Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The More I Learn . . . The Less I Know

Last year I was enrolled in Boston University’s Genealogical Research Certificate Online Course. As a result, I am part of a Google Group of BU graduates. As always I find myself humbled by the talent in that group. I rarely post, but I always read what is written.

Genealogists are always interested in telling the stories of ancestors whether it is for clients or for self. A member of that Google Group recommended the book, “Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History.” I reserved a copy at my local library and am ready to dig in.

On my way out, I stopped in the genealogy room. I needed help finding 1920 marriage records for the state of Illinois. Illinois marriage records are indexed from 1851-1900 and from 1930-1950. The years between 1900-1930 appear to be missing. The genealogist on staff thought that the records were just not indexed yet and recommended a trip to the Cook County Clerk office. I really want to find that marriage license but dread looking through un-indexed microfilm!

While there I met a woman beginning your journey into genealogy. You could hear the excitement in her voice as she spoke of her “finds” and what she wanted to learn next. She is hooked.  I hope I run into her again.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pure Genealogical Joy


My story began with this athletic patch that ultimately made me desire confirmation of oral family stories. The patch belonged to Uncle Dick Dollen who I affectionately call “My Unknown Uncle” for he passed before I was born. His patch was stored in an old cardboard box that belonged to my Grandmother.

 On 9 February 2012 I wrote about his baseball patch and shared what little I knew of Dick’s high school experience at The Luther Institute of Chicago. That post spurred me to dig deeper for there were missing pieces - questions unanswered. So I took a chance and contacted the athletic director of Luther North High School who forwarded my email to the school’s Development Director.
I would like to introduce you to Lori Wright, the Development Director of Luther North High School. Lori was able to locate the 1947 and 1950 yearbooks; which were his freshman and senior yearbooks. It was in her office that I learned much, much more about this unknown uncle of mine. Thank you to Lori!


My Uncle Dick was an athlete! As you can see he was a letterman in his Junior and Senior years. He played four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track. 


His football jersey was number 57; which means he was a linebacker. 

 In my February 9th  post,  I wondered about the position he played on that championship team. I now know that he was a pitcher and his team was called, “The Wood-Choppers.” Baseball fans all know how important pitchers for a winning season.

I am sharing the photographs I took this morning just because I am thrilled. What I learned today makes my uncle’s story a richer and more meaningful one.  His high school story is accurate and I am now in possession of the evidence.

Asking questions and looking for the answers by digging deeper is the foundation for good genealogical research. The 1950 Luther Institute yearbook gives primary evidence to the fact that Uncle Dick Dollen attended Luther Institute, was in the Class of 1950, played four sports and was a pitcher on the championship team of 1950. It also directly links his P.S.L. Baseball Athletic Patch of 1950 by referring the to Private School League team. Mystery solved!

Happy Hunting!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Soldier and A Parent’s Ultimate Sacrifice

I have spent the past few posts relating the story of my Uncle Dick Dollen. Yesterday I shared a letter written in 1952 to my grandmother explaining his death. The letter was direct and brutally honest which must have been difficult to write and terribly painful to receive yet so necessary.

Dick’s death was preceded by his father’s death in 1950. I grew up with an understanding of life and death. My unknown grandfather passed away from a massive heart attack in 1950 and a mere two years later my unknown uncle, Dick Dollen, was killed. His loss sealed the Dollen women’s fate, as sorrow was an unspoken companion always close by.

My grandmother spent the remainder of her life struggling with depression; which escalated in her later years. My mother worked tirelessly to protect her family and herself from further loss. Every death anniversary was silently acknowledged throughout her remaining years.

I must be careful. Today I look and read this letter with 21st century eyes. I immediately critique the letter and wonder why the Navy could not have sent a more professional letter.
Here I am, the lover of handwritten letters, unhappy with this letter.

I wish Thomas J. Pike had taken the time to rewrite the letter and eliminate the scratch outs. Does the sloppy inattention to detail in this letter reflect on the attention to safety aboard the ship? Hmmm . . . 1952 was a different time, a more innocent time and investigative reporting that I have become used to didn’t exist.
--> My uncle’s death was most likely an unfortunate accident.

But this 21st century girl needs to find out what really happened. Thomas J. Pike promised an investigation and my grandmother never received any further communication from the Navy. Was there an investigation? I have decided to place a request for my uncle’s military records. As his records are not yet considered archived, it is my understanding that I should be able to receive partial records as the government protects the privacy of those who served. In four short years his records will become archived and at that time I will have access to his full records.

My uncle’s last words, “I still love you all and don’t ever forget it” give me goosebumps.
Written in loving memory of my unknown uncle, Richard Dollen

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Love of Handwritten Letters

I have been thinking about letter writing lately. I knew a doctor who had purchased a writing desk for the sole purpose of writing to his children and grandchildren. He had a sense of the importance of hand written letters. I was thinking about his desire to put his words to paper and wondered if the recipients of his letters would save them.

