Thursday, February 9, 2012

Honoring Pearl (DeZarn) Willoughby

Pearl DeZarn (25 Jan 1944)
Today is the 87th anniversary of the birth of my husband's mother, Pearl (DeZarn) Willoughby. She's been gone from this world for 28 years now and Michael still misses her every single day.

Pearl was born in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana on 9 February 1925 to Frederick "Fred" and Nannie (Gambrell) DeZarn. Pearl would be the second of four children: an older sister Lavadia Eris "Boots" born in 18 May 1923 in Clay County, Kentucky, a younger sister Nancy born in Ohio, and a younger brother Raymond Louis born 11 April 1933 in Williamstown, Grant County, Kentucky. Michael's middle name is Ray after his uncle.

Despite Ray's birth in Kentucky, the DeZarn family lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Tragedy struck in 1938 when Pearl's mother passed away on 3 September. Pearl was only 13. I can't imagine what it must be like to lose your mother at such a tender age.

I don't know exactly when or where Pearl met James "Jim" Willoughby (born 16 May 1911 in Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky) also living in Cincinnati (hopefully the 1940 US Federal Census will help to clear that up). Jim and Pearl were married on 10 August 1945 in Cincinnati. Jim was a widower and Pearl would become the step-mother of Jim's daughter Loretta (born 14 June 1932) who was also age 13 when her mother died.

Somewhere between 1945 and 1948, Jim and Pearl would leave Cincinnati for Houston, Texas. Jim would find work as a machinist and all three of their children would be born there.

Jim and Pearl (date and place unknown)
Michael is the oldest of the three children, followed by Juanita a couple of years later and Perry born 29 November 1962. Pearl's brother Ray had also moved to Houston by the early 1960s. Michael remembers his Uncle Ray living with them for most of his childhood. Pearl would often return to the Cincinnati, OH/Covington, KY area to visit her sister Nancy. Nancy is still living and loves to talk about Pearl, often remembering how close they were, how lovely Pearl's hair was, how much she loved her. The DeZarn children would lose their father in 1966 and their oldest sister "Boots" in 1969.

Fred DeZarn and Pearl Willoughby with Nancy's children, ca. 1951
One of Michael's favorite early memories of his mother is of her baking in the kitchen. He loved to help her mix the batter in the bowl and to lick the spoon afterwards. He remembers being read nursery rhymes, and going to the corner store for her.

Jim would lose his battle with leukemia in 1978, five months shy of their 33rd wedding anniversary. Pearl would become a grandmother for the first time in January of 1979. By the end of March 1982, she would have five grandchildren: 2 girls and a boy for Michael; 2 girls for Perry. I wish she could have lived to see her youngest grandchildren, our children, Laura and Zechariah.

Pearl's health was not very good towards the end of her life; she had smoked most of her life and was no stranger to alcohol. Her body finally gave out and she passed away at her home on 6 January 1984. She was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Houston, not far from her husband.

Grave Marker for Pearl Willoughby
Michael with Zechariah and Laura
Even though Pearl is not with us anymore, I swear I can feel her presence, usually in the kitchen when I'm cooking. Which is weird because we've never met. But I can feel her standing there on my right, just a little behind me, and I feel like she's giving me pointers and suggestions as I cook. I've been cooking a long time now so it's not like I don't know how. I think it's because I'm cooking for her son and she's helping me to get it "just right".

So many times when I look at Laura, I can see Pearl. It's in Laura's hair (that infamous hair), her cheekbones, her eyes. Even the whiteness of Laura's skin. Not to mention that headstrong, insistent personality. Pearl is with us, of this I am sure.

Happy Birthday, Pearl. You will always be in our thoughts, forever in our hearts.

Love, Niecey

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Mystery of the Two Surnames

Just before the holidays, I "met" a new cousin, Diane, who had sent me an email saying that she was researching her grandmother's family and had come across one of my trees on On my tree is my grand-uncle Gerhard Herman Demut (1921-2010). Gerhard was my Granddaddy's younger brother.

