Thursday, January 31, 2008

Family is number one in my book

It was eye-opening (but not too surprising) to view this tag cloud created using the top 75 words to date within 100 Years in America. Leaving out common English words (which unfortunately includes the "new" in "New York") here is the list, shown by frequency:

created at

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A little boy, a big ship, and a brand new world

Little Pista Tóth (Pista means "little Stephen" in Hungarian) was just shy of 2 1/2 years of age when he, his siblings, and his mother boarded the S.S. Pennsylvania in Hamburg, Germany on May 4, 1907. The family had left their home in northeastern Hungary to make a new life in America, where their father had already spent some time. István Tóth had been in Trenton, New Jersey during 1902 and 1903 and then returned to his wife Mária (Németh) Tóth and his two young daughters, Mária and Ilonka. István's young son and namesake, had arrived in 1904. István had then returned to America and awaited the arrival of his family, including the final child born into the family in Hungary: baby Lajos. (You can read more of this family's story here.)

This list of passengers departing Hamburg on May 4, 1907 lists Maria Tóth
of Gelej, Hungary with her children Maria, Ilonka, Pista and baby Lajos.
Father Istvan awaited them in Trenton, New Jersey. (Click to enlarge)

It is quite a picture to imagine this young family from the little village of Gelej, Hungary staying at the Auswandererhallen (Emigrants’ Halls) in Hamburg, Germany awaiting their ocean voyage to America.

Image of Hamburg's Emigrants' Halls thanks to
Ballinstadt Emigration Museum.
The BallinStadt, otherwise known as the Emigrants' City, was a multiple-building facility designed so that passengers arriving by rail from Eastern European countries could be directed straight to the port and avoid passage through the city of Hamburg. According to the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum website, "In the year 1907 alone, a total of nearly 190,000 emigrants departed from Hamburg into an uncertain future. Hamburg had become Germany’s number one emigration port."

The young Tóth family arrived at Ellis Island in New York via the S.S. Pennsylvania of the Hamburg-Amerika line fifteen days after departure from Hamburg. What a trip it must have been for a wiggly 2-year-old little boy, his older sisters, his baby brother, and his poor mother!

The Tóth family arrived in New York on the S.S. Pennsylvania on May 19, 1907. 

Thanks to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City and the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum in Hamburg, I can visit museums at both little Pista Tóth's port of arrival in America and his port of departure in Germany. What an amazing chance to get a personal glimpse into what this little boy might have experienced just over 100 years ago on his trip to a new world with his family.

Image of the S.S. Pennsylvania of the Hamburg-Amerika Line 
from the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives: The Future of our Past.

Note: The Staatsarchiv Hamburg has digitized passenger lists for those departing from the port during the years 1850-1934. These Hamburg passenger lists and their handwritten indexes are available through

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sad news for Croatian genealogy

In "this small world of Croatian genealogy" (as Ivan Curkovic of once so aptly put it), any helpful resources are exciting to find. Unfortunately, one such resource has just announced that it will be discontinuing its services as of January 31, 2008.

As Ivan notes on his blog, the Croatian heritage web portal and organization Moja Baština (translated "My Heritage" in English) has not found enough interest in its commercial services to justify continued operations. (Croatian genealogy truly is a small world.) The web portal, whose purpose was to provide genealogical assistance to those interested in their Croatian roots, has also provided some nice free resources to site visitors including genealogy forms, tips on creating various family history projects and links to many helpful Croatian resources.

Read more about the unfortunate news at Ivan's post entitled Croatian Heritage Portal to Cease Operations.

Hmmm, just wondering... If we drummed up enough interest in the next week, would they reconsider their decision?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The ABCs of DNA

Interested in learning about the deep origins of your family's history?

I was wondering about the true history of the Ujlaki surname and family when I wrote the post entitled: A rose by any other name. In the case of my search for this family's history, I haven't yet exhausted archived records. I'm still working back in time to get as far back as I can with existing sources. However, I'm doubtful that they will take me further back than the mid to late 18th century.

DNA testing, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to gain an understanding of the origins of my family, who may have both Croatian and Hungarian (and possibly other) components in their genetic make-up. As the genetic genealogist Blaine Bettinger explained (in response to my posted questions), Y-DNA and mtDNA tests offer a possible opportunity to link my family to others in the same geographic area with similar "paper trails". Through this type of testing, I have the opportunity to learn more than can ever be discovered through traditional genealogical research.

If you are interested in learning more about DNA testing, visit Blaine Bettinger's The Genetic Genealogist for a good overview of what it is all about, how it is done and up to date articles about DNA testing in the news. Its amazing to think what can be learned through a simple cheek swab test!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Snapshots of the world back in 1908

After reminiscing about my own Croatian/Hungarian ancestors' lives one-hundred years ago I wrote the post: Where was your family in 1908?

