Labor Day 2016

Posted on: September 5th, 2016 by
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The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell CG, CGL, posted today about resources for researching our ancestors who belonged to labor unions. 1

Both my grandfathers, William Stephen Abromitis and Emerson Clinton Neifert, were union members; Pop-Pop Abromitis belonged to the United Mine Workers (UMW), and Grandpa Neifert to the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. My great-grandfathers on the Abromitis side, William Abromitis and Anthony Sakusky most probably also belonged to the UMW or one of its precursors because they worked in the anthracite mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. One of my Neifert great-grandfathers, Roland R. Neifert worked for an electric railroad in Wilkes Barre/Scranton and belonged to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.

How do you tell whether one or more of your ancestors might have belonged to a labor union? Home sources and interviews with family members are a great place to start. Beyond personal knowledge, family tradition, and memorabilia, look for mention of labor union affiliations in newspapers–union affiliations are often mentioned in obituaries. Here, for example, are excerpts from Roland Neifert’s obituary: “Mr. Neifert… had been a resident of Wilkes-Barre for many years. He was employed as a trainman on the Laurel Line. Mr Neifert was… offiliated [sic] with the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.” 2

The identification of Roland’s employer and his union led me to books, articles, and websites with information about the Laurel Line and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. I learned that in 1918 Roland was one of the key players in a street car strike. He even traveled to Washington, DC, to appear before the Railroad Wage Commission. 3 Google searches revealed that records of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, mostly dealing with the union after 1928, shortly before Roland’s death, are at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University. 4 I found digitized volumes of the union journal, The Railroad Trainman, on Google Books (, and records of union lodges or locals in various archives. (For example, Washington State University Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections holds an attendance register for Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Lodge 833 in Malden, Washington.) 5

Do sources such as census records or city directories tell you that your ancestor worked in an industry where labor unions developed? Besides railroads and mining, labor organizations were active in textiles, hatting, agriculture, and communications. Wikipedia is a great place to get an overview of labor history and develop a bibliography of books, articles, and website links for further research. Try reading “Labor History of the United States” 6 as a starting place, then follow the links and references. Also look for articles on industries (for example, coal mining in the United States), companies, and labor unions.

  1. Judy G. Russell, “Put in a Laboring Oar,” 5 September 2016, The Legal Genealogist, ( : accessed 5 September 2016).
  2. “Rowland R. Neifert,” “Rowland R. Neifert,” The Wilkes Barre Record,” 27 December 1934, p. 6, col. 3.
  3. “Talk of Strike on Laurel Line; Want Wage Jump,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, p. 2; digital image, ( : accessed 17 February 2013). “Talk of Strike on Laurel Line,” The Scranton Republican, p. 1, col. 5, p. 2, col. 3; digital image, ( : accessed 11 August 2014).“Talk of Strike on Laurel Line; Want Wage Jump,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, p. 2; digital image, ( : accessed 17 February 2013). “Talk of Strike on Laurel Line,” The Scranton Republican, p. 1, col. 5, p. 2, col. 3; digital image, ( : accessed 11 August 2014).
  4. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library, “Guide to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Records, 1883-1973,” Cornell University Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections ( : accessed 20 January 2015).
  5. “Guide to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Lodge 833 (Malden, WA) Attendance Register 1927-1961 Cage 5057,” Washington State University Libraries ( : accessed 5 September 2016).
  6. “Labor History of the United States,” Wikipedia ( : accessed 5 September 2016).
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Gearing up for fall 2016

Posted on: August 28th, 2016 by
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Wow! It’s hard to believe, but we’re already almost at the end of August. Here in Minnesota the weather has been in the 60s and 70s, giving us our first taste of the cooler weather ahead.

I thought I’d give you a taste of what I’m up to and what I’m working on. On the writing front, my article “Be a Smart Genealogist on the Internet!” was published in the July issue of The Septs, the journal of the Irish Genealogical Society International. (IGSI was a partnering sponsor of the Celtic Connections Conference held earlier this month in Minneapolis, where I had the honor of speaking on researching Cornish ancestors.) I have another Septs article in the pipeline, reviewing author Chris Paton‘s recent book A Decade of Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923, for the October issue.