Handwritten letter collections are treasures. When I see someone’s handwriting, it is a bit like seeing the actual person for the handwriting is his or hers. I wonder if and how emails will be preserved. Emails just seem less personal for me.

I have two letter collections. One is a collection of letters written by my grandmother, Henrietta Danker Dollen Haskins. These childhood letters were written in the early 1900s to her Aunt Emma and Uncle Oscar Solum of Chicago. These adorable letters give an insight into young Henrietta’s life. The existence of her letters suggests that this only child was very cherished, as they have survived more than one hundred years.

The other letter collection was written my Henrietta’s son, Dick Dollen. These letters were and are cherished. Dick enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in California. His letters chronicle his naval days and give the picture of a young man asking for money, in trouble with his girlfriend and wishing to succeed. 

His last letter home was written on 1 October 1952. Plans were in the works for his trip home and his family waited with much anticipation. Life came crashing down for this young man and his family for Dick Dollen was killed the day after he posted his final letter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To Blog . . . Or To Research

The last few days I have put my blogging aside to begin organizing evidence with the goal of proving multiple links to Revolutionary War Patriots for one particular descendant. I believe this descendant has Revolutionary War Patriots on both paternal and maternal lines. This is a big job to prove and I am trying to organize evidence to plan my research. Please wish me luck.

Today was spent searching the web for evidence. I am particularly grateful to the Hendricks County, Indiana County Clerk. Many of their archives are scanned and can be accessed from my computer. Today I found original marriage licenses dating as far back as 1832. This is important information to connect generations.

Hendricks County, Indiana County Clerk, “Marriage License 1824-2003,” scanned database, “Hendricks County Archives Scanned Records ( : accessed 15 Feb 2012),  Marriage License Book 1&1/2, 1831-1837, digital page 59 of 174, 11 Oct 1832 marriage license of Alexander Adams and Vileta Cundiff.


I also located a transcription of the Will of Robert Adams who passed away in 1816. Robert Adams names his wife and children when bequeathing his worldly possessions. Finding the transcription necessitates trip to Pulaski County, Kentucky to view the original will, transcript it, photograph it or scan it.  All in all, today was a fruitful day.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cecina, Italy and the Island of Elba

Marisa Tomeii was Friday’s featured celebrity on Who Do You Think You Are?  She was able to explore her Italian roots and focus on the mystery surrounding her great grandfather, Leopoldo Bianchi. The family legend told of a philandering Leopoldo being shot dead in a bar. This unflattering image had been carried down through the generations.

How flawed family legends can be.  As Marisa learned the Bianchi family story, the image of a scoundrel great grandfather slowly faded away.  The Bianchi family was in the business of making kilns and had acquired a partner who later fired Leopoldo’s brother for being disloyal. Disloyalty can mean many things in my mind but at that time and in the Italian culture disloyalty was a matter of honor; which led to an argument and the eventual shooting of Leopoldo Bianchi from behind. To make matters worse, the incident was declared to be self-defense and the assailant went free.

Original documents and archived newspapers gave evidence of the murder and the trial. We visited cemeteries, archives, and cafes on the beautiful Tuscan coast while listening to beautiful Italian names roll off Italian tongues. Who Do You Think You Are? takes viewers on genealogical research trips to the most amazing places.  Oh how I wish I were of Italian descent!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Joyce Spilled Jelly on the Table Cloth

When a person’s life is long and well lived with many family members and associates, a researcher can gather bits of information here and there to piece together a life story. Those with lengthy lives may marry, raise children, purchase property, create wills, serve in the military, participate in organizations, and create court records. Think of all you do and all the records you create. This will be available to future generations who wish to learn about your life.

Then there are those whose lives are short lived. My Uncle Dick Dollen was one of those people. He was born in 1932 and passed away in 1952. Dick was unable to reach many milestones in his mere twenty years of life. Those who knew and loved him best have passed on as well.  His cousin, Joyce, is the only remaining living link to his life. This story offers up Dick’s one treasured sentence.

Doris and Dick Dollen

Joyce was sitting at the dining table with her cousins Doris and Dick Dollen during a family gathering when young Dick blurted out, “Mom, Joyce spilled jelly on the tablecloth!” This one treasured sentence has been retold over and over warming the hearts of my grandmother, my mother and her cousin, Joyce, giving them the opportunity to enjoy that little tattletale each time it was spoken.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Play Ball

 In 1950 there was a team of talented young baseball players who became the undefeated Champions of the P.S.L. in Chicago, Illinois. I have searched for the meaning of P.S.L. and my best guess would be either Parochial School League or Private School League. Chicago did have a Chicago Public League (C.P.L.); which began in 1920 and continues today in the form of Little League.

