Premium Member of the Week: Alexander Tolksdorf


Alexander Tolksdorf


Over 10 years.
My paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1950s. As such, I began exploring my family history directly in German records and sources from the get-go. Indeed, as all of my grandparents immigrated to the United States, Germany seemed like the easiest place to start!

3. What’s your favorite genealogy story from your family?

A story my great grandmother loved to recount. While I never met her directly, the story has been retold through my father. My great grandmother grew up in the Prussian province of Posen, near Ostrowo, on a farmstead, which contained a cherry orchard. She was a young girl when World War I broke out, and one day witnessed soldiers from the Russian army foraging across the farm collecting cherries. One soldier decided to demonstrate his civility to my onlooking family, so he proceeded inside the house to wash the cherries. Unusual for the time, the house contained an indoor bathroom and toilet. Indeed, the soldier spotted the toilet and, thinking it a washbasin of sorts, deposited his cherries in the toilet to wash them — and of course, pulled the lever. As the cherries disappeared before his eyes due to this new dark magic, he proceeded to pull out his rifle and shoot up the toilet while yelling obscenities! Certainly must have been frightening at the time, but my great grandmother always burst out laughing when telling the story!

4. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Always keep looking! Retrace your steps and approach the problem from a different angle. Often time, genealogical records and resources can be difficult to find or access, but will reward your persistence.

5. How has the premium membership helped your research in german genealogy?

 I am actively looking to improve and develop my ability to read and transcribe the old German scripts. The Premium Membership has given me invaluable tips and tricks to analyze a new piece of text and the ample practice to develop my skills.

Premium Member of the Week: Nina Gafni


 Nina Gafni 


Officially, I’ve been doing German and German Jewish genealogy for almost a year. Unofficially, I’ve been doing it my whole life. I was always the one who raided my grandmother’s photo albums and wanted to know all about the family history.


The handwriting class and premium membership have been a godsend both on a personal and professional level. I am a professional translator (French, German,  and Italian into English). Genealogy is a big part of my business. That said, as any good translator knows, having other people around to question is crucial to success. Since old handwriting can be tricky to read, you want to get that much-needed second opinion. After all, you want to give your client the best possible translation. 
On a more personal note, I have been working for some time to connect various family branches. My cousin and I have been trying to figure out exactly how we are related. The key is the degree of cousinship between her father, an Austrian Holocaust survivor whose journey took him from Vienna to France, England, Canada, and finally back to Austria, and my great-grandmother. For many years, my cousin’s father would not talk about his past. When he finally did, his memory was a bit shaky. My cousin and I have used many different means to track down potential relatives. A chance finding of what is most likely my great-grandmother’s birth certificate provided some clues as to other relationships. The premium membership proved invaluable in helping me to decipher the antiquated spelling. Who knew I had an ancestor who was a toll collector, and another who was a shop assistant? 

4. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

 I think the most important bit of advice is to check everything. Talk to your family members and get their stories. If you can write these stories down or record them, that’s even better. Documenting your family history is especially important when you come from a family with a lot of common first and last names. I have my tree on I love it when Ancestry sends me hints. However, you really need to check this against your own documentation. Otherwise, you could end up accidentally adding the wrong Edward Goldberg to your family tree. 

Premium Member of the Week: Debra Hoffman






Debra Hoffman


I have been researching my German ancestors for over 40 years. My Grandmother Ruth Lindenmeyer inspired me as a young girl by telling me stories about them and encouraging me to research my family history. 


One way the Premium Membership has helped me advance my genealogical research is through the educational articles.


My favorite story is finding a special postcard at a local antique store. As I wandered through the store, I came across a postcard. When I picked it up and turned it over, I was shocked to see that it had been sent to my Great-Grandfather Roland Stolzenbach by his brother Howard in 1909. I considered it my postcard from heaven!

5. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Research is not about looking up your ancestors, but rather tracking them down.

Premium Member of the Week: James M. Beidler






James M. Beidler


36 years


I don’t always tune into the “Ask the Translator” hour but I always read the “after summary” … every week I learn a few new words that may be useful in the future!


I was historian of the Daub family reunion and had corresponded with a historian of the same surname from Germany (less than 10 km from our Daub ancestral village) … I had invited him to come visit America thinking I had a year to prepare but his wife called me one morning to tell me her husband was arriving in 3 days! We all became friends and have exchanged visits ever since!

