Month: April 2015

WEEK 17 – 2015: Michael E. McDonald

MichaelMcDonaldFrom humble beginnings of the son of an immigrant coal miner to becoming an attorney and state senator; the story of Michael E. McDonald is certainly an excellent example of someone who prospered in life. And since “prosper” is the theme for this week’s 52 Ancestor challenge, I chose my 2nd cousin, 3xs removed to write about.

Michael was born September 26, 1858 to Thomas and Bridget (Hughes) McDonald in the small town of Hawley, Pennsylvania. His father, Thomas, had come to this country from Ireland around 1816 and settled in Hawley. He met and married Bridget Hughes and started their family. When Michael was about 4 years old, his parents moved the family to Dunmore, PA which is located close to Scranton. His father was employed by the Pennsylvania Coal Company and worked there for many years. Michael, also worked in the mines when he was old enough to do so, as an apprentice moulder.

The Scranton Tribune had credited Thomas McDonald in his obituary, as one of the pioneers of Dunmore. He was very active in the borough activities. This obviously had a positive impact on his son, Michael. In the 1880 Census, Michael, age 21, was still residing with his parents (listed as Thomas McDonnell), 4 sisters, 3 brothers and a cousin. Michael’s occupation was “life insurance agent.” However, an interesting note is that the enumerator for this census was “M.E. McDonnell.”

Michael was educated in the Dunmore and Scranton school system, before continuing his education at the Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, PA. He became interested in law and eventually completed a course in law and was admitted to the bar while working at the law offices of Lemuel Amerman.

From there, Michael became active in the Democratic party and served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1887-1889. He was elected as a State Senator of Pennsylvania and served from 1891-1893.

On November 23, 1892, he married Martha Louise Mellen. They had 3 children: Randall, Maurice and Martha. Two other children had died at a very early age.

“Senator” McDonald continued to be involved in Scranton and Lackawanna poiltical affairs up until the time of his death. He died suddenly on November 28, 1921 at his home at 440 Madison Avenue, Scranton. He is buried in the Cathedral Cemetery in Scranton.


  1. The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) at, 29 Nov 1921, page 2. Obituary for Michael E. McDonald.
  2. Year: 1880; Census Place: Dunmore, Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1137; Family History Film: 1255137; Page: 136C; Enumeration District: 030; Image: 0665. Record for Thomas McDonnell.
  3. The Scranton Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) at, 2 Feb 1901, page 8. Obituary for Thomas McDonald.


I am currently in the middle of Week 2 of the Genealogy Do-Over by Thomas MacEntee.

This weeks goals are tracking and conducting research.

Tracking Research:

I had been reading about this subject for several weeks before starting Genealogy Do-Over. I knew I was in need of starting to learn how to create a research plan and track my research. I had been in the process of developing a research plan, research log and correspondence log for myself using Evernote for some time. After looking at several samples, I settled on one I think fits what I want. I have a place to state my objective, how I came up with the current hypothesis, and then a place to list links and resources of how I will go about to research my objective. I intend to fill out one of these before starting a new name, or trying to solve a particular question before I start to conduct ANY research.

Once I begin researching, I will then enter all the information into my research log. The same goes for my correspondence log if I am writing to courthouses, churches, libraries, etc.

Conducting Research:

I had a few research goals I established last week. This week, armed with my new templates, I decided to focus on my grandfather, since I basically had the most for him already. Creating the research plan took me a few nights. I went through Ancestry and FamilySearch to see if there were any online collections that I could search that might confirm or give additional information on my grandfather. I also looked at for any other online collections that I could search. I didn’t just start randomly copying and pasting links. I looked at each one to make sure that dates and locations made sense with my objective. That is what took me the longest time

After I was satisfied that I had enough to start searching, I started. First entered in previous documents that I had held into my correspondence log. I had actually had the dates I sent away for the vital record documents that I held, so that’s what I entered into the log. Then, I checked off the box in my research plan, and added a note link from the correspondence log into my research plan. The research I did online, I entered into my research log, which again had a note link to my research plan. I also transcribed information from any document straight into the person notes field in my new, “Re-planted” tree in Family Tree Maker.