Diane went on to say that Gerhard and her grandmother were related, and was very fond of Gerhard,  but she wasn't sure of the full relationship between the families. Then she said that her grandmother's mother was Maria "Mary" (Muller/Mueller) Kroll and she had thought that Gerhard and my Granddaddy (Arthur) had been half-brothers.

Connecting with Diane brought my research back to my paternal side of the family. As far as I know and according to the documents I have, both Gerhard and Arthur had the same father, Theodore. Maybe the reason why Diane thought they were half-brothers is because Arthur's surname was Spedowfski and Gerhard's was Demut.

This is the mystery I am working on at the moment -- Theodore, his wife Martha, their 3 children and why there were two surnames. It appears that my Great-Grandfather also used the Demut surname at various times during his life, and his death certificate records his name as "Theodore Spedowfski aka Demut". Martha's death certificate records her as "Martha Ida Spedowfski" and underneath as "Martha Ida Demut".

Here are the names for Theodore on various documents I have found so far:
  • "Theod Spidowski" on both the Hamburg departure passenger list (1) and the New York arrival passenger list (2)
  • "Theodore Spedowfsky" on indexed marriage record (3) to Martha Muller; his parents are listed as Herman Spedowfsky and Louise Demut.
  • "Theodore Spedowpky" on birth certificate (4) for son Arthur Theodore Spedowpky. 
  • "Theodore Spedowfski" on World War I Draft Registration Card (5).
  • "Theo Demut", also wife Martha, in 1917 San Francisco City Directory (6).
  • "Demut" surname for father on indexed death record (7) of daughter, Mildred Beatrice (Demut) Kirby.
  • "Theo Demut", also wife Martha, in 1918 San Francisco City Directory (8).
  • "Theo Spedowsky", also wife Martha, in 1919 San Francisco City Directory (9).
  • "Theodore Spedwoffki" on 1920 US Federal Census Record (10), with wife Martha, son Theodore and daughter Mildred.
  • "Demut" surname for son Gerhard on indexed birth record (11), U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Record (12), and indexed Social Security death record (13).
  • "Theodore Spedowfski" on 1930 US Federal Census Record (14), with wife Martha, son Theodore, daughter Mildred, son Gerhard.
  • "Theodore Spedowfski" on World War II Draft Registration Card (15).
  • "Theodore Spedowfski", listed as spouse, on death certificate (16) for Martha Ida Spedowfski aka Martha Ida Demut.
  • "Theodore Spedowfski aka Demut" on his death certificate (17).

It is very interesting to me that my great-grandfather used the "Spedowfsky/Spedowfski" surname on all Federal documents but apparently went by the "Demut" surname in city directories. I am also curious as to why his oldest child received the "Spedowfski" surname and his youngest two children were given the "Demut" surname.

I'm hoping additional research and joining forces with Diane will uncover the mystery of my great-grandfather and his two surnames.