On the teaching and learning front, September will be a busy month. The Thursday after Labor Day I speak to the Monument chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution about fold3/War of 1812 pensions. (Have you used these pension files? They’re a phenomenal resource, and they’re free forever, thanks to the Preserve the Pensions project.) Then Saturday September 10 I teach a two-hour class on DNA at the Minnesota Historical Society. The first hour will be a basic talk on tests and testing companies; then in the second hour we’ll dive deeper and talk about using DNA for research. September 24 I’ll talk about DNA again, this time just a brief taste for the Lake Minnetonka DAR chapter (my home chapter).

Minnesota Genealogical Society’s North Star Conference will be the high point of the month. I’ll present two sessions, a two-hour problem-solving workshop co-taught with Shirleen Hoffman, and a session on getting help with research sponsored by the Northland chapter, Association of Professional Genealogists. I’ll also be attending the conference’s special DNA Day, taught by Blaine Bettinger, whose Advanced Genetic Genealogy class I took last summer at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. Another GRIP instructor, Michael Lacopo (whose Pennsylvania research course I took in 2015), is the second featured North Star speaker. If you haven’t registered yet for this event, be sure to do so soon–although the DNA Day is already sold out, it’s going to be a great event.

Last but not least on the teaching and learning front, I’ll continue my work as coordinator for the ProGen 27 cohort of the ProGen Study Group. In case you’re not acquainted with it, ProGen is a low-cost, eighteen-month peer learning program aimed at professional and aspiring genealogists. Each ProGen group works its way through Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, reading chapters in the book, preparing assignments related to the readings, providing feedback for the other participants in the group, and meeting monthly for discussion. Each group is mentored by a certified genealogist. I am an alumna of ProGen 5, and I am still reaping benefits from my participation in the program, both in terms of what I learned from the readings and assignments and in terms of the friendships I formed.

Like many professional genealogists, I do a lot of volunteer work. As the registrar for my DAR chapter and for the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Minnesota, I work with prospective members and candidates in completing their lineage papers. I am excited that Lake Minnetonka DAR has a number of new members already this year, with more working on the DAR’s new electronic application. Besides the normal wealth of fall programs and activities, both the Lake Minnetonka chapter and the Minnesota Dames are working on new websites. (So far I’m only involved with the Dames website project, which is hosted by EasyNetSites, a great company I’ve worked with before.)

I’m also the President (till the end of this year) for the Northland chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. We are putting the final touches on our every-other-month chapter webinar series for 2016-2017 and gearing up for our first networking lunch the Tuesday after Labor Day. If you’re an APG member in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, or the Dakotas, we’d love to have you join us! Our chapter contact is Shirleen Hoffman.

In personal research, I’m happy to say that I’m continuing to work on the genealogy of my Lutz family. Due to a DNA match from my mother’s home town of Tamaqua, I recently had a breakthrough on this line–lots of military records, this time Civil War pensions, and FAN club research. My husband and I also got a break in learning more about his Mackin family–a second cousin agreed to take Y- and autosomal DNA tests. And that’s not all–my sister and my mother, after several years of saying no, also agreed to test. I’m looking forward to getting my sister’s test results so that I can try the visual phasing technique Blaine Bettinger showed us last summer–visual phasing, also known as phasing by recombination, will allocate individual chromosome segments to my four grandparents. This technique offers obvious benefits for interpreting DNA matches on those chromosome segments. You can bet that I took advantage of Family Tree DNA’s summer sale for the test kits!

It’s definitely shaping up to be a busy fall. Meanwhile, I’m consoling myself that we have almost a month till the autumn equinox!

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Drive-by Genealogy, 2016

Posted on: July 4th, 2016 by
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In June my husband and I drove from our home outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, to my family’s summer cabin in northeastern Pennsylvania in order to spend a few weeks with my mother before attending the Advanced DNA course at the second session of GRIP–the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.

On our route we passed a number of places of significance in our family history. On Day 1 of the trip we drove southeast through Wisconsin on Interstate 94. Passing Madison we acknowledged my husband’s Mackin and Lohff ancestors who settled west of Madison in Dane County in the 1850s. The Mackins lived in the Town of Vermont, between Black Earth and Mount Horeb, and the Lohffs lived in the Town of Springdale. Lizzie Lohff married John Mackin in 1885 and shortly thereafter followed Lizzie’s older sister Emma Boeck and her husband to Mitchell County, Iowa, where they farmed and raised their family.