I've enjoyed the entertaining look at a cross-section of our world back in 1908 via the posts that many of you family historians have written in response to my question. Just for fun, I thought I would include them all here so that those of you who are interested could more easily step back in time one-hundred years ago along with all of us.

Here, thanks to the proud descendants of those that lived one-hundred years ago, is an album of snapshots of the year 1908. Enjoy your trip back in time...

If you'd like to first put the times into historical perspective, a good place to visit is Miriam Midkiff's AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestories. Her post, entitled Where Was Your Family in 1908, is less about her own family and more about the major news highlights of the year. Miriam shares an overview of the year using a family history timeline journal that she recommends. She also shares a link to a site that can help take us back to the year 1908.

Like my Ujlaki family's, Stephen Danko's roots (well-documented on Steve’s Genealogy Blog) were not fully in the United States one-hundred years ago. Steve had only one of his grandparents living in the United States one-hundred years ago, although all would immigrate to the country within the next several years. In his post The Year was 1908 Steve introduces us to his grandparents from Galicia, Polish Russia and Lithuania.

Like Steve, Jasia of Creative Gene also found many of her family members living in what is now Poland back in 1908. Jasia placed her ancestors’ lives very nicely into historical context with her descriptions of the struggles of the Polish people one-hundred years ago. Her posts Snapshot 1908, Galician Partition of Poland and Snapshot 1908, Russian Partition of Poland give us a clear understanding of the reasons many of the Polish people had for considering emigration. Jasia’s posts include some nice family portraits and also a couple of historical videos of the villages where her grandparents lived. We also receive a nice glimpse back into the lives of the other side of Jasia’s family via her post Snapshot 1908, Detroit. Here Jasia details the lives of family members who had already immigrated to the United States and made their home in the motor city one-hundred years ago.

For the story of immigrants from another part of Europe, read the post I've written about one branch of my family, the Tierneys, at A Light That Shines Again. In my post entitled A remembrance: the Tierney family of Quincy, 1908, you can read about the path from poor Irish immigrant family in Boston's North End to thriving shipbuilding family in Quincy just decades later.

Speaking of Massachusetts, Bill West of West in New England gives us an overview of his family in 1908 at his post Where were they in 1908. Bill's family was in Massachusetts and Maine and possibly Ireland. Looks like he might need a little help from the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture's Irish Research edition. Here's hoping he can "get back to Ireland" this year...

Barbara Joly at Our Carroll Family Genealogy writes about her Irish Pennsylvania ancestors in her post Where was your family in 1908 ? Barbara shares some nice photos of some of her family members, including one of her great-grandfathers, a railroader born in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania who was said to have a gift for playing the organ.

I've written about another side of my family whose lives also revolved around the railroads in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania at Small-leaved Shamrock. A look back at Schuylkill County: 1908 reminisces about the days when coal was king and the railroad was the means of moving that coal in addition to being the livelihood of many Pennsylvanians, including my family.

Thomas MacEntee of Destination: Austin Family found all of his family living in New York in 1908, including a great-grandfather who had his visits to his grandmother written up in the local newspaper. Read his post My Ancestors in 1908 to learn more about Thomas' Manhattan, Bronx, Ulster County and Orange County, New York ancestors.

Apple of Apple’s Tree found it surprising how little she had written about her ancestors who lived during 1908. In the process of writing her post Where Were They 100 Years Ago? she searched for and found info about her Michigan, Indiana, New York and Ontario grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.

The Oracle of OMcHodoy's My Ancestors in 1908 is the place to find Colleen's Pennsylvania and Kansas ancestors one-hundred years ago. She describes the lives of each of her eight great-grandparents in that year and includes some very nice family portraits.

David of Oakville Black Walnut entitled his post simply 1908. David's post about about his Missouri family with German heritage "wins the prize" for the most neatly written list of ancestors living one-hundred years ago. And what a list it is!

Untangling her family's roots in the year 1908, Amy Crooks describes the whereabouts of her ancestors living in the west, including some Native Americans in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and "a wild bunch" of farmers who had run-ins with the law. Read more at Amy's Where were your ancestors 100 years ago, 1908? and More of our families 100 years of history.

All My Ancestors displays a great family photo (house and all) in Oklahoma back one-hundred years ago. Along with the family photo is a blurb from the local newspaper bemoaning the health of one of the family members. View this hardy Oklahoma family and read the post at Where were they in 1908?

The Transylvania Dutchman John Newmark wrote his post Where was my family in 1908? Included among his relatives in Transylvania, Texas, St. Louis and other places is a set of great-great-grandparents who spent the year "traveling the world" it seems. John takes us on a tour of their travels from continent to continent and back again.