~ Niecey

(1) > Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 > 1890-1900 > Direct Volume 100, October 1, 1898 - 31 Dec 1898 > Image 47 > Line 10
(2) > New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 > 1898 > October > 29 > Auguste Victoria > Image 10 > Line 2
(3) > California, County Marriages, 1850-1952 > Film Number 1405837 > Digital Folder Number > 4640217 > Image Number 00459 and 00460
     Marriage License #29674 > Photocopy privately held by author
(4) Birth Certificate of Arthur Theodore Spedowpky #5744, 21 Sept 1914, San Francisco, San Francisco County, California; photocopy privately held by author
(5) > World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 > California > San Francisco > 3 > Image 925
(6) > All Titles > City Directories > California > Publication: City Directories-San Francisco > 1917 > Page 607 > Image #208427863
(7) > California Death Index, 1940-1997 > Place: San Joaquin > Date 24 May 1994 > Mildred Beatrice Kirby (born 17 Jan 1918)
(8) > All Titles > City Directories > California > Publication: City Directories-San Francisco > 1918 > Page 527 > Image #194249571
(9) > All Titles > City Directories > California > Publication: City Directories-San Francisco > 1919 > Page 1532 > Image #202155377
(10) > 1920 United States Federal Census Record > California > Alameda > Oakland > District 140 > Image 17 > Lines 17-20 
(11) > California Birth Index, 1905-1995 > Birth County: Alameda > Birthdate: 30 Jun 1921 > Demut
(12) > U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 (NARA)
(13) > Social Security Death Index, Master File > Issue State: California > Issue Date: Before 1951 > Gerhard Herman Demut
(14) > 1930 United States Federal Census Record > California > Alameda > Oakland > District 189 > Image 55 > Lines 14-18
(15) > U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 (NARA) > California > S > Palmer, Alfred Flock - Zwaal, Lolke > Image 464
(16) Death Certificate of Martha I. Spedowfski #6015-4890, 21 Aug 1962, Oakland, Alameda County, California; photocopy privately held by author
(17) Death Certificate of Theodore Spedowfski # 3900-1953, 6 Nov 1962, Stockton, San Joaquin County, California; photocopy privately held by author

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Great Grandpa John

Today is the 127th anniversary of the birth of my great-grandfather John Sarantos SIMONDS. He was born 31 October 1884 in the Community of Evandros, Tripoli, Province of Arcadia, Greece.

On 22 March 1902, he departed Havre aboard the SS Le Bretagne under the name of Jean ANGELOTANASOPULOS. According to the original ship's manifest found on the Ellis Island website, John was age 18, single, could read and write, a farmer by occupation, and of Greek nationality. His last residence was Piree, the seaport for landing in the United States was New York, his final destination was Chicago, he had a ticket to reach his final destination, he bought his own passage, and was in possession of $10.00. John had not previously been to the United States, was going to join a cousin at S. Grand Str. 85, had not been in prison, was not a polygamist, was not under contract for labor, was in good physical and mental health, and was not deformed or crippled. He landed at the Port of New York on 1 April 1902.

On 24 January 1912, John married my great-grandmother Christina "Sophie" RAFAEL (also RAPHAEL) in Oakland, Alameda County, California. The marriage certificate lists his name as "John STAVROPULOS". His parents are listed as Samuel STAVROPULOS and Mary ANGELUS. John and Sophie had four children: Olga, Stanford (my grandfather), LaVerne and Ethel.

On 15 September 1936, John filed the Petition for Naturalization, No. 16182. On the Petition, he states that his name was Jean AGELOTANASOPULOS, he is a laborer residing at 548 E. 17th Street, Oakland, California, was born in Tripoli, Greece on 31 October 1884, and his race is Greek. He states that he has been continuously in the United States since 1 April 1902, and in the county of Alameda continuously since March 1905, and that he had not previously made a petition for naturalization.

John's petition for naturalization also requests that his name be changed to John Sarantos SIMONDS and was filed with the Superior Court of the State of California at Oakland. On 18 December 1936, John becomes a citizen of the United States receiving a Certificate of Citizenship No. 4189124. On his Certificate, John is described as being a white male, medium complexion, brown eyes, gray hair, 5'10" tall and 160 lbs.

On 5 May 1937, John filed an application for a social security number. He lists his parents as Sarantos AGELOTANASOPULOS and Nicoleta ANGELOPULOS.

On 26 April 1942, John filled out a Registration Card for the U.S. World War II Draft. He is still residing in Oakland, Alameda County, California and is employed at the Richmond Shipyard #1.

On 11 January 1969, John passed away at 11:57 AM from pulmonary edema due to heart disease. He had lung disease also.  His father is listed as John STAVROPOULOS; his mother is not known. John's last occupation was as a watchman at Standard Register for 10 years, but was retired. He died at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, Alameda County, California. John was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, Alameda County, California on 14 January 1969.