Here is the link to my research plan. I’ll see how this works as I continue with new research goals. I’m concerned Evernote’s limit with table rows may be a problem with a challenging problem down the road. But, for now, this is what I’m going with.

WEEK 16 – 2015: Velma Myrtle (Kelsey) Fish – 1897-1989

A few years ago, my mother-in-law had given my husband a photo of him and his siblings with his great grandmother, “Grandma Fish” My husband fondly remembers her sugar cookies and told me that she was in her 90s when she passed away. So when this week’s 52 Ancestors theme of “Live Long” came up, I immediately thought of her.

Velma Myrtle Kelsey was born on August 24, 1897 in the small, rural community of Springville, Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her parents were Flornty and Harriet “Hattie” (Van Dyke) Kelsey. William McKinley was beginning his first term as President that year. Three days before Velma’s birth, a gentleman named Ransom Olds in Lansing, Michigan was starting his automobile company, Oldsmobile.

Velma’s parents seemed to have bounced around a bit, living between Jefferson and Genoa in Vernon County, and briefly in Browning, Taylor County, Wisconsin.

Tragedy struck on Velma’s 13th birthday in 1910. Her mother, Hattie, died at the age of 28, leaving Velma, her father, and 6 other young siblings.

At some point, she met Roscoe Fish, who was from Sparta, Monroe County, Wisconsin. On March 10, 1919, she and Roscoe took a trip to Winona, Minnesota and were married by Samuel L. Parrish. Witnesses to the ceremony were Roscoe’s sister, Mary and her husband, Alex Paterson.

Roscoe and Velma settled down in Sparta, to start their family. They had 4 sons and 4 daughters. Three of their sons died when they were just infants. They eventually moved to a large home on Pine Street in Sparta, where Roscoe was employed by nearby Fort McCoy.

Roscoe and Velma were married for 29 years until tragedy struck once again. Roscoe suffered an aneurysm at the age of 59, and died on November 11, 1948.

Velma continued living on as a widow for 41 years. Over that time, she saw 32 grandchildren, 52 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren born. She also had to bear another loss, when her daughter, Phyllis, died in 1982.

Velma died March 13, 1989 at the age of 91. She is buried next to her husband, Roscoe in the Angelo Cemetery.

During her lifetime, she lived through the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. She saw the Berlin Wall fall and saw Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon. William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush all served as President while she was alive. and although, she experienced so much heartbreak at the death of her mother, her children and her husband, she obviously experienced much joy and wonder to have lived as long as she did.

Genealogy Do-Over – Week 2

I am currently in the middle of Week 2 of the Genealogy Do-Over by Thomas MacEntee.

Just a quick update from last week. For Week 1, we were asked to come up with some base practices. This inspired me to learn more about the Genealogy Proof Standard and citing our sources. I ended up doing some online reading, and listening to YouTube videos on these topics as well. This led me to add and re-write to my base practices as well as purchase two books on the subject to learn more in depth about these topics. The first was Genealogy Standards: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, by Board for Certification of Genealogists, and Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Both of these books came highly recommended by several people. I am excited to start applying this new found knowledge of these practices to my own research.

Here is what I accomplished for week 2:

1. Self-Interview

I wrote a short biography on myself from birth to present day. I filled it with important dates, such as my birth, years of graduations and my marriage date. I listed key people in my life such as my parents, grandparents, godmother/aunt, uncles, siblings, spouse and my child and step-children. I listed places like my birthplace, where I grew up, school locations and places that I had lived.

I also started my brand new family tree database in my Family Tree Maker for Mac software, and filled in the names and places that I had mentioned in my interview. I filled in dates if I remembered them and crafted a source for my self-interview, based on what I had learned in Evidence Explained.