This patch belonged to my uncle, Dick Dollen. I never that the good fortune of meeting my uncle, but my mother told me he attended Luther High School in Chicago. As it turns out Dick’s school was Luther Institute. Dick playing ball in a Parochial School League makes complete sense.

Luther Institute was located at the corner of Wood Street and Park Avenue in Chicago. The school opened its doors in 1909 with just two teachers. Luther Institute remained at that location until the early 1950s at which point it split into two separate schools: Luther North and Luther South.

Dick Dollen most likely graduated from Luther Institute in 1950. Dick was born in 1932 making him the perfect age for a 1950 high school graduate. He most likely won the P.S.L Tournament in his senior year.

This championship patch never made it onto his team jacket. It is all that remains of a young man’s undefeated championship baseball season. I wonder what position he played.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

Last year at this time, I was receiving my first lessons in distance education. With a mere three years of research experience, I had enrolled in the Boston University Genealogical Research Program. I was a fish out of water. Today if you asked me about last winter, I respond this way, “What Winter!” Really and truly, I do know that last winter was a terrible one with record snowfall here in Chicago and on the East Coast but during that time I was glued to my desk, sweating out my homework assignments, and trying to keep up with my talented classmates. I proudly completed the course work and received an A-.

Reflecting back, I am so happy that I did it and cannot tell you how much I miss my teachers, classmates and discussions. This class opened my eyes to a larger genealogical world. By the end of the course, I had set several goals that I am happy to say I have met. My goals related mostly to reaching out to the genealogical community. I have joined two national organizations and a local genealogical society.

Today, I am co-program chair of the North Suburban Genealogical Society. My partner and I have just completed our 2012 Program Calendar and it feels good. I am so happy to connect with other genealogists in my area.

This blog is also an outgrowth of my distance learning experience. I must also credit my sister-in-law, Carol Koke Meyer, for she inspired me with her own writing. And so, I continue learning and sharing.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Tune in Tonight

Tonight is the first episode of Who Do You Think You Are?.  Pop your popcorn and tune into NBC tonight at 8:00 /7:00 central time. This evening we will learn about Martin Sheen’s ancestry that goes back in time to Dublin, Ireland and Madrid, Spain. There is something about social justice in his Spanish ancestral line. I hope you can watch!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Some people live exciting lives. Some live ordinary lives. How do you define yourself?  How do you define your ancestors? Whether you view your life as exciting or ordinary or somewhere in between, I believe we all have a story to tell and I would like to hear yours!

I challenge you to write your story or an ancestor’s story. As family and friends we share grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friendships. Yet for all our commonality, we are still unique, on-of-a-kind creatures. What has happened in your life? Maybe you have recovered from an illness. Or maybe you have accomplished a challenging task. What makes you tick? Regarding our ancestors' stories: A story that I have heard may not be the one you heard. Or better yet it may be totally different!

My Uncle Paul Meyer recently shared his story with me. “Korea …My Story,” tells of my uncle’s personal experiences during the Korean War. Here is an excerpt from his introduction:

            “My grandchildren and great-grandchildren may one day want to know
about the experiences their grandpa had serving our country during
this least remembered war in Korea. This is for them.”

Will you please share your story? Please, please, pretty please! Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Just write and let your thoughts flow! Tell your story for the simple reason that you are special. If I am interested in your story, it is likely others are too!  

Let me know when your story is complete!
Happy Writing!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Preserving Family Photographs

My “Grandmotherly Love” photograph of January 26th was damaged by years of neglect. I suspect it was put into a magnetic album with adhesive pages and stored in the basement.

Photography is a hobby of mine that seems to run in my family. My brother and his wife are hobbyists too though at a much more advanced level. Dick is my go-to-guy for all my photographic needs.

One thing I know for sure is that people neglect their photographs! I have received photos that are scratched, torn, written on, spilled on, and moldy! Beware of the moldy ones and store them separately for mold can spread to your treasured images! These photogrpahs have been stored in basements and attics where temperature and humidity fluctuate dramatically. My husband’s family lost many of their treasured photographs in a flooded basement.

For those who have photographic prints, might I suggest making notations gently on the back of the photographs. These quick notes might help some future family historian. I have a stack of unknown photographs just waiting to be recognized. I fear they will remain unknown.

 In a nutshell:

·      Please do not store your precious photographs in basements, attics or any place where temperature and humidity dramatically change.
·      Please do not use magnetic albums with adhesive pages!
·      Please identify your photographs by gently writing in pencil on the back of the image.
·      Please store your photographs in polypropylene sleeves and acid free/lignin free boxes or albums. A stable environment is the best storage location such as an interior closet.
·      Please make copies of your image when framing. Store the original for future generations.

Maureen Taylor is a great source for learning about photographic preservation. I have several of her books including Preserving Your Family Photographs.  You can learn more about this photo detective by visiting her website at