I never knew my great-grandfather; I was just about to turn a year old when he died. There are no pictures of him holding me as a baby because we were living in Germany where my dad was stationed. But as I continue to research his life I get to know him a little better, one document at a time. This is one of the reasons why I do genealogy... to get to know those ancestors that I wouldn't have known otherwise and to record their lives, our history, to pass on to our children. I want to preserve their stories before they are lost forever.

Happy Birthday, Great Grandpa John ~ May you be remembered for many more years to come.

~ Niecey

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Recently I sent out two different requests for information on Michael's side of the family. The first request was sent to the Hamilton County Probate Court requesting the marriage record of his parents, James Willoughby and Pearl Dezarn. The second request was to my contact at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, regarding the burial locations for several of Michael's relatives I believed to be buried there.

I received the information I was looking for last week. The information in the marriage record did not hold any surprises; it only confirmed the data I already had with the exception of the actual marriage date. I was told by someone in the family that Jim and Pearl had married on August 11, 1945 but the marriage record states that Jim and Pearl were married on August 10, 1945. Not a huge deal, of course, but obtaining a copy of the actual record just goes to show how important it is to get copies of the records whenever possible. The marriage record also listed their residential addresses at the time of their marriage as well as Jim's occupation (he was a machinist).

Patty at Highland Cemetery was very kind and researched the list of six family members I had emailed to her. She found all but one, the one being Michael's step-grandfather William Williams -- the search goes on for his death record and grave site. (That's not my "one step back" though -- we'll get to that in a minute.) Patty did find Michael's paternal grandmother (Rosa Morrison [Willoughby] Williams, born 20 June 1888 and died 19 Sept 1926; Michael's aunt (and Rosa's daughter) Nancy Margaret Murphy born 17 Oct 1912 and died 29 Mar 1888; Nancy's husband Earl Dalton Murphy born 17 Jun 1905 and died 18 Jul 1977; their daughter Alice Jane Murphy born 1 Mar 1931 and died 16 Sept 1933 (the poor thing drowned in the Ohio River); and their son Anthony Lee Murphy born 17 Sept 1948 and died 15 Jan 1961. I just can't imagine what Nancy and Earl must have gone through to lose their precious little 2-year old girl in a drowning accident; my heart breaks for them just thinking about it. Anthony was born almost 15 years later -- to the day, practically -- and then lost him 12 years later too. I do not yet know what caused Anthony's death (I have only found him in the death index and will have to request a copy of the record), but I do know that he passed in the Children's Hospital in Cincinnati. I hope it's normal to grieve for events in my husband's family that occurred 50 and 80 years ago.

Now, to my "one step back". I have been trying to document the relationship and the existence of Michael's paternal grandparents. I have been able to prove Rosa's existence through her marriage to William Williams in 1923 in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, and through her death certificate in Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky in 1926. Michael's father James lists his father as Sherman Willoughby on several documents (birth certificate, social security application, both marriage licenses). Rosa, on her marriage license to William Williams, lists herself as a divorced woman with married name being Willoughby (no first name of previous husband listed). Proving Sherman's existence has been much trickier, much less a marriage to Rosa Morrison.

I know that Jim had at least two sisters (one older - Elsie, born 1907 and one younger - Nancy, born 1912 (the same Nancy we talked about above). Family lore says that one of the sisters is a half-sister. His birth certificate says that he is child #3 but I have yet to discover who the other older sibling may be. Elsie passed in 1993 but as of this writing I have been unable to find her death record in Tulare County, California even though I know the date and (I thought) location of her death. I wanted to see if Elsie's parents were listed on her death certificate -- and if so, were they Sherman and Rosa? Or Sherman and maybe a first wife?