2. Conducted Family Interviews

I made a list of some people I could interview: my mom, my dad’s sister, my dad’s cousin, and my mom’s sister. I prepared a list of questions for each one of them, and either called or emailed them. I was surprised by the amount of additional information that I received from them. One aunt sent me the copies of my grandparents’ copy of their marriage certificate. Another aunt sent me a copy of my grandmother’s baptism certificate. I have been busy entering in the information from these interviews into FTM, and cited each of these facts with a citation crafted for each interview. I also created citations from the few certificates that I had of my own (my birth certificate, my marriage) and of the ones that I had received from my aunts.

3. Setting Research Goals

Armed with some names, dates and places from my interviews, I am ready to establish some research goals:

• Prove the birth dates of my parents.

• Prove the relationships between my parents and my grandparents

• Prove the birth dates of my grandparents

• Prove the relationships of my grandparents and great grandparents (if I was provided the names in the interviews)

That is actually, a fairly lengthy list. One that should take me lots of time, if I am to go about doing things more thoroughly. I am looking forward to next week, when we will concentrate on tracking and conducting research.

WEEK 15 – 2015: Erastus Sylvester Serfass

Erastus Sylvester Serfass with his 4 children: Arlington (who is standing) and Harold, Ellen and Calvin. (Original photo in possession of James Downs)

Erastus Sylvester Serfass with his 4 children: Arlington (who is standing) and Harold, Ellen and Calvin. (Original photo in possession of James Downs)

How do you spell that” is probably something anyone with the surname of “Serfass” must hear quite often. The name is quite common in the northeastern Pennsylvania counties of Monroe, Carbon, Luzerne, Northampton and Lehigh where everyone is a descendant of one immigrant ancestor, Philip Serfass. However, there are many, many variants among the descendants of Philip: Serfass, Serfas, Searfass, Searfoss, Surface, Servas. And some people even spell it with a “Z”: Zerfass, Zearfass, and Zearfoss.

For this week’s 52 Ancestor post, I have decided to focus on the one member of the Serfass family who probably had to not only spell his surname, but his entire name: my great grandfather, Erastus Sylvester Serfass.

According to baptism records at the Jerusalem Union Church in Trachsville, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, Erastus was born on October 1, 1877 to Peter Serfass and Rebecca Kridler. He was baptized on November 11, 1877 at the church with Elias Frantz and his wife, Sara as his godparents.

It is not known what became of his mother, Rebecca. She may have passed away between the time Erastus was born and 1880. The 1880 census shows that Peter Serfass was living with his parents, Aaron and Elizabeth Serfass in Polk Township, Monroe County, with his 2 children: Elle Elizabeth and “Sylvester,” age 3. The box for “Widowed” was checked next to Peter’s name.

By the year 1900, Erastus was living in Lehighton, Carbon County, Pennsylvania. He was 22 years old and was living at the Exchange Hotel on First Street, Lehighton, where he was also employed as a servant. Around this time, Erastus was already courting a lively young woman named Emma Weaver. Emma was employed as a servant in the Howard Monyer household, which was also located on First Street, Lehighton.

On July 24, 1900 Erastus and Emma applied for a marriage license in Northampton County, PA. On July 26, 1900, Erastus and Emma took a drive to the small village Andreas, located in nearby Schuykill County, and were married by the Rev. Thomas Reber. And yes, it took quite a bit of digging to find that marriage record. Especially since Northampton County is close, but not that close. I wonder how they decided to apply for a marriage license there, and not just get one in Carbon County.

Erastus and Emma had 4 children: Arlington, Calvin, Harold and Ellen. Erastus got a job as a salesman with a local beef plant, Swift and Company where he worked for many years. The couple rented a home on Bankway Street in Lehighton. However, it was said that Emma became disillusioned with her role as a housewife and mother. She left Erastus and their children at some point before 1920. Emma remained in Lehighton, and did see her children from time to time. She and Erastus remained separated for the remainder of their lives, but never filed for divorce.

Erastus lived in Lehighton for many more years. He began seeing a woman named Mrs. Emma Miller, and he eventually moved in with her at her home in nearby Slatington, Lehigh County.