Photo: Me and Rudolf “Rudi” Daub, a distant German cousin, on the front page of the Daub Family Reunion’s newsletter after his first visit to America.

5. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Be humble on your genealogy journey because you often know less than you think, especially about the history and circumstances that were different in your ancestors’ eras. Avoid ‘presentism’ … Challenge your assumptions!


Below is the entire story of the Daub Reunion:

Premium Member of the Week: Maria Mueller

Introducing the new Premium Member of the Week – 

a fun way to get to know the SK Translations 

Premium Member Community!


1. What’s your name?

Maria Mueller



2. How long have you been doing German genealogy?


I have been researching the German side of my family for about 6 years. My father Oswald Müller was born in Fagaras, Romania. So far I have traced back his mother’s family back to Austrian Silesia and have a fairly large tree for her. On the other hand, his father’s ancestors are still a mystery to me.
I grew up speaking German at home and ever so grateful to be able to read the old documents. I would often get stuck, though, because of the bad handwriting, and unknown words or abbreviations.



3. How has the Premium Membership helped your research?


This Premium membership was exactly what I was looking for. I use to struggle for hours trying to figure out words. Katherine has provided the tools needed to decipher my documents and along with her individual help, my unknowns are being solved. I have already learned so much from Katherine and I look forward to improving my skills.



4. What’s your favorite genealogy story you’ve experienced?


A couple of years ago I met a Romanian student who was working at the Santa Cruz (CA) Beach Boardwalk for the summer. She translated some letters and documents for me from Romanian into English. Shortly after that I was contacted by a Romanian DNA match living in Boston. He had a German grandfather so we are working on finding our common ancestor. Well, as it turns out, the young lady that translated for me is his cousin’s daughter! It is indeed a small world.


Jewish Genealogy, DNA and Brick Walls: An Interview with My Family Genie’s Dr. Adina

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Dr. Adina, founder and owner of My Family Genie. Dr. Adina, a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, GeneaBloggersTRIBE and the Virtual Genealogy Association, uses her doctoral level research and analytical skills to build family trees, uncover missing or previously undiscovered records, and find lost and unknown family members with the ultimate goal of connecting her clients to their past, present and future. In this article, Dr. Adina explains some of the aspects of Jewish genealogical research to us, delving into the intricacies of DNA and providing tips on helpful websites and overcoming brick walls in genealogy research. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, no worries – many of her tips can apply to a variety of backgrounds!

Dr. Adina, My Family Genie

1. Hi Dr. Adina! Thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little about your business to get us started?

Hello! Sure, no problem. As a genealogist, I use both traditional and genetic genealogy in my research. My most popular services have included helping people find records to overcome brick walls and making sense of DNA results. Besides looking into the past, I’m also pretty adept at using social media to locate living people, which especially helps in NPE (non-paternal event)  or adoptee situations.

2. I see you specialize in Jewish genealogy. How did you get involved in that field in particular?

By default! I am fully Ashkenazi Jewish, so in order to understand my own genealogy, I needed to learn necessary skills and strategies related to Jewish genealogy. In my own search, I uncovered several resources that now allow me to help others in their pursuit to understand their own Jewish roots.

3. That sounds really interesting. Could you explain to us a bit how history has affected Jewish genealogy, in addition to the more obvious World War II?

For one, Jewish surnames are a fairly new phenomenon. Historically, Jews went by the “son of” or “daughter of”, and this is still reflected in religious practices and on Jewish graves. Although some German Jews adopted surnames as early as the 17th century, Eastern Europe did so much later; the Austro-Hungarian Empire began in the late 18th century. Parent/child and siblings may have had different surnames, especially when coupled with assimilation, which adds to the obstacles. In one example, family lore states that my great-grandfather purchased his surname to escape the Czar’s army. His brother adopted his wife’s surname. Recently discovered grandchildren of this brother’s line had no idea their grandfather had taken their grandmother’s surname, so they were shocked to learn that they had incorrectly been researching their grandfather’s line for years. Researching Y-DNA can also be particularly difficult because even relatively close matches according to genetic distance will have completely different surnames.

Additionally, due to worsening conditions and hope for a better life, major Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe and Germany occurred in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, so fairly recently. Families lost touch and were scattered throughout the world. As an example, I have found family members who immigrated to areas all around the United States, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina, UK, Soviet Russia, and Israel.

