Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday FANS: Venita Randall

I've decided to start a Friday blogging theme called Friday FANS. As most of you know, FANS stands for friends, associates, and neighbors. There have been a lot of my ancestors' FANS that I've wondering about lately. FANS can often help us figure out the origins of our ancestors, since many people traveled in groups, which were often made up of family AND friends. So, just because someone does not appear to be a family member, it does not mean that you should immediately ignore this person. Looking into the background of a neighbor may lead you to clues about your ancestor and his origins. I figured a series of blog posts on all my ancestors' FANS would help sort them all out.

First up is Venita Randall. I was actually planning on taking a different approach by starting with someone else, but she greatly piqued my interest last night. I was going through the city directories for Ponca City, Oklahoma, where my paternal grandmother lived with her parents from about 1942-1952. My great-grandparents (her parents) were Merlen Paris Mertena and Hassie Cora Proffitt. I did not find the family in 1942 at  (they were probably still living in Mulhall, Logan, Oklahoma, where my grandmother was born). The next available directories were for 1946 and 1948, where I did find the family.
Polk's Ponca City Directory (Dallas: R.L. Polk & Co., 1946), 173, Merlen P. Mertena; digital image, ( : accessed 26 May 2013).
Polk's Ponca City Directory (Dallas: R.L. Polk & Co., 1948), 156, Merlen P. Mertena; digital image, ( : accessed 26 May 2013).
Nothing strange there. Both directories stated that Merlen P. and Hassie C. Mertena resided at 105 E. Fresno Ave. and he worked at Continental Oil Co. This corroborates with other sources, including my grandmother herself, who is still living.

The next available directory is for 1952. This is the year the family moved to Louisiana. I found Merlin P. Mertena still residing in Ponca City in 1952. However, Hassie was not listed as his wife, and he was listed at a different address.

Polk's Ponca City Directory (Dallas: R.L. Polk & Co., 1952), 166, Merlin P. Mertena; digital image, ( : accessed 26 May 2013).
He is listed as living at 312 W. Central Ave. with a wife named Venita R. Mertena. What??? My first thought was that maybe this was a mistake. I've seen plenty of mistakes with spouse's names in city directories. I also wondered whether the address was a mistake because the only address ever listed in all other sources was the one on E. Fresno.

This first thing I decided to do was check the street directory for 1952 to see who was listed at 105 E. Fresno and who was listed at 312 W. Central.

Well, Merlin Mertena was listed as the householder at 312 W. Central Ave., making it less likely there was a mistake in the name directory. So what about the other house at 105 E. Fresno?

Well, Merlen P. Mertena is listed as the householder here as well. And that little symbol after his name means that to the best of the directory company's knowledge, a member of the family owned the home.

My next step was to search the directory for all Venita's living in Ponca City in 1952 to see if she had her own entry in the name directory. She didn't have one under Mertena but perhaps she was under another surname, since I was pretty certain my great-grandfather never married her.


Polk's Ponca City Directory (Dallas: R.L. Polk & Co., 1952), 199, Venita Randall; digital image, ( : accessed 26 May 2013).
Venita Randall was listed as a fountain manager at Crown Drug residing at 312 W. Central Ave. She was listed as a roomer. There were no other Randall's with this address. Interesting.

I decided to see if I could find out more about her in previous directories. I started with 1948.

Polk's Ponca City Directory (Dallas: R.L. Polk & Co., 1948), 185, Venita Randall; digital image, ( : accessed 26 May 2013).
There she was again listed as a fountain manager for Crown Drug rooming at 1314 S. 4th. Again, no other Randall's at this address. I decided to take a look at the 1948 street directory to see who was listed as the householder.

In the street directory, it lists Mrs. Venita Collins as living at 1314 1/2 S. 4th. Yes, another clue! She must have been married to a man named Collins at some point. What was Randall? A second married name? Or a maiden name? In the name directory, there was no Venita Collins listed. Nor were there any other Collins located at 1314 S. 4th. There was a Carl V. and Wanda Collins listed at 1325 S. 4th. The householder at 1314 S. 4th was Gilbert M. Whitlow. According to the  name directory, he was married to Sarah M. and was an employee of Jess Whitlow Pipe Line Service.

OK, so what about 1946? I did not find a Venita Randall, but I did find a Mrs. Venita Collins.

Polk's Ponca City Directory (Dallas: R.L. Polk & Co., 1946), 65, Venita Collins; digital image, ( : accessed 26 May 2013).
She was living at 1314 1/2 S. 4th St. No occupation was listed, so perhaps she was recently divorced or still married. No other Collins were listed at the same address. This time Thos. E. Dwyer was listed as the householder at 1314 S. 4th in the street directory.