I asked my mother, if she had any memories of Erastus. She did not remember much, since he died while she was still kind of young. She did remember that when he drank coffee, he would pour it into his saucer first. Then he would pour it back into his cup and drink it. She guessed that he did that, so it would cool off faster.

Erastus died on December 26, 1942 in Slatington. His burial in the Lehighton Cemetery caused a bit of controversy. Since his eldest son, Arlington, was the one who was mainly in charge of the funeral arrangements and also bought the plot in the cemetery. His mother, Emma, was still alive at the time, and Arlington knew that he would one day be responsible for her funeral arrangements as well. So he bought the plot so that Emma would be buried next to Erastus, even though the couple had been separated for decades. Apparently, this upset Mrs. Miller, who had been the companion to Erastus for the last few years. Emma died ten years later. She and Erastus are both buried in the plot in the Lehighton Cemetery along with their sons, Arlington and Harold, and a grandson, Arthur.

WEEK 14 – 2015: The Jersey Shore and my favorite photo

Emma Cone_NjShore2

This week’s 52 Ancestors challenge theme was so easy for me: favorite photo. By far, my favorite photo has to be this one of my grandmother, Emma Sarah Cone. That’s her, third from the left. How I received it is one of my favorite genealogy stories as well.

My dad and my grandfather were always into photography. My dad had boxes and stacks of old photographs everywhere. Mainly of objects, landscapes, horses or his favorite subject: me. But, when I asked if he had any old photos of his parents, or perhaps his grandparents, he did not have any. My aunt had some awesome photos that my grandfather had taken of my dad and his siblings and their childhood. But there were none of their grandparents.

Three years ago, I had been reading a collection of stories of genealogists swearing that their ancestors were reaching out beyond the grave to help them with their research. I distinctly remember wishing that my grandmother would help me out in at least finding some more old photos.

Well, Grandmom must have heard me. It was only 3 or 4 days later, I received an email from a woman with the last name of “Cone.” She said she had been looking at at the memorial page for my great grandfather, Patrick Cone. She had noticed that I had added “flowers” on the page, indicating that I was his great-granddaughter. She was curious, because her husband’s father, Albert A. Cone, was also buried in that plot, and she was not familiar with my name. Her husband, it turns out, is my dad’s first cousin. They had not been in contact for decades! It was exciting, because even though my dad had Alzheimer’s, he remembered his cousin very well.

Mrs. Cone and I exchanged several emails over the next few days. Then she said that she and her husband dug out their mother’s old photo albums, THAT THEY STILL HAD! They did not have a scanner, but they started taking photos with their phone and sent me so many treasures! They had my grandparents’ wedding photo! They sent me photos of my great-Grandmother, Margaret Carney. They sent me images old newspaper clippings of my great grandmother’s relatives in Scranton and letters that she received from her sister, Mary Ann.

But this is the photo I instantly fell in love with. First of all, I was surprised that she had such dark hair! I had always remembered her having gray hair. She looked so young and so vibrant in this photo, with not a care in the world. This photo was one of many that looked like they were all taken at what may have been Atlantic City, NJ. My new found cousins did not know who the other people were in the photos. And the hottie that has his arm around my grandmother in the other photos was definitely not my grandfather. Wow! Grandmom DATED?! Who knew! It looked like such a fun day for my grandmother.

EmmaCone_NJshore Emma Cone_NJShore3 Emma Cone_NJShore4

I love these photos! I still feel that this was a big gift from my grandmother, even though she had been gone for over 30 years.

So Grandmom, if you’re still listening… I really would like to find out where in Ireland your father was born. 😉

WEEK 1: Entering the “Genealogy Do-Over” zone

I have been researching my family tree for almost 30 years. A typewritten family history by one of my grandmother’s cousins was the initial spark when I was about 10 years old. It wasn’t until my grandfather’s death and hearing the names of his parents for the first time, that I had decided to take the plunge into genealogy. Back then, I lurked on genealogy forums on Prodigy and CompuServe, trying to learn HOW you even started to find out more about your ancestors. I remember my first visit to a local Family History Library, feeling nervous and like a complete n00b. And I remember the thrill of finding my first record on microfilm: the marriage record of my great grandparents in Philadelphia.