In the meantime, I found a Sherman Willoughby in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census in Kellyville, Creek County, Oklahoma living with a William Willoughby (head of household), Nancy Willoughby (wife), Sherman (son), Nancy (daughter), Elsie (granddaughter), and Armilda (granddaughter). He is listed as a widower (which may or may not be true, if he remarried after the divorce from Rosa). I also found Sherman's World War I Draft Registration Card -- his full name is William Sherman Willoughby which would add to the difficulty of tracking him through the years. The fact that Elsie is with him makes me think that I have the right Sherman, but I still have to prove it. I have found Sherman's grave in Kellyville, Creek County, Oklahoma at FindAGrave. (And a HUGE thank you to the person who photographed the headstone and uploaded it to FindAGrave!) I have since requested Sherman's death certificate from the Division of Vital Records in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

All of this leads me to Nancy (and my one step back). I had asked Patty at Highland Cemetery if Nancy's parents were listed in the paperwork the family filled out when Nancy was buried. Patty told me that Nancy's mother was listed as Rosa (no last name). But her father is listed as surname "Martin" -- with no first name listed.

What?! Martin?! Holy Moses! Here I was expecting to hear "Willoughby" or "Williams" -- to be able to learn one way or another whether Nancy was the half-sister, and to be able to narrow the window on the years and the location where Rosa and Sherman were married and (hopefully) divorced. I had found Rosa listed on the 1920 U.S. Federal Census in Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky -- the same place where Jim was born in 1911. Here, Rosa is listed as the wife of Bill Williams who is the head of household, daughter Nancy, and son Brown. Nancy is listed as "Nancy Williams" but I knew that there was a 50/50 chance that the census enumerator could have assumed that Nancy was Bill's daughter by living in the household. Or Bill could have presented Nancy as his own daughter. Either way, I was not expecting a new surname to be thrown into the mix.

Now another thing to remember is that the information on a death certificate is only as good, and as accurate, as the informant giving the information. It could be that the person filling out the paperwork at Highland Cemetery was only writing down what he or she thought to be true; we've already seen at the beginning of this post that family lore can be wrong. So in an effort to verify this information, I have requested Nancy's death certificate from Vital Statistics in Frankfort, Kentucky. I am expecting to find the same paternal information on the death certificate as in the burial paperwork, but I am also hoping that Nancy's county of birth is listed too. Then I can search for her birth record to see if the paternal name matches.

Hopefully, the information in Nancy's records will give me a clue, or at least a hint, as to where Rosa was and who she was with in 1912, and by extension where Sherman was (or was not) during the same time frame.

I'll let you know how it goes......

~ Niecey

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oh, My Spinning Head!

I am in serious need of organizational help for my genealogy research and business. I have so many individual threads I am working on that I am afraid that they are going to get all tangled up soon if I don't come up with a workable solution.

I have been using Evernote on both my laptop and smartphone. I like this program because it allows me to keep my notes synchronized if I happen to be mobile. I have a genealogy folder, a good naming system for the notes, and it's easy to use. The problem is that I have many notes but no master summary of what I'm working on.

And I'm working on a lot. I'm researching my husband's line. I'm learning new family tree software. I'm reading genealogy books and magazines. I have a website to design. A blog to keep active. All the while trying to keep house and raise a toddler and a pre-schooler. I know, I know -- I need to have my head examined.

Part of my problem is that I'm a visual person. I need to see things, have them written down, preferably on paper, and right in front of me. That in itself is not conducive to an organized desk. I would, if I didn't have said toddler climbing all over the place, post sheets to the wall above my laptop for each category. Instead I will have to find a neater (and hopefully more permanent) method to getting organized.

File folders, binders, which method to use and how to use it seems to be the age-old issue genealogists of all skill levels continue to wrestle with. Just yesterday I was digging through a portable file box and came across a folder with assorted family data, a good portion of which was missing from my database. These scraps of paper dated back to 1999!

I think I will bring a notebook and pencil out to the wading pool this afternoon. I'll use a page per category and write down what I'm doing on each one and/or what I need to do. Maybe all my spinning head needs to slow down is a good, old-fashioned data dump. Surely it can't continue to spin without the weight of all of the items I'm trying to remember -- at least not as fast, anyway.

I'll let you know how it goes.

