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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who Do I Think I Am?

I am sure that my readers have heard about the show "Who Do You Think You Are?" aired on NBC on Friday evenings. I am a huge fan of the show myself and quite literally schedule my Friday nights around it. I enjoy watching the celebrities follow the clues to discovering who their ancestors were, the lives they lived, and where their families came from.

It seems quite natural, then, for me to begin this blog with who I think I am.

I am of Portuguese, German, Greek, English and Irish descent. My father is half-German (his father) and half-Portuguese (his mother). My mother is 1/4 Portuguese (her father's mother), 1/4 Greek (her father's father), 1/4 Irish (her mother's father), 1/8 German and 1/8 English (her mother's mother). All of my great-grandparents were full-blooded except for my maternal great-grandmother, who was 1/2 English and 1/2 German.

I am also a descendant from the Hawaiian Kingdom and Canada. I have a great-grandfather on my father's side and a great-grandmother on my mother's side who were both born in the Kingdom of Hawaii. (It's interesting to note that Hawaii was sovereign until 1893. The King was overthrown and Hawaii was an independent republic until 1898 when the United States annexed it as a territory. Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959.) My maternal grandmother, maternal great-grandmother, and my maternal 2nd great grandmother as well as my maternal grandfather were all born in Canada.

I know that I am a descendant of relatively recent immigrants. Three out of four great-grandparents on my father's side immigrated to America in the late 1800s or early 1900s, as did three of my great-grandparents on my mother's side. My mother's mother (Grandma) and her mother (Great Gram) didn't arrive until 1927.

Another thing I know is that almost my entire immediate family were all born in Oakland, California. My two younger sisters, my father, my mother, my paternal grandmother and her mother, and my maternal grandfather. My paternal grandfather (Grandaddy) was born in San Francisco and while it isn't Oakland, his birth place still qualifies as Bay Area. Except for me -- I was born on an Air Force base in Germany.

Who I know I am is this: a descendant daughter of men and women who came to America to achieve their dreams and to live their own lives. They believed in working hard, doing your best, being honest and maintaining their integrity. They loved God and family, lived their faith, and treated everyone with respect. I am proud to be the descendant daughter and to honor my ancestors by carrying on their traditions and teaching them to my children. This is who I know I am.
~ Niecey

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Story Tellers

We are the chosen. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called as it were by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: "Tell our story!" So we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves.

In each family there is one member who seems to hear the calling to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story, and to feel that somehow they know and approve. To me, doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but instead breathing life into all who have gone before. In my family, I am the chosen one.

How many graves have I stood before and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told my ancestors, "You have a wonderful family and you would be proud of us"? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love for me? I cannot say. It goes beyond documenting facts. It goes to who I am and why do I do the things I do? It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying to myself, "I can't let this happen..."

The bones here are bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up.... their resolve to go ahead and build a life for their family, and for all the generations to follow.

(Copied from "Jackson Spurlock of the Eastern Kentucky Spurlock's" at