Jessica Oswalt's post 1908: Where Were My Ancestors? gives us an introduction to the places where her family was living in the year 1908. She includes mentions of her ancestors in England and those that had immigrated to the U.S. and were living in Michigan and Ohio.

Terry Thornton wrote about his family at Hill Country of Monroe County Mississippi. Can you guess where they were living at the time? Mississippi, Mississippi, Mississippi, Alabama and... Indian country? Read his post Where Was My Family 100 Years Ago? to learn the story of his Dad's family's trip to Indian country and back.

Lori Thornton at Smoky Mountain Family Historian found all of her family already living in Monroe County, Mississippi in the year 1908, with the exception of one who was the sheriff in another county. Read her family's overview at Monroe & Itawamba County Mississippi 1908.

Lee Anders wins the award for the most mathematically inclined post in this series with Five Score Years Ago. Along with doing the math to get her title, she did some more calculations and determined just exactly how many known living relatives she and her husband had in that year. She decided not to write about all of them (there are more than 200), but gives us a glimpse into the lives of a few who lived in North Carolina and Virginia.

Craig Manson at Geneablogie shares the whereabouts of his Texas, Louisiana and Missouri ancestors in his post Where Was Your Family in 1908? Included in Craig's family that year was his 98-year-old great-great-grandfather in Texas who had lived through the suffering of slavery, another great-great-grandmother who lived in Louisiana not far from where she had been held in slavery, and a great-grandfather who was a Baptist preacher in Kansas City.

At Kinexxions Becky wrote about her Midwestern Indiana farming ancestors in Where Was My Family in 1908? I wish I had a few Swiss ancestors as Becky does so that I could have one more good reason to visit the beautiful land of the Alps.

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings not only gives a detailed listing of his family members' residences in 1908 but also gives us a visual look back at many of those homes. His post Where were my ancestors in 1908? also provides some historical perspective of the times with a link to his listing of some facts about life one year earlier in 1907.

Like many of us, What's Past is Prologue's Donna Pointkouski found herself organizing a "mess of paper" to answer the question of her ancestors' whereabouts one-hundred years ago. Her post 1908: Where was your family? tells the stories of her German and Polish family members living in Philadelphia. I enjoyed Donna's closing words. They nicely put into perspective the fleeting lives of our ancestors and the short one-hundred years that separates us from some of them.

In taking this look back a century past, I hope that you have found (as I have) a new inspiration and strength for your own life today in 2008, one-hundred years later.

Now we are left to wonder: Where will our families be in the year 2108 - one-hundred years from now?

If I've missed your post describing your own family's whereabouts in 1908, please let me know so that I can include it in this "album of snapshots". I'll take submissions at any time until the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2008, so if you haven't written yours yet, go right ahead!

Images of the antique clocks thanks to the Clock Depot.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The "isle of hope and tears" revisited

If you've been reading 100 Years in America, you know that Ellis Island was the place in America where Ferencz Ujlaki arrived from Hungary in 1906, and where his young family followed him several years later. Ilona Ujlaki emigrated in 1909 and found her young son hospitalized at Ellis Island for measles.

Odds are, if you are an American, your family may have also passed through this "isle of hope and tears", as they call it. According to this Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation webpage:
Ellis likely to connect with more of the American population than any other spot in the country. It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans today can trace their ancestry to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island.

Whether your family has a connection to this Gateway to America or not, you may find it interesting to make a visit to the island today. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened its doors in 1990. It is a wonderful step back into the history of immigration and into the lives of millions of citizen hopefuls who passed through the island on their way into America (or, sadly for some, on their way back to their home countries after a problematic inspection). Click here for a thought-provoking Flickr slideshow with images of tourists visiting Ellis Island today.

I'm hopeful that the story of Ellis Island and its brave immigrants will not be forgotten by future generations. Scholastic has a nice Interactive Tour of Ellis Island designed for students. Also, the National Park Service offers kids a printable activity guide to the island as part of their Junior Park Ranger program.

If you would like to search for the passenger records of your family members who came through Ellis Island, go to The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. or use Steve Morse's search engines.

Already know how your ancestors immigrated to America? Whether they came through Ellis Island or not, tell your family's story in 800 words or less and have it added to other immigrants' experiences within The Peopling of America® exhibit created by the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Need some tips on how to learn more about your immigrant ancestor and what they experienced on their journey? The twenty-five minute Ancestors episode below is a good starting place. Telling the stories of those that left their homes behind, it gives you an inside look at Ellis Island, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum's recreations of several immigrants' living quarters, the Merseyside Maritime Museum's simulation of the lower deck of an immigrant ship, and the story of one woman's quest to learn the fate of her newly arrived great-aunt's ill baby. Although I thought I knew a lot about searching for records via passenger lists and naturalization records, this video taught me a few things.