I then searched 1942 and did not find a Venita Collins or Venita Randall. More research needs to be done to determine her identity and relationship to the family.

There is a possibility that the family moved to 312 W. Central between 1948 and 1952 and was renting a room to her. My grandmother is still living and hopefully would remember if this were the case. However, why was the family still listed at 105 E. Fresno in the 1952 street directory if they had moved? Or, did they own the home at 312 W. Central and merely rent it out to Venita? Maybe they still lived at 105 E. Fresno.

Alas, there is also the possibility that Merlen was shacking up with Venita. Not a pretty picture, but a possibility. Venita does appear to have been a single divorced woman. My grandmother told me that her parents' marriage was a rocky one. Maybe it's a little more than coincidental that they moved to Louisiana in 1952. I always assumed that Merlen just got transferred to the Continental refinery in Louisiana, but maybe there was a reason his wife wanted him to transfer. I think a call to my grandmother is in order. She would have been about 17 in 1952. Maybe she can shed some light. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Latest Courthouse Visit

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As I've blogged about lately, I've been adding all the sources to my database for my 16 great-great-grandparents. Doing that has inspired me to update my to-do lists for my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. This, in turn, inspired me to visit the courthouse located where I grew up in Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. I realized I had never been there and had no land or succession records for my paternal grandparents, great-grandparents, and my great-great-grandfather who lived in Calcasieu Parish.  And since we were going to be visiting the area for my husband's niece's college graduation, why not go a day early and visit the courthouse?

In preparation for my visit, I watched the Legacy Family Tree webinar "That First Trip To The Courthouse" by Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist. (Technically, this was not my first trip to a courthouse, but it was my first trip to this courthouse and probably my first visit to a courthouse since 2009). Judy always provides sound advice and suggested learning all that one could about the courthouse before actually visiting.

I visited the Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court website and first noted the Office Hours & Holidays page. Lucky for me, I found that I was not planning my visit on some obscure local holiday and the normal hours were 8:30 to 4:30 Monday-Friday. I also learned that there were two parking lots behind the courthouse.

I also checked out the pages for the various departments to determine what types of records are there and which department maintains what records. I only had one day, so I decided to narrow my focus to Successions (aka Probates in most states) and Conveyances (aka Deeds in most states). I learned from the departmental pages that Successions were handled by Civil Records and that Conveyances have their own separate department that also includes mortgage records. I also noted that although Conveyances had its own department, the photocopies for Conveyances were handled by Civil Records. In addition, I noted that there was an Archives department housing criminal records, civil records, successions, and marriages from 1910-1994. Photocopy fees were listed as $1.00/page.

Judy also suggested bringing plenty of coins, particularly quarters, for photocopying. However, I really didn't feel like doing this if I didn't have to, so I called ahead and found out that coins were not necessary for photocopy fees. The guy acted like I was crazy for asking and told me I could just do research on the computer. Um, I was asking about photocopies, not research, but okay. Confused at this point, I politely explained to him that I just wanted to verify before visiting because I have experienced this before at other courthouses. Then he explained that they took cash or check for photocopy fees. This just goes to show that Judy is right when she states that "the courthouse employees are there to help modern-day people solve modern-day problems." This guy had no clue what other courthouses do because he's not a traveling courthouse-loving genealogist.

Of course, as all trips to the courthouse go, things NEVER go as expected. You can try your hardest to learn everything you can before you go, but there's always something you don't anticipate. However, my best advice is to try your hardest not to get flustered and give up. My first challenge was figuring out where the Clerk's office was in the massive courthouse building. After circling two or three times, I finally found it at the back of the courthouse, not far from the parking lots.

Once inside, I decided to start with successions. I quickly found a listing showing the location of each department. When I walked into the Civil Records office, I was immediately asked if I needed help.  I told the employee that I wanted to find the succession files of several people and that I had a list of the names and death dates. She asked me what I meant by this. Again, I was confused. I thought I was pretty direct by saying that I had a list of names and dates for which I wanted to find succession files.. Besides, did she really want me to go into my family history spiel? Surely not. Judy warned about not bothering the courthouse employees with the details of your research.