   My great-grandparents; They were first cousins that went by the name Michelson. The name was changed from Stikan (although the story goes that my great-grandfather was the one who purchased the Michelson last name to escape the Czar’s army, his uncle/father-in-law adopted the name  when he came to the U.S.)

4. You mentioned DNA. How is Jewish DNA unique? And how does that affect genealogists who are searching for their Jewish ancestors?

Jews are an endogamous population, which means they married within their own group. In the case of Ashkenazi Jews, we have thousands of DNA matches, most being distant and untraceable after centuries of endogamy and pedigree collapse. Any match past second cousins needs to be explored with additional scrutiny. This contributes to making the search for Jewish relatives overwhelming and more difficult than standard genetic genealogy research.

5. That does sound complicated. What one piece of advice would you give to the beginning genealogist looking for their Jewish ancestors?

Upload your DNA everywhere. Not just for ethnicity estimates, but also for more opportunities to find matches to build your family tree. AncestryDNA is the best place to start because it has the largest database. You can also upload your raw DNA data to gedmatch, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage. The 23andme V5 chip isn’t compatible with most sites (although MyHeritage just recently began accepting transfers), but it does have the second largest database.

A MyHeritage match with a found 2c1r. Notice the largest segment. I look at this first to determine whether a match is likely traceable. Although I don’t have matches that high that I haven’t solved, I have several starting around the 130cM mark that are comprised of smaller segments I am unable to trace.

An AncestryDNA match with my known 2nd cousin. Elevated cMs are an example of how endogamy can affect your matches, although it usually becomes more of an issue further out.

6. Good to know! What about more advanced genealogists? What would you tell them?

When looking at Jewish matches, sort by largest segment (sections of DNA that are identical between two individuals), not total cMs (units to measure genetic distance). If you have significant Ashkenazi DNA and thousands of matches, focus on those that are a total of at least 100cMs, a longest segment of at least 23cMs, and preferably 1 or 2 more that are 10-20cMs or longer.

7. What are three of your favorite online genealogy tools?
              1. – (Mostly AncestryDNA; I check matches daily!)
              2. – Best central repository for records, including many in Eastern Europe and New York City (the latter where many Jews at least started out when they immigrated to the U.S.).
              3. DNA Detectives group on Facebook. Great place to learn about how to dissect DNA matches.

8. Are there any resources specific for Jewish genealogy that you’d recommend?

It depends on the country, but is the go-to (and also my actual favorite online genealogy tool), with thousands of records related to the Jewish world (many available to view on FamilySearch). The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ names through Yad Vashem has provided me with a plethora of information about my family who perished in the Holocaust.A page of testimony on the murder of my great-grandfather’s half-brother, found in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names

9. If one of your clients hits a brick wall, what tips and tricks do you have for them?

What I’ve found is that usually a client is trying to conquer too much at one time. Genealogy is a marathon. I always ask a client exactly what they want to find, which focuses the research and makes it less overwhelming. I had one client who was trying to find more information about an ancestor, but couldn’t find him in a ship manifest. Knowing that Ancestry can be finicky with spellings, I tried certain variations and uncovered the record, which helped her overcome the brick wall.

Genealogy also isn’t a solitary activity. Speaking with other relatives or encouraging them to take DNA tests can only provide more information to overcome any brick walls.

A Sound of Music Cook, Army Tinsel and American Chocolates: My Interview with the Austrian Grandparents

World War II. Most of us know it from the American point of view – sons, brothers and sweethearts being sent overseas. Scrap drives, Red Cross fundraisers and Rosie the Riveter posters for those left stateside. My own grandmother Nancy (born in 1931) was a child in St. Louis, Missouri during this time. But what was it like to be a child on the other side of the ocean, right in the middle of the action? To find out that and more, I sat down with my Austrian husband’s grandparents, Joseph (Sepp) and Anna Schweighofer, born in 1940 and 1939, respectively. Here’s what Oma and Opa had to say:


                                   Sepp and Anna as children in Austria, early 1940s

1. What was a normal day for you as a child?

Opa:  I lived on a farm in a small village: Zell am Moos, Austria. My family had a cow, two horses,  a bull, a calf, a pig, hens and sheep. We didn’t have a tractor, so we had to rake the hay ourselves. We would get up at 5:00 a.m. and do chores before school.  