Farther south, just before crossing into Rock County, we passed Stoughton, where another pair of my husband’s great-grandparents, John Isaac Galt and Jessie Sturtevant, married in 1886. The Galt newlyweds, both from the town of Cooksville in Rock County, also went to Mitchell County, Iowa, settling in the northern part of the county near Otranto.

Proceeding into Rock County, we passed Cooksville itself, an interesting little New England town transplanted to Wisconsin, then bypassed by the railroad and preserved. Cooksville was home to the Galt family and their in-laws the Leedles, Armstrongs, Sturtevants, and Van Vlecks. Cooksville’s historic district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Off to the east, in Geneva, Walworth County, we passed one of the homes of my husband’s Kinney family from County Tipperary, Ireland. Peter, the patriarch of the family, arrived in Walworth County in the late 1840s from Oswego, New York and buried his wife Bridget McDonagh there before heading for Buchanan County, Iowa, in the 1860s with his son Thomas Kinney and Thomas’ family. Several more of Peter’s married children made the trek to Iowa, leaving several other children and their families behind in Wisconsin.

Moving farther south, we passed Beloit, home to my husband’s great-great-grandparents, Michael Gerbig and Catharine Weigle, immigrants from Germany. Michael worked as a stonemason in Beloit, and the couple raised seven children there during the 1850s and 1860s. Catharine died in Beloit in 1867 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, along with her parents. After her death John Michael remarried and moved to Mitchell County, Iowa, where he farmed in Union Township, raised a second family, and became one of the founders of the Union Presbyterian Church.

My husband and I like to avoid driving through Chicago, even though it makes our trip longer, so we continued south into Illinois. There, on the second day of our trip, we passed Sublette, Lee County, where more of my husband’s great-great-grandparents, Martin Decker and Susan Small, married in 1857. Susan’s father Adam Small died in Illinois, but the remainder of the Smalls and Martin Decker’s extended family moved on to Mitchell County, Iowa, and neighboring Mower County, Minnesota. In Mitchell County Martin and Susan’s daughter Mary Decker married Charles A. Gerbig, son of John Michael Gerbig and Catherine Weigle.

Farther south in Illinois, on the same day, we passed Toluca, where Sophia Ellen Trewren, a sister of my great-great-grandfather George Trewren from Ludgvan, Cornwall, settled with her husband John William Curley and their family between 1900 and 1910. John William was a coal miner who emigrated from England. Both he and Sophia died in Illinois.

Turning east at Bloomington, we drove by way of Indianapolis into Ohio, where on the third day of our trip we passed Millersburg and Wooster. That area of Ohio, Holmes, Wayne, and Knox Counties, was home to my husband’s Clark, Neville, Buckmaster, and Barnes families in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the 1850s, successive segments of those families were moving westward to Buchanan County, Iowa, where they intermarried with the Kinneys.

We had already passed a westward outpost of my family in Van Wert County, Ohio, where several collateral members of the Lutz family took up land and settled before 1850.

Moving into Pennsylvania, we came into my family’s home territory. In Clinton County we passed the homestead and burial place of my great-great-grandmother Rebecca (Andrews) Whetstone’s younger brother James Albert Andrews. I have DNA matches with several of James’ descendants and am hopeful that their DNA will help us learn the identity of Rebecca and James’ mother Phoebe Houser’s parents.

Just a little further east we passed Montgomery, Lycoming County, where Rebecca and James’ father Peter passed his final years in the early 1880s. Peter’s children William, Soloma, Daniel, Hannah, Lewis, and Kathryn also lived in the Montgomery area. Peter’s sisters Lydia (Andrews) Houser and Catharine (Andrews) Rumbel Bankes lived nearby in the White Deer Valley.

Turning north at Hazleton toward Wilkes Barre, we bypassed the Schuylkill County area where my parents’ families were centered. Due to a misbehaving engine coil, though, we got up close and personal with the area of Wilkes Barre where my great-grandfather Roland Neifert lived with his second family in the early 1900s.

After getting the car fixed, we arrived at the summer cabin on Lake Wallenpaupack that my grandfather Emerson Clinton Neifert built in the 1930s, with the help of Herbert Edmonds, a cousin of my grandmother Mary Irene Weaver. We’re hoping to spend an enjoyable couple of weeks here with my mother vacationing and connecting with cousins.

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