I have been feeling that my research tactics have been a little flat for the past year or so. I felt like I was researching without any structure. Often I’d come home from work, look at my family tree look at one ancestor, decide 5 minutes later I wasn’t getting anywhere, then choose and entirely different ancestor and repeat the same process, until I thought I had a piece of information I didn’t have before. And it seemed I would look over and over again at the same things. I had been aware of research plans, but never actually put one in motion.

I had only heard about Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over last weekend while attending the Wisconsin Genealogical Society’s Gene-A-Rama, held in Madison, WI. I decided that this might be the perfect forum to revitalize my tactics. The timing also worked out since Cycle 2 was just beginning this weekend.

So, I will blog about my experience here, so it will help me think things through. Also, it’s better than doing a big, long post on Facebook.

Setting Previous Research Aside

Oh wow, this will be a big one for me. But, also necessary. I have two trees: my family and my husband’s family. I am just going to focus on my family tree this time around, since that is the one I spend the most time on and have the most information. So I will be doing the following steps:

  • Backing up my Family Tree Maker tree and putting it aside. It’s somewhat of a mess anyway, since it had started in PAF years decades ago, then transferred to another software program and now FTM. Some of my citations that I entered in PAF, never transferred well. So, some citations were lost, or I have duplicates.
  • Ancestry Tree. I will keep this one up for now, in case of any DNA connections or other potential cousin connections. I will not refer to it during this time and I will not add to it. I may end up deleting this one and replacing it with my better organized FTM tree later on. I haven’t decided yet. I had used the tree linking feature between my FTM tree and Ancestry, but more than once the trees became unlinked somehow, and caused several issues. I do intend to NOT link the trees anymore.
  • Digital files. I had just did a re-organization of these within the past year. However, I will be doing a back-up of these and moving them onto the server space my husband had set up for me.
  • Binders. I had just reorganized most of these last year. But, I did not get through all of them. So for now, the re-organized binders will sit on the shelves. I have a big pile of unorganized documents, so this weekend I will sort through those and decide what to keep and what to toss. What I keep will go in a box until we reach the later steps in the do-over.

Preparing to Research

I have much to do in this step!

  • Research plans. I have never used these, and I know that I need to! No more starting research without starting one of these first. I had learned more about these in a presentation at Gene-A-Rama. So, I will be checking out some examples and templates online this week, and building a template for myself in Evernote.
  • Research logs and correspondence logs. Again, tools that I had never used. Except I did start off keeping track of correspondence when I started, but slacked off. I still have some of my old, handwritten correspondence logs. I will create some in Evernote and perhaps start transferring these older logs into this format as practice.
  • Resource Checklists. I will be putting together a checklist of records I should look for as well as links to good resources to start checking first, so that it’s handy when I fill out my research plan.
  • Timelines. My FTM actually creates these. I need to start looking at these more closely for gaps in my research.
  • Historical and Genealogical societies. I have been greatly underutilizing these! It is my goal to start looking at what societies and archives in in my area of research, see what holdings they have and then decide on some and get a membership, so that I can benefit even more from their holding.

Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines

  1. Track and cite EVERYTHING. Even if I do not find information in a particular roll of microfilm, I still need to record that it was searched, so I do not re-order it later. Think of tracking research as notes to yourself in the future. WHY did I look at this file. WHO was I looking for?
  2. Establish a question first. Before I dive into research and start attaching files to a digital tree, THINK about what I’m specifically looking for and what sources are out there that will help me answer my question and prove the answer.
  3. Only add people to my tree ONLY after I have researched them. This is particularly important on my digital tree.
  4. Become more familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard. I plan to watch some youtube videos on the topic. I will also purchase
  5. Interact more with other genealogists. Even if they are not potential cousins! I feel that this is a big step that I have been lacking. They may know about resources that I do not know, or can help brainstorm a brick wall with fresh eyes. Find local events I can go to to network and learn more. Start looking for societies to join.