Sepp’s parent’s on their wedding day


Pic 1: Sepp’s family farm in Zell am Moos, Austria

Pic 2: Sepp (second from front) and his family raking the hay

Since we only had one teacher at our school, the older kids went to school in the morning, and then the younger kids went in the afternoon. After school we had to do more work on the farm. We usually didn’t have time for homework, but the teachers didn’t mind – They knew we all had a lot of work to do at home. If we had some time left over at night, we would do the homework then.

Oma: I grew up in Laiter, one town over from Zell am Moos and next door to where we live now. My family also had a farm, but much smaller than Opa’s. And it was a full house – my grandmother, aunt and two cousins lived there with my father, mother, sister and me. My grandmother was bedridden from the year I was born, 1939, until the year she died (1954). My aunt took care of her that whole time! We also had 2 or 3 cows, and my mother took care of all the farm work. My father was a rake maker for the farmers, so that kept him busy. Everyone would always come to our house to buy the rakes.

Anna’s parents on their wedding day

                                                 Anna’s family, with the rakes in the back right

My father was also the “Kapellmeister”, or music director, of the town’s band for 50 years – from 1920 until 1970. And the band practiced in our house! So between the rakes and the band, he had no time to help Mother with the farm work. I actually didn’t have to help as much as my older sister Frieda did. She was five years older than me and had to do everything.

                                                                  Anna (bottom right) with her family

Our school was over a mile away (2 kilometers), and it took us about an hour to walk there with our little legs. We had no books, so had to copy everything down ourselves. When we got home we would do our homework and help around the house and farm. Sometimes we would visit with my cousin, who was ten years older than me. She could sew and make her own clothes. At that time, if you needed something, you made it yourself.   

2. When I first met you, Oma, I was very excited to find out that your aunt was the cook for the real von Trapp family, since one of my favorite movies is Sound of Music! What do you remember about her?

Aunt Aloisia had a hard life. Her father had died young, and her brother was in an Italian prisoner of war camp for all of World War I. When she got married, she moved to Mondsee (author’s note: the location of the church where Maria got married in the Sound of Music). She and her husband had two children together. Sadly, her husband got into a bike accident one day and ended up passing away, leaving her all alone with the two kids. I wasn’t born yet, but she told us that she was at the doctor in Mondsee some time after that and was looking for a job in the newspaper ads. She found the advertisement for a job as a cook for the von Trapp family in nearby Salzburg – although the family was obviously not famous yet!

                                                   Anna’s Aunt Aloisia in her younger years, far left

Aunt Aloisia applied for the job and ended up being hired as the family’s cook. But that meant she had to move in to their house in Salzburg and leave her two little children behind with her sister, who lived with my family. Aloisia would come home to visit when she could, and sometimes she would even get to bring the von Trapp girls’ outgrown dresses home for her own kids to wear. Since I wasn’t alive then, I don’t really remember any particular stories, but I know she liked the family. In 1938, when the Captain and Maria decided to leave the Nazi regime in Austria to go sing in America, they asked my aunt to go with them. She was touched, but of course did not want to leave her own children behind. She stayed in Austria, and the von Trapps always made a point to come visit her whenever they were back in the country.

The house where the von Trapp family lived and Aloisa served as a cook: Aigen, Salzburg, Austria

3. Do you have any memories of World War II (1939 – 1945, Oma, birth until age 6, Opa, birth until age 5)?

Oma: One stands out in particular – my older sister and her friends would always take the train to school, which was in a nearby village called Frankenmarkt. But one day in 1944, when the kids were in their classroom, the Allies bombed the town and the surrounding railways. With the trains out of service, my ten-year-old sister and her friends had no way to get home. They ended up having to walk home all by themselves – a nine-mile walk, for ten-year-olds, and they didn’t know the way! Their parents back at home had no way of knowing where their kids were and if they were safe – they were really worried and had no way of contacting them. It was a scary day for everyone.

Modern Google Maps showing the walking directions from Frankenmarkt, where the school was, home to Laiter – over a three-hour walk, if you did know the way…

That’s one of my strongest memories, but I also remember that throughout the whole war, there were people that died from every house in our neighborhood. Houses would get notices that one of their male family members had died in the war.

I also remember the blackout curtains that we had to put up every night, so the planes couldn’t see us, as well as the tinsel that the planes would drop down.

What tinsel?

Opa: It was tinsel that seemed to fall from the sky. We didn’t know why the planes did that, but maybe to mess with the radar signal of the German planes.

Oma: Well, for whatever reason they did it, we didn’t mind. We didn’t have any Christmas ornaments, so we hung the tinsel that we picked up off the ground on our tree to make it more festive!

4. Do you remember the war ending (Oma – age 6, Opa, almost 5?)

Oma: I remember that only one house had a radio, so all the men would go there to listen. We had known that Germany was losing for a while, so we were relieved when we found out it was finally over. And then the Americans came and they were really nice.

5. What was it like with the Americans occupying your part of Austria (1945-1955, Oma age 6-16, Opa age 5-15)?

Opa: When I was about nine years old, I came home to find an American tank on our farm, with American soldiers standing around it. They motioned to me, saying, “Come here, little boy!” I went up to them, and they politely asked me to go buy them beer in the village. They gave me 100 schillings (approx. $8.00), which was more money that I had ever seen in my life. I took the money, ran to the village and bought the beer for them. But when I got back, the American soldiers and the tank were gone! I waited for them to come back, but days went by and they never returned. This meant that I was left with all of the change from buying the beer – 90 schillings, a lot of money for a nine-year-old boy! I saved the money and eventually bought my first motorcycle using that as my start.

Occupation of Austria. Image Cred: Euromaidan Press

Oma: We actually had two American soldiers staying in our house, as did many other houses in our neighborhood. We were required to give them room and board. But they were really nice. I remember that they loved scrambled eggs – my mom would make it for them every day!

So the people liked the soldiers?

Yes, the Americans were really kind. The soldiers gave us kids chocolate and were always friendly. The people in Linz weren’t as lucky. They were occupied by the Russians, and that’s where you heard horrible stories of how the soldiers treated people.

People of Salzburg greeting U.S. troops.  Image Credit:, Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps

6. What were those post-war years like?

Oma: Times were hard after the war. I remember we would hide bread if we got it so we would have it for later. We also had gray material that we had to make clothes from, and I remember that it was really itchy.

Besides the two American soldiers, we also had some other people staying at our house. A refugee from Czechoslovakia came to our village and ended up moving in with us. His wife and children also eventually came over, and we rearranged so that the family could have one room to themselves. They got more ration cards since they were refugees, and they would share the cards and the food with us. Eventually, they built a house next door to us and moved in there. It’s still standing today!

Anna’s family house in Laiter

We also had a Frenchman staying with us after the war. Both he and the Czech refugee helped around the farm and with the rakes in exchange for their room and board. One day, the Frenchman decided to leave, but I don’t know why. He left behind a letter for my parents to send to his family if he didn’t return. But since he wasn’t legally allowed to have been staying at our house, we were too nervous to send the letter. So we never did.

Opa: We had a Russian farmhand staying at our house after the war. He was very nice and very helpful around the farm.

6 . Moving forward a bit in time, how did you two meet each other (late 1950s)?

Opa: We were 18 or 19 years old. Oma was a waitress in Oberhofen (nearby village) and I came into the restaurant one day.

Oma: Yes, I remember he was sitting over in a corner, and I thought to myself, “Who is that good-looking guy?”

Opa: But nothing really happened right away. We had some group events and we danced with each other at those, and we also went to friends’ houses and spent some time together there.

Sepp and Anna’s wedding day, 1963

7. What were the first years like as a married couple (early 1960s)?

We built our own house that first year, and eventually moved in with our new baby Rosemarie. But when we moved in, the windows on the top floor weren’t installed yet. That was a problem, because our bedrooms were on that top floor. And as our luck would have it, that year was one of the coldest, snowiest winters we had ever seen. Snow kept blowing in our bedroom windows! Needless to say, we very much appreciated having windows that next winter.

Sepp and Anna’s house today, complete with windows!

When we built the house, we knew we eventually wanted to have a bed and breakfast, so we built it with that in mind. Laiter is right on Lake Irrsee and in the famous Salzkammergut region, so we hoped that guests would come from far and wide. We were so excited when we opened the doors in 1965. Our bed and breakfast wasn’t anything sophisticated – we just had one room for the guests, with six beds in the room. We didn’t have a shower, but we did have running water. Not every bed and breakfast had running water at the time, so we were very proud of that. And the tourist office made a special point of advertising that feature as well!

And the guests did come from far and wide! As soon as one car would leave, another car full of vacationers would show up. We had many visitors from Germany and other parts of Austria, but also from Hungary and other parts of Europe – we even had one man come all the way from Uruguay!


                          The guest book for the Schweighofer Bed and Breakfast

Since the guests took up one room, our four daughters slept together in the other. The guests loved our daughters and would often bring them presents. We would have repeat guests over the years, and we grew to have a special relationship with many of them. We would even send each other Christmas cards! Having the bed and breakfast brought us many happy memories and, best of all, many meaningful friendships.

Sepp and Anna’s four daughters, seen with Anna’s parents and two other grandchildren

Author: Today, Anna and Sepp still live in their same house in Laiter, which has also been home to many memories for their own growing family. Complete with four daughters and their significant others, five grandchildren and their significant others and five great-grandchildren (who, at ages 11 and under, have no boyfriends or girlfriends yet!), the family gathers at their beautiful home for every special occasion. As the lone American, I’ve been welcomed into their Austrian family with open arms – although maybe next time  I’l have to follow in the footsteps of my 1940s countrymen and bring them all chocolates! 

Sepp and Anna with their family on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2013 (and yours truly bottom right!)


Fly Soup, German Spies and Stolen Blue Jeans: A Glimpse into the 1930s with Grandma

1931. Herbert Hoover is president. America is in the middle of the Great Depression and in the final years of Prohibition. The Star-Spangled banner is adopted as the national anthem. The Empire State building is completed in NYC. And in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 17, my grandmother Nancy is born. 

Looking back at all these events, 1931 seems like a different world from our fast-paced, technology-laden world of today. With this in mind, I sat down with my grandmother to find out more about her daily life in this seemingly-different era of time.  Below, my questions and her answers. What was it like to grow up in the ’30s and ’40s?

Born 55 years apart, my grandmother (left) and I (right) looked a lot alike as children.

  1. What kinds of things did your family do together when you were young?

On Sundays, we would go and visit grandparents and aunts and uncles. It was usually a Sunday because people worked on Saturdays back then. Some people were off every other Saturday. My dad worked at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company for half a day on Saturdays until they changed their contract to a five-day workweek in 1935.

Nancy (left) and her sisters, 1930s

2. What are your memories of your grandparents (born in 1880s)?

We lived with my step-grandpa for a while when I was little. He would leave tiny milk bottles at my bedroom door in the morning, pretending to be the milkman, and we always really liked that. He babysat for me one time when I was a baby, and back then they thought that you shouldn’t give children fruit until they were older. But one day he had a watermelon and gave me some. That evening, he got in trouble for giving me watermelon, and in the coming years, whenever I started to cry, he said “Hey, didn’t I give you watermelon?” and then I thought, “Oh yes, he did give me watermelon. I shouldn’t cry” and stop.

3. What did you do with your friends when you were a kid (1930s)?

We played games like Red Light Green Light, Swing the Statue, (a kid swung you around and you were supposed to look like the statue they suggested), Rock School, Mother May I and Fly Sheep Fly (the leader (shepherd) would hide all the kids and the person who was “it” would have to go find them, using a map that the shepherd had drawn on the path he had taken to the hiding place). There was also a haunted house up the street during the depression and some hobos lived there. We always heard people there when we were playing. We also liked to catch flies in the abandoned house and then make fly soup, putting the flies in the water and stirring and stirring it.

Nancy is on the bottom right, seen with her sister Pat, half-sister Sondra and cousin Martha

4. Do you remember much about the Depression?

Yes, people didn’t have a lot of things. One kid that we played with had a radio and most people, us included, didn’t have one yet, so all the kids on the block would sit on their front porch to listen to our Saturday shows, like cartoons. The radio was inside and we would listen to it through the windows. No one played inside each other’s houses because the mothers wanted to keep the houses clean. Our favorite radio show was Uncle Ted, which was a show for kids. But he ended up losing his job because one time after he finished his show for the day, he said “That will hold the little monsters for awhile”, not knowing he was still on the air!

1930s Family Listening to Radio

5. What was your house like growing up?

We got a radio before I turned six. We had an icebox and the iceman used to come bring a big block of ice for it every other day. You could ask him for ice on hot days – he would then throw a big piece onto the street to break it and we would eat it. Horses brought the ice wagon and the milk wagon. Before we had a vacuum, we would pour salt on the carpet to get dust out and then sweep the carpet.

6. Why did you go to boarding school and what was it like (1942)?

My mom died when I was a baby, and after a few years with a new step-mother and half-sister, my dad’s second wife ended up leaving for Hollywood to try and become an actress. My dad eventually remarried and his new wife thought it would be good for my sister Pat and I (then aged 13 and 11) to go to boarding school. We hated it. We were allowed to come home on the weekends and every week we would count down the hours until Friday. We had a washbasin next to our beds and we would have to fill it up the night before. Sometimes it was freezing cold and there would be frozen pieces of ice around the washbasin when you went to wash your face in the morning. The bed had a straw mattress and when you got up, you had to turn your mattress over and take your bedding off. Nobody liked it there and everyone was trying to escape. We would help kids smuggle out clothes on Fridays because they weren’t planning on coming back Sunday night and didn’t want to tell the nuns. One Sunday, I went to the show (movies) and ran into a classmate from my old grade school. He said if I stayed until he was ready to leave he would buy me an ice cream cone on the way home (even though it was December!). So I stayed. By the time he was ready to leave, it was dark and everyone was looking for me. They thought I had run away because I didn’t want to go back the boarding school, so, even though that wasn’t my intention at that point, my dad realized how much we hated it and told his new wife that we would be coming back home.

Nancy’s Father, Jim

7. What was the biggest trouble you ever got in?

We did anything to be annoying when we were at boarding school. I purposely tried to get kicked out. I would slide down bannisters and lean on the chairs to tip them forward, which was against the rules. One time, since I knew the nuns read our mail before sending it, I wrote a letter to my dad and said that all the kids hate this school and they’re all going to quit. The nuns came into study hall later that day to get me and send me to the principal. But the principal didn’t punish me – she just said that she didn’t like the school either!

 A 1940s-Style Classroom

8. Did you have any good memories from boarding school?

When the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 1942, we got to walk down to Grand Avenue to buy a soda, which cost a nickel.

9. How did World War II affect your life (age 10-14)?

All males in family that were draft age were gone – all my cousins and uncles. My dad didn’t have to go because he fell under the category of “one surviving parent”. We worked hard. We did newspaper drives, scrap drives and knitted for the Red Cross. Girls in the neighborhood got together on Friday nights and we’d have our meetings and report on what we’d done that week. When we were ten or so, we would also play “spy”.  We spied on anybody that had a German-sounding last name, looking in their windows to see if they were doing anything suspicious. We especially wondered about the shoemaker and the baker…

10. How did you meet Grandpa (1940s)? I met him on a hayride in eighth grade, but just briefly. A few months later, I was walking down the street where he lived and he was out in his front yard, raking leaves. I was really embarrassed because my sister Pat had actually borrowed a pair of his jeans from his older sister Pat, and I had taken those same jeans from my sister to wear that day. So when I walked by him, I was actually wearing his jeans! And he barely knew me! I tried to walk really fast so he wouldn’t see me, but he saw me and said hi. I said hi back  and kept walking as fast as I could. But he wondered who I was and eventually got my number from his sister.  He called me later on and asked me to his high school dance. Then we dated off and on in the following years, becoming exclusive his sophomore year of college.

My Grandfather Don

11. What were the first few years of married life like for you (1950s, living in California due to a navy posting)?

It was fun. No one had a lot of money, though. One time, Grandpa had asked his uncle and and a high-ranking navy friend for dinner, but we didn’t have enough money to buy food for a nice meal. We said a prayer before we went to bed, and planned to pawn our camera for money the next day. However, when we woke up, it was like our prayers had been answered – we went to open our mail box, and found a check from a priest back home – he had sent it to us for a wedding present! We were thrilled and were then able to buy a roast with the money.

Don and Nancy at Their Wedding, 1954

12. What was it like being a navy wife?

Most the officers and navy wives had calling cards. They would come visit you, put their calling card on a silver tray you were supposed to have sitting out for that purpose, and then you were supposed to return the visit and put your calling card in their tray. We didn’t have the money for cards and silver tray, so when the commanding officer came to visit, he put his card in an ash tray. I played bridge with the other navy wives. My best friend was Betty from Chicago. We had a television and they didn’t, so they’d come over and watch shows with us.

Don in his Navy Uniform, 1950s 

Today, Nancy is the matriarch of our extended family, which consists of her ten children, their spouses, twenty-seven grandchildren and even one great-grandchild. Although her days of fly soup-making and shoemaker-spying are long past, her stories live on in the hearts of all her family, inspiring us all to appreciate things like watermelon, vacuums and ice cubes a little bit more. 

Nancy, bottom left, with her entire family in 2015

8 Questions with St. Louis Genealogical Society: The Largest Local Genealogical Society in the USA

When our ancestors set off for America searching for a better life,  they often didn’t know what to expect or even where they would end up. While many stayed near the East Coast, others, the German and Irish in particular, chose to travel inland and make lives for themselves in St. Louis, Missouri. After all, the city and surrounding area offered the Mississippi River for trade, forests for hunting,  land for farming and even hills for wineries.  While I am lucky in knowing who my ancestors were and where they came from (From Germany to Missouri: My Own Family Story), there are many Americans who remain extremely curious about their family history.

This is where St. Louis Genealogical Society comes in. Founded in 1968, StLGS has been guiding people around the world in their genealogical searches for almost 50 years. Below, they offer you some of their very own genealogical expertise and tricks of the trade to help you with your own family search:

The St. Louis Riverfront, 1840

1. What is something most people don’t know about genealogical research?

Most people don’t know that only 10% (or even less!) of existing genealogical records are available on the internet. There are many more records available at churches, libraries, court houses, archives and other such places. So it’s very important not to limit your search to the online world!

2. What is the best advice you could give family historians?

The best advice we can give is to start at the very beginning. By this, we mean that you should confirm your ancestors in America before trying to find your ancestors in their home country hundreds of years ago. Have proof of each generation, starting with your grandparents, then  your great-grandparents, and so on. Many people make the mistake of being too excited and trying to locate their great-great-great-grandfather in Germany as their very first step. However, as there were many similar names throughout history, this can lead to researching the  completely wrong person!

Other advice is to research more than only your direct line. It is amazing how many clues you can find from documents related to siblings and aunts and uncles. Town names, parents’ names, etc. can appear in documents where your direct ancestor may not even be mentioned.

3. What is the best advice you can give family historians who are more experienced in genealogical research?

Review, review, review.  When you started out years ago, you didn’t have the experience you have now. Therefore, it is very beneficial to go back and check your work that you did when you began your family history search. You may have missed something important – a vital clue that could help you unlock a mystery of the past. Confirmation of all your research is also incredibly important.

Making a chronological timeline of everything is another piece of advice we find helpful. It helps to organize your information in a clear and concise way.

4. Can you tell us anything about German genealogy in particular?

Most of the German church books date back to the Reformation (16th century). Prior to the Reformation, there was no need to record names in church books, as everyone was the same religion and  belonged to the parish no matter what. After the Reformation, people were both Protestant and Catholic, so it was necessary to record which people belonged to which church.

5. What are the oldest records available in St. Louis?

As St. Louis was founded in 1764, most of the records begin in 1765.


Records, Records and More Records Available at StLGS

6. What do you think is one of the most challenging aspects of genealogy? How can genealogical societies help family historians with this?

As we stated above, patience seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of genealogy. People are anxious to find ancestors from hundreds of years ago, but this can lead to errors if the more recent ancestors aren’t confirmed first. Genealogical societies can guide people throughout this process and help them find out where and how to locate important documents.

7. What has been one of the most rewarding moments for you at StlGS?

St. Louis Genealogical Society hosted the National Conference last year. We had over 3,000 attendees and 110 volunteers. It was a great week, complete with many workshops and events.

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8. And finally, do you have anything you would like to add about St. Louis Genealogical Society in particular?

St. Louis Genealogical Society is the largest local county-level volunteer-run genealogy society in the US. We have approximately 100 regular volunteers, many of whom come in on a weekly basis to help index, scan and more. We also have about 2,000 members worldwide. We are currently working on our congregation project, collecting records from 1,000+ churches in the St. Louis area in order to place them online for our members. We also work together with the St. Louis County Library and offer free monthly genealogy lectures there,  as well as free classes for our members at our office.


“The Ballroom”, where St. Louis Genealogy Society volunteers are hard at work.

So whether you are delving into the depths of your own Missouri ancestors or are simply interested in the history of the city, the St. Louis Genealogical Society is definitely worth a trip. And if your ancestors never set foot in Missouri, these tips and tricks of the trade from the St. Louis genealogy experts can be applied to ancestry searches all over the world. From all of us, best of luck in your genealogy search!


* For those researching their German ancestry,  StlGS and the St. Louis County Library are offering a discussion meeting on “Missouri’s German Heritage”, led by Dorris Keevin-Franke, on Saturday, July 9, at 10 a.m. in the auditorium at St. Louis County Library Headquarters.

* St. Louis Genealogical Society is open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.  See their website for contact information.

Image Credit:

St. Louis Photo:

All other images are my own.