Then I figured out why she asked. She was scared that I had 30 or 40 names. Why was she scared? Because patrons are not allowed to do their own research in successions. I have never experienced this at a courthouse before, so I never thought to call and ask ahead of time. The website did mention that succession research could be requested by mail or fax for a research fee and photocopy costs. However, I just assumed that walk-in patrons could do their own research. Not so. Although I was sad that I could not do my own research, the employee was very nice and she did look up the records for me. She was able to find the three most recent ones and referred me to the Archives department for the older records. Luckily, I only had 6 or 7 total that I needed. What would have happened if I had had 30 or 40? Obviously, once again, it was apparent to me that courthouse rules are made for modern-day people with modern-day problems. Most modern-day people walk in the succession office needing one file.

My next problem was that I did not anticipate how many pages a succession file could be. And at $1.00/page, my costs were quickly adding up. I had only taken $60 out at the ATM and had left my checkbook at my mother-in-law's house. Not a huge problem because Lake Charles is not a huge city and it didn't take me long to run back to the mother-in-law's and grab the checkbook. The courthouse employee agreed to hold the third succession file for me while I left to get more money. Note to self: bring at least $100 next time.

I returned and purchased the pages of the third succession file. I then moved onto Archives to find the older succession files. Before delving into to much information, I asked the employee there if I would be allowed to do my own research in the archived successions. She said that I would not, so I politely thanked her and moved onto Conveyances & Mortgages. Why waste time having them do the research while I wait when I could just mail or fax the request for research? No need to waste time in person.

I was a lot more successful with the land record research. I walked in the office and explained to the employee at the Research desk that I had done research in land records before but never at this courthouse. I asked him to explain where the indexes and records were located. He was very helpful and explained that the index for land records could be researched via computer beginning with the year 1945. The actual land records beginning in 1987 were also on the computer. He pointed out the location of the computers as well as the index books for land records and the location of the mortgage index books as well. Aaahhh, finally, I was able to do my own research. How exciting!

I found all the land records I was expecting and even a few I didn't expect. I searched the vendor indexes for 1934-1981 and vendee indexes for 1920-1981. My great-great-grandfather, Oscar Trahan, first moved to the Lake Charles area between 1930 and 1934, which is how I picked my starting point (the index book containing 1930-1934 began in 1920). I ended with 1981 only because I had limited time (hubby needed the car for his hair appointment).

I made notes in my notebook of all the file numbers, volumes, and page numbers and then brought the information to Civil Records. Patrons do not do their own photocopying either, even in the land records. While waiting for my photocopies, I went across the hall to Archives again and found out that I could actually do my own research in the indexes to the records they had. I just couldn't research the actual records. I started looking at the succession indexes through 1986, but didn't really find what I wanted, so I wandered back over to Civil Records and waited for my photocopies. I was $1 short on my photocopy fees, and I offered to get the quarters out of my car (those ones I was planning on bringing), but the really kind employee there told me not to worry about it.

All in all, I was disappointed that I couldn't do some of my own research, but since the employees were so helpful and kind, it somewhat made up for it. Why can't patrons do their own research in public records? Well, I think it's a space issue and not a records access issue. There did not seem to be a whole lot of space in the Civil Records office where all the succession files were located. The Archives department was even smaller. It was getting a little crowded in the Archives office when I was looking through the succession indexes. There's only room for about 2 researchers (maybe).

Also, an interesting thing I learned is that it takes a LOT of patience to be an employee in the clerk's office. SERIOUSLY. People come in there all day long not really knowing exactly what document they want. The courthouse employees have to ask lots of questions to help them figure out what they really want. In fact, other than the attorneys and title companies, I think I was the only person who knew what I was looking for. So if a courthouse employee ever gets testy with you, it's only because they've been trying to read minds all day and now you are trying to tell them all the details about Grandma Mary's crazy divorce from Grandpa Jim.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Changing the Way I Create Facts in RootsMagic

Now that I am well on my way to organizing my paper files and making sure all my sources for my 16 great-great-grandparents are properly cited in my database, I am changing up the way I create Facts/Events in RootsMagic. Back in February 2012, Randy Seaver over at GeneaMusings started a discussion about evidence-based vs. conclusion-based genealogists. Essentially, Randy defined an evidence-based genealogist as one who would create five different facts for the same event given five difference sources. A conclusion-based genealogist would create one fact for an event and cite one or multiple sources for this one fact. Basically, a conclusion-based genealogist comes to a conclusion based upon all the sources and only records one fact, rather than presenting all five facts as an evidence-based genealogist would.