~ Niecey

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Blogging Returns

It's been a few months since my last blog posting, caused by varying degrees of raising young children, helping my husband with his small business, keeping a household, and failing computer equipment.

Which is not to say that I have abandoned my genealogical journey in either my research or to become a certified genealogist. I do something each day to further educate myself and since the two are intertwined , I am slowly but surely making progress on both fronts.

Lately I have been doing a lot of reading in genealogy magazines while I have been sitting poolside (as in wading pool for my toddler and pre-schooler). I have to keep a notepad and pen with me to jot down all the ideas I get for either research or running my own genealogy business. I have subscribed to a number of RSS feeds for genealogy blogs -- the July 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine listed their picks of the "40 Best Genealogy Blogs" and I found myself subscribing to quite a few of them.

My new genealogy software (RootsMagic 4 and Personal Historian) just arrived this morning and I have been waiting very patiently to get through with my household chores and for nap-time to arrive so that I can at least get the programs installed. The length of my toddler's nap will determine how much playtime I get in the new software. (smile)

My shipment of genealogy books is due to arrive sometime this week from I ordered two books written by Elizabeth Shown Mills: "Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition" and "Professional Genealogy: A Manual for for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians" as well as the Board for Certification of Genealogists' "The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual". I should have plenty of reading material to last the rest of the summer as I learn how to properly cite my sources in my research and to make sure that my research conforms to the BCG's standards.

And yesterday I was able to obtain my web domain ( from I am absolutely thrilled that the domain was available and now I can move forward in designing the website for my genealogy business. I'll be sure to post on my blog when the website is up and running.

So while it has been quiet on the blog-front things have been active behind the scenes. As all the pieces fall into place, and especially now that we have upgraded the equipment, I look forward to being just as active on my blog. I look forward to your company while I take my genealogy journey.

~ Niecey

Monday, March 7, 2011

Family History Can Pass Away Too

When I married my husband he did not know very much about his family history or his ancestors. Both of his parents and a younger brother had already passed on years ago, and his remaining two sisters (an older half-sister and a younger sister) lived far away in other states.

We had our first child together, a girl, in 2007. With my entire immediate and extended family living on the West Coast and only remnants left of my husband's family, I found it increasingly important that we trace Max's* family tree as best we could. Being a little older when our little LoveBug was born I was worried about her being left alone in this world, feeling like a cork bobbing on the ocean, without a clue as to who her family was or where she came from.

This past summer Max's half-sister also passed away. Max and Loretta shared the same father and I was hoping to find information that would help me trace Max's paternal line. Going through her collection of papers created more questions than they answered. With her knowledge of the family history passing away with her, it also made it all the more urgent to piece together his family tree before any more precious family history is lost.

Loretta had three large photo albums full of pictures spanning about 30 years from the mid-1930s until the early 1960s. Very few of the pictures were labeled making identification almost impossible. To know that within all of those old black and white photos are pictures of family members that have long since passed on but will continue to remain nameless is extremely frustrating.

There isn't much in the way of documentation either but I did come across a copy of a marriage bond between their father and Loretta's mother in Kentucky, 1926; copies of death certificates for both their father and Loretta's mother and burial information for Loretta's mother in Kentucky, 1945; a certificate of birth and an adoption document for Loretta's older brother (also Max's half-brother) from 1929. For a genealogist these documents are as precious as rare jewels for the clues they contain. Hopefully they will lead to other documents, more clues and new information.

I can't help but to grieve not only Loretta's passing but also the loss of all of the information she had within her. I grieve for the lost opportunities of sitting around her table, looking through the photos and listening to her stories. Of being able to write down names, dates and places and recording as much of her history as possible. Of not being able to share it with our own children who share some of the same bloodline as Loretta. There are so many questions that will never be answered.

With Loretta's passing, we lost so much more than Loretta. We lost the last connection to the early life of their father. We will never get that connection, or Loretta, back.

~ Niecey

* names have been changed