I hope that you'll someday have the opportunity to visit the famed "isle of hope and tears" yourself. More importantly, I hope that this place that saw so many hopeful immigrants pass through its doors will inspire you to search for and discover the story of your own family's journey.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Where was your family in 1908?

It was a banner year for the Wright Brothers and their flying "aeroplane".

It was the year that Henry Ford's Model T went into production and the year that General Motors was founded.

1908 saw the race to the North Pole, the automobile race from New York to Paris, and the race to liberate the housewife via electric irons and toasters.

It was a year of tremendous change for the world and for the nation that had seen the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis & Clark's trek across the west only a century before.

1908. One-hundred years ago today.

Where was my family?

That was the question I asked myself after reading Jim Rasenberger's thought-provoking article in the January 2008 issue of Smithsonian Magazine. In 1908: The Year That Changed Everything, Rasenberger gives us a look back at the world one-hundred years ago. A nice summary of the article via the editorial department is located here.

I don't have the opportunity as Rasenberger did to spend several weeks reading the entire collection of New York Times back issues from the year 1908. (In his words, "It was like living in this 1908 time machine.") Nor do I know everything about my family members' lives that year. But what I do know makes me want to learn more.

Here's a little summary of the year from the viewpoint of the Ujlaki family:

Ferencz Ujlaki - almost 29 years old, Ferencz was living out his dream of becoming an American immigrant. He had left his young expectant wife behind in 1906 to go ahead and prepare a new life for her in the "new world". He arrived at Ellis Island, more than likely via the ship Ultonia. A resident of the Hungarian district of Manhattan, Ferencz was corresponding with her via letter and sending money home to Hungary for her support. He must have been anxiously awaiting her arrival in New York. It would be another year before she would arrive.

Ilona Ujlaki - just shy of 24 years, Ilona was mother to her young son, Ferencz, who was 19 months old in January of 1908. Ilona was preparing to join her husband in America the following year. During this time of waiting she was living first with her mother-in-law, Terezija Ujlaki, in Legrad.

Stjepan (age 51) & Magdalena Bence (age 48) welcomed Ilona and little Ferencz back into their home, supposedly after Ilona had found her mother-in-law hoarding the money Ferencz had sent from America. Ilona spent her remaining days with her parents before emigrating to join her husband.

Adam Bence - Ilona's younger brother was 20 years old in 1908. Two other sisters, Katarina and Louisa, were also living in Legrad. Ilona would correspond with Adam and his son Stjepan for many years throughout her life in New York. None of her siblings followed her to America. Instead, they remained in the Legrad area and their descendants live in Croatia today.

    There were others, new Hungarian immigrants to New Jersey, who would later marry into the Ujlaki family. In 1908 they were beginning their new lives there just as Ferencz was trying to carve out a new life in Manhattan.

    One-hundred years ago.

    Thinking back to 1908, I can't help but compare that year with the present. In the words of Carey Winfrey of the Smithsonian editorial department as she summarized Rasenberger's article:

    So how does one hundred years ago compare to the present? In some ways, particularly in urban America, very familiarly. "They rode the subway to work. They had electricity. They went to see movies, Broadway shows. They were interested in things we're interested in. They worried about diet. They worried that Christmas was becoming too commercialized." And yet, it was also a very different world. The disparity between rich and poor was vast, as it was between classes, sexes and races.

    We, the descendants of those living out their dreams in 1908, can see with hindsight what a different world they lived in.

    Where was your family in 1908?

    Want to take a further look back at 1908 through the articles written by others who responded to my question? Read Snapshots of the world back in 1908 and enjoy a small cross-section of hundred-year-old history. Enjoy your trip back in time...

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    Makes me wonder what my ancestors brought over on the ship

    The many American descendants of one couple who emigrated from England in 1630 have a higher chance of finding themselves facing colon cancer, say researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Following the genealogy of this one family, they have determined that thousands of Americans have a link to the family, and thus a higher chance of this type of cancer, which is recognizable by genetic fingerprint.

    Read the full Reuters article entitled Colon cancer risk traced to common ancestor.

    Makes me wonder what my ancestors brought over with them. What about yours?

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    Read any good books lately?

    You may have noticed the Related Reading sidebar that I placed on 100 Years in America months ago. It provides links to the current books in my 100 Years in America Library Thing account that relate to Croatia, Hungary, New York, Ellis Island, and similar topics.
    Library Thing has given me a nice way to keep track of books with a focus on these subjects, and to find other books on similar topics that I may be interested in reading.

    Now I've discovered another new online "toy" for readers: Goodreads. It is a site that takes the idea of Library Thing one step further. Through Goodreads I have just set up a genealogy group to list and discuss books on subjects related to family history.

    Interested in participating? Take a break from those good family history books you're reading and click on this link to join us. I'm looking forward to hearing about what's on your bookshelf.

    For more from Lisa, visit

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