The discussion started to make me think about whether or not I was evidence-based or conclusion-based. Until now, I was mostly evidence-based. For my great-grandfather Bienvenue Trahan's birth, I have the following sources:

  • Baptismal record dated 12 Dec 1908: Born 26 Oct 1908
  • 1910 U.S. Census: age 1 - born about 1909 in Louisiana (note: age supports birth date of 26 Oct 1908)
  • 1930 U.S. Census: age 20 - born about 1910 in Louisiana (living with in-laws)
  • 1940 U.S. Census: age 33 - born about 1907 in Louisiana; his wife, Beatrice, is marked as the informant
  • Death certificate dated 18 Mar 2006: Born 26 Oct 1908 in Scott, Louisiana; informant is son, Benford M. Trahan
  • Obituary dated 20 Mar 2006 published in Lake Charles American Press: age 97 - born about 1909 (note: age supports birth date of 26 Oct 1908)
  • Gravestone at Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Scott, Louisiana - Born 26 Oct 1908
  • SSDI Entry: Born 26 Oct 1908
  • Marriage record of son, Benford, 02 Feb 1955 - Father born in Louisiana
  • Delayed birth record of son, Benford, 08 Nov 1988 - Father born in Louisiana
  • Death certificate of son, Benford, 06 Sep 2009 - Father born in Vatican, Louisiana; informant is Bienvenue's daughter-in-law, Merlene (Mertena) Trahan
  • Interview with Bienvenue published in Vinton News, 04 Jun 1998: listed as age 89 and a "native of Vatican...7 miles north of Scott"
In my genealogy database, I had several facts for Bienvenue's birth (sorry, I did not do screen shots before changing it):

  • Birth: 26 Oct 1908, Vatican, Lafayette, Louisiana (sources: baptismal record, 1910 census, obituary, gravestone, SSDI entry, marriage record of son, delayed birth record of son, newspaper article, death certificate of son)
  • Alt. Birth: 26 Oct 1908 in Scott, Lafayette, Louisiana (source: death certificate)
  • Alt. Birth: abt 1910 in Louisiana (source: 1930 census)
  • Alt. Birth: abt 1907 in Louisiana (source: 1940 census)
Note that when a source only listed a birthplace, such as his son's marriage record, I matched it up with the preferred fact rather than creating a new alternative fact for just the birthplace, provided the birthplace was the same as the one in the preferred fact.

When all of this discussion was going on back in 2012, I read a post over at Genealogy by Ginger's Blog, in which she discussed how she is a hybrid of the evidence and conclusion-based genealogist. She stated that she only puts one fact into her RootsMagic database, but she cites all sources and discusses the alternative facts in the Notes section of the event. This creates less duplication when creating narrative reports in RootsMagic. I really liked Ginger's idea, so I decided to try it on my own. Now for Bienvenue, his screen looks like this:

Now there is only one fact for his Birth and whenever I print a narrative report, I can see the Birth Notes explaining all the discrepancies in his birth information:

Many thanks to Ginger for giving me this wonderful idea!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Mother's Mother's Patrilineal Line

It's time for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun from Randy over at GeneaMusings.

1) What was your mother's mother's name?  

My mother's mother was Violet Mae Currie. She was born 24 Oct 1930 in Flynn Township, Sanilac, Michigan.

2) What is your mother's mother's patrilineal line? That is, her father's father's father's ... back to the most distant male ancestor in that line?  

Violet's patrilineal line is as follows:

·         Archie Currie (1889-1963) m. Jennie Grace Christina Plaine (1903-1937)
·         Alexander Currie (ca 1837-1909) m. Mary Raymond (1852-1920)
·         James Currie (ca 1816-aft 1881) m. Margaret McGill (ca 1816-1880)

3) Can you identify male sibling(s) of your mother's mother, and any living male descendants from those male sibling(s)? If so, you have a candidate to do a Y-DNA test on that patrilineal line. If not, you may have to find male siblings, and their descendants, of the next generation back, or even further.  

Violet did not have any siblings that survived to adulthood. She had one brother, Howard Archibald Currie, but he died as a young child. Her father, Archie, had three known brothers: Alexander, William, and Ervin. Alexander had one son named Theodore Donald Currie, but he had no known children. Not much is known about what happened to William. Violet always said that he was a "hobo" that followed the trains. He left a trunk of stuff at her dad's house that he never returned to get (how I wish I had that trunk now!). Ervin had two sons, Robert J. Currie and Donald Eugene Currie. I have not tried to track down their descendants. I need to check the obituary index online at the Saginaw Public Library. I obtained Ervin's obit from there, and I think his son's obits are probably there as well.