ms Petty after her session and she said to email her with my German document questions. Ms Petty's office was on the University of Michigan-Madison campus near the Wisconsin Historical Society.

I made an appointment to meet with her the following Monday afternoon and sent my scanned documents in advance. Since I had planned on going to the historical society for research anyway, this was perfect. Over the weekend, Ms. Petty emailed me she wasn't feeling well, and would have to cancel our appointment. She said she looked over my scans and thought the documents might be in Latin, which she doesn't read, not German like I thought. That's why Google translate, the word lists and German dictionary couldn't decipher the documents. Wow, didn't see that coming! I would have to look into the documents after I got home.

I was disappointed we couldn't meet but thanked her for the valuable translation tip. A week later Ms Petty email me and said again how sorry she was we couldn't meet, she had actually come down with the flu but taken a second look at my documents and they were definitely in Latin. Thank you, thank you and thank you again! I won't be wasting time trying to decipher German. I'll be looking into Google translation - Latin to English. 

That invaluable tip was well worth the trip. You just don't know what you're going to learn when you attend conferences.

Copyright 2017, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott

Saturday, April 8, 2017

FGS Regional/WSGS 2017 Gene-A-Rama Conference – Day 2

Today, was day two of a two-day conference of the FGS Regional/WSGS 2017 Gene-A-Rama held at the Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI. Here’s the sessions I attended.

Speaker: Curt B. Witcher
“Fingerprinting our Families: Using Ancestral Origins as a Genealogical Research Key”
He has a way of stating facts differently than any other speaker would. Instead of “bread crumbs,” he used “fingerprints.” Really makes you think outside the usual box. Thanks Curt!

Speaker:  Antje Petty
“Max Kade Institute: Resources to help with your German-American Family Research”
Ms. Petty’s talk was an eye-opener. I’m researching my mother’s line of Germans the Rammingers’ of Sheboygan County, WI. Date range 1852-1900. The institute is in the Wisconsin State Historical Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I happen to have some German church records that need to be translated. She said to contact her this coming week at the library to take a look at what I have. Good info, handout and talk!

Speaker:  Grace Dumelle
“130 Years of Genealogy Gems: Delve into the Newberry Library’s Treasure House.”
As many times as I’ve been back to Chicago, I’ve never had the research time to visit this library. Glad I was able to hear Ms. Dumelle’s talk. An extra handout was passed out spotlighting the Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection. She walked us through the special collections; how to register online; what type of ID you’ll need; how to get a Reader’s card; what you can and can’t bring into the library, like personal scanners. I’ll definitely try and carve out some research time for this library.

Last and final speaker of the day: Rorey Cathcart
“After the Fire: Research Strategies for Besting Burned Counties”
Good examples of what could destroy county records, not just fire. Floods, tornados, loss, theft and malfeasance to name a few. Look elsewhere, use substitute records. What exactly was destroyed, what survived? Maybe the records you need were in another building and not in the courthouse after all. Determine if substitute or abstracted records were created. Ms. Cathcart’s handout, suggestions and tips are priceless.

My husband and I drove five days from California so I could attend this conference. The trip was well worth the trek.


© 2017, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott

FGS Regional/WSGS 2017 Gene-A-Rama Conference – 8 April 2017

Yesterday, I attended the first of a two-day conference of the FGS Regional/WSGS 2017 Gene-A-Rama held at the Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells, WI.

The syllabus was sent via email a week ahead of the conference. I printed the pages I thought I’d need from home for the various sessions I planned to attend. The night before the conference I set up my conference bag, clothes I would wear, and other items I’d need. I either read the schedule wrong or was so excited for the conference to begin, I went down to registration about two and a half hours early. I was excited!

Before the sessions began, there was society business matters and announcements. Two of the sessions I’d planned to attend, their speakers were absent because of family emergencies. The WSGS president announced that the sessions would be filled with FGS speakers so there was no delay.

My first session was substituted from “100 Years Later: Finding Your World War I Ancestor” to “Pinterest.” I’m not an avid Pinterest user but sat in on the session and figured I could learn something new. The speaker didn’t disappoint. Good talk and PowerPoint slides.

My second session was after lunch. Again, the session was filled in with a different speaker, Curt B. Witcher. I’ve heard Mr. Witcher many times on different subjects. Several years ago, he was the seminar speaker at my local genealogy society. He’s a highly qualified and sought after speaker. His lecture was very much like the programed lecture; “Search for your Data in their Repository.” He gave many excellent points for narrowing down keywords in searches. He suggested using the “place” where your ancestors lived instead of their surname exclusively. His examples were five key components: place, ethnic, surname, religion, and occupation. I will be changing the way I do my searches based on the above.

My third session was again with Mr. Witcher, “Minding the Mother Load: Using Periodical Literature for Genealogical Research.” This was actually a session I had originally chose. Curt B. Witcher is the senior manager of the Genealogy Center in the Allen County Public Library in Ft Wayne, IN. I haven’t had much luck in finding anything in PERSI, that’s just me. I know it’s because I’m searching wrong. Mr. Witcher went into great detail showing and explaining the ins and outs of the search capabilities. Unfortunately, PERSI is now housed with FindMyPast.com a subscription site that is mostly used for international searching. I’ll have to use it in my local Family History Center.

The fourth and final session I chose was “Software: Genealogy Apps on Mobile Devices.” Substitute speaker was Rorey Cathcart. Ms. Cathcart is a professional genealogist. She did a great job pitch-hitting this subject. She used the handout from the syllabus and added many more ideas of mobile apps she herself uses. I’ll be checking out some of them and look forward to incorporating them with my research.

I met some very nice ladies from various parts of Wisconsin at my table for dinner. They gave me great tips for researching in Sheboygan County, which I will follow-up.


The evening dinner speaker was once again my favorite, Curt B. Witcher! His talk was “The Great American Tapestry—Voices of Our Ancestors.” No PowerPoint slides this time. His talk about our ancestors’ and the letters or journals they left behind gave us a glimpse of our ancestor’s thoughts and feelings. He wove a beautiful story by just reading the letters or journal entries.  A very enjoyable evening.

Copyright 2017, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott