Genealogical Crime Mysteries – A New Genre

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I have been involved in genealogical research for about 25 years. For the last half dozen years, I have been using DNA testing to find relatives. I also enjoy reading detective novels.

When I set out to write this review of The Chester Creek Murders, by Nathan Dylan Goodwin, I discovered that there is a Facebook Group called the Genealogical Crime Mystery Book Club. Goodwin is one of the founding members. More about that later.

I had read several of Goodwin’s previous books featuring Morton Farrier, a British genealogical researcher in The Forensic Genealogist Series.

Now he has kicked off a new series called the Venator Cold Case series, with The Chester Creek Murders as book No. 1. Here is the official blurb that introduces this just-published book:

“When Detective Clayton Tyler is tasked with reviewing the formidable archives of unsolved homicides in his police department’s vaults, he settles on one particular cold case from the 1980s: The Chester Creek Murders. Three young women were brutally murdered—their bodies dumped in Chester Creek, Delaware County—by a serial killer who has confounded a slew of detectives and evaded capture for over thirty-eight years.

“With no new leads or information at his disposal, the detective contacts Venator for help, a company that uses cutting-edge investigative genetic genealogy to profile perpetrators solely from DNA evidence.

“Taking on the case, Madison Scott-Barnhart and her small team at Venator must use their forensic genealogical expertise to attempt finally to bring the serial killer to justice. Madison, meanwhile, has to weigh professional and personal issues carefully, including the looming five-year anniversary of her husband’s disappearance.”

Venator operates out of an office just down the street from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As you might imagine, Maddy and her staff pay visits to the Library in the course of working on their cold case projects.

Detective Tyler brings to them a DNA profile collected from the three cold cases. There is no match in CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), so the Venator team has to match the DNA results to DNA profiles available on AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and Gedmatch to find possible matches. Then they build family trees from the matches to find common ancestors and add descendants from these common ancestors.

The book offers insights into forensic/genetic genealogy practices. The Venator staff use FamilySearch.org to conduct searches and refer to the FamilySearch Wiki to learn what records are available for different localities around the country. They check several sources to build profiles of the people in the family trees they are building, such as social media, BeenVerified.com, Classmates.com, Newspapers.com, and even microfilm at the FHL.

Finally, they determine who was in the locations in southeastern Pennsylvania at the time of the murders. All this work pays off when they identify a likely perpetrator and Detective Tyler is able to find conclusive evidence during a home search and make the arrest.

I read The Chester Creek Murders over a two-day period. And I am looking forward to Goodwin’s next book in this series. He suggests some questions involving the staff at Venator that could be answered in the next book and hints at cases to come.

In addition to Goodwin, the FB Group features authors MJ Lee, Stephen Molyneux, and Wendy Percival. The group aims to promote the growing genre of genealogical crime mystery books and to encourage general discussion around the books, stories, and their authors. It is free to join if you are interested.

King Charles and the Western Reserve

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Under normal circumstances, I do not pay much attention to the royalty in the United Kingdom or any other realm. But when Prince Charles ascended to the British throne as King Charles III upon the death of his mother a few weeks ago, I was reminded about the involvement of another King Charles in the development of the Western Reserve.

King Charles II granted a Royal Charter to the Colony of Connecticut in 1662. The charter granted land to the colony extending westward from the Atlantic Ocean across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean. During the organization of what became the United States of America the rights to the westward land owned by Connecticut was reduced to what became known as the Connecticut Western Reserve, which in turn became 10 counties and parts of five more in the northeastern corner of the State of Ohio.

So is King Charles III a blood descendent of King Charles II? With the information available today on the internet, it is relatively easy to learn about any such relationship.

According to the line of succession provided by Wikipedia (Family tree of British monarchs), Charles III does descend from Charles II through 11 generations, but not directly. There are some sideways relationships in which the direct descendent died before assuming the throne and the crown passed to a siblings. In one case, the sideways accession involved four royals.

To see this line of succession, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_British_monarchs

The official website for the monarchy of Great Britain is at https://www.royal.uk/royal-family. This website offered up a fascinating look at the life of Charles II. For this report, go to https://www.royal.uk/charles-ii

If you are interested, a Google search will lead to many other websites with additional insights into the royal family of Great Britain information,

I Found Myself in the 1950 Census

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Today, April 1 2022, is the release day for the 1950 U.S. Census. Images of the enumeration pages were released by the U.S. Census Bureau in the early morning hours. I wasn’t one of the super enthusiasts who probably stayed up to access the census when it went live, but I did access it by 11 am. I glad I did.

I found it to be user friendly. It was simple to use with fairly unique names and for known places. And using it is completely free. To use it go here.

In brief, this is what makes it work: There is a name and place index that was generated by some sort of advanced optical character recognition software developed to “read” handwriting whether printing or cursive. From my short experience today, I am impressed with its accuracy.

I was able to find myself and my family by entering the search terms, Ohio and Ashtabula County, and the name Huskonen, Walfrid (my father’s name). The indexing took me to the proper enumeration page for South Main Street in Andover where I found Dad, Mom, my sister Viena, my brother Walfrid, and me. I did have to scroll down the page a bit to find us. Our southern property line was at the southern border of Andover Village, so to see our neighbors in Andover Township, I had to go to another Enumeration District to search for families I remembered by name or for pages to scroll through.

For other relatives in Ashtabula County, I went to the Enumeration District for Williamsfield Township, the next towhship south of Andover Township. By searching or scrolling, I was able to find my uncle Hugh Huskonen and his family living on a farm in the western part of the township. In the eastern part of the township, I found my uncle Wallace Dingman and his family.

I did find a bit of new information from my family’s listing: my father earned just over $5000 in the previous 12 months. I knew that he was working as a patternmaker for a brass foundry, and that was confirmed by the enumeration. This tidbit of extra information was provided because when he was enumerated, he was recorded on Line 13, which was designated as a Sample Line. Extra questions were asked by the enumerators for people who fell on the sample lines.

This was the second census that I found myself in, the first being the 1940 Census, when my father, mother, and I lived with my grandmother, Grace Tripp, on West Main St. in Andover.

I plan to do considerable additional research in the 1950 Census in the days ahead.

Our Connections with Ukraine

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Watching the news coverage of Putin’s War against Ukraine has reminded me of what my late wife Mary Jane said some 60 years ago about teaching elementary music at Thoreau Park Elementary School on W 54th St. in Parma, Ohio. She said that her music room was converted most Saturdays into a classroom for area students to learn to speak Ukrainian. The school district has built several new elementary schools since MJ’s teaching days, but Thoreau Park remains as one of Parma School District’s eight elementary schools. (For info on elementary schools in Parma, including Thoreau Park, go here: https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/elementary-schools/ohio/parma-city-108306

Another reminder popped up in my news feed The Wakeup published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This was presented with the headline: CNN visits Parma and Ukrainian Village; city prepares for expected refugees.

Parma City Hall showing support of Ukraine
Utrainian flag flying over Parma, Ohio, city hall.

For this news item, go here: https://www.cleveland.com/community/2022/03/cnn-visits-parma-and-ukrainian-village-city-prepares-for-expected-refugees.html?e=fe5c4b9a9bba9369bcee575d529f5247&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter_wake_up%202022-03-17&utm_term=Newsletter_wake_up

Some facts gleaned from this report:

• Parma has a Ukrainian ethnic community identified as Ukarinian Village. People involved are collecting donations of money and goods for Ukrainian relief. With some additional research I found this website: https://ukrainianvillageparma.org/

• Parma has some 4,000 residents who identify with Ukrainian ethnicity.

• An important place of worship for Ukrainians in Parma is St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral on State Road. Over the years, I have driven by this church countless times without knowing its importance to Parma residents. Wikipedia.org has this entry with a photo and map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St.Josaphat_Ukrainian_Catholic_Cathedral(Parma,_Ohio)

1950 Census — The Biggest Yet!

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The countdown is nearing its end until the 1950 Census is available for genealogists and family historians to search. According to the “72-Year Rule,” the National Archives releases census records to the general public 72 years after Census Day. As a result, the 1930 census records were released April 1, 2002, and the 1940 records were released April 2, 2012. The 1950 census records will be made available on April 1, 2022.

According to Ancestry.com, over 151 million people were recorded in the 1950 census (that’s 14% more than in 1940), and about 30 million of those were age 9 and under, appearing in a census for the first time.

I well remember my excitement leading up to the release of the 1940 census because I knew that I would make my first appearance in a census enumeration. Sure enough, there I was as a 2 year old living with my father and mother in the house owned by my maternal grandmother on West Main Street in Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio.

For the 1950 census, I will be able to see the listing for our family in our house on South Main Street in Andover, including my sister and brother for the first time.

I will be interested in looking at the residences along South Main and East Main Streets because I delivered the Ashtabula Star Beacon along these streets six days a week at that time.

Initially, I will have to search out the enumeration districts for these Andover streets and scroll through the census pages because there will be no searchable index available until later, probably mid or late summer.

As I understand it, new technology is being utilized to create a draft index of names and places and then volunteers will proofread the draft to create the searchable index. This proofing effort is being undertaken by volunteers working with the National Genealogical Society, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch.org.

Finding Your Roots for 2022 To Premiere Jan. 4

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I just learned the details of Season 8 of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and I’m looking forward to watching every one of the 10 episodes. The series is set to premiere in January 2022 on PBS. Locally, it will appear on WCLV PBS IdeaStream.

The 10-episode series will feature 21 guests, including actors Amy Carlson (Blue Bloods), Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Tony Danza, Raúl Esparza (Law & Order: SVU), Kathryn Hahn (Wandavision), Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Passing), Nathan Lane, John Leguizamo, Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), and Melissa Villaseñor (Saturday Night Live); filmmakers Lee Daniels and Damon Lindelof; fashion legend André Leon Talley; journalist Erin Burnett; talk show and radio host Mario Lopez; restaurateur David Chang; and activists Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Anita Hill.

To see trailers for the upcoming season, go to https://www.pbs.org/video/season-8-official-preview/

Andrew Betts and His Two Wives Named Catherina/Catherine

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My fourth great grandfather was Andrew Betts, born about 1755 and died in 1823. I have attended Betts family reunions in the past and we often visited his grave marker in the State Line (Betts) Cemetery near Jamestown, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. That gravestone states that his wife was Catherine Sherbondy. I recently received a message through Ancestry.com messaging pointing out the error in the common belief that this Catherine was the mother of Andrew’s children, including my third great grandfather also named Andrew. I am sharing below the argument that Jeffrey Sherbondy, of the Sherbondy Family Association, makes that the mother of Andrew’s children was another Catherine, maiden name unknown. In his argument, he uses the given names Catherine and Catherina to refer to both women. Since receiving this message and evaluating his evidence, I have corrected my main family tree on Ancestry.com to include two wives for Andrew Betts.

Here is the message from Jeffrey (with very slight editing):

Genealogical research is not an exact science. With old records (before 1900), there are often errors or irregularities. Many of those records were not created with the intention that they would be used over 200 years later. Standardization was not set up and accuracy was not monitored. For that reason, it is important when using old records that you do not rely on one source alone for your conclusions.

On the other hand, old records and records that were created, recorded, and/or transcribed at the time of the event are more reliable for genealogical evidence than records created later.

You must collect all of the information possible from the time period and the location and look at everything in its entirety (the “whole picture”). Each piece must be assembled and put together to see how everything fits together. One document or piece of evidence may then stand out as being inconsistent with the other documents. That document may have an error. Only then, after taking into consideration the date each record was created compared to the event and the consistency with other information, can you reach a proper conclusion.

One example of this is the birth date of Melcher Sherbondy per the census of 1850. Per his age of 86, his birth year would be 1764. However, according to the census of 1830, the census of 1840, and the church birth records, his birth year is known to be 1769 (Jan).

Now let’s look at Andrew Betts’ life.

Andrew Betts’ birth year is confirmed to be approximately 1755 according to a baptism record from 19 May 1771 and per the 1800 and 1810 census records. Some records show his birth to be 12 July 1755 but I have not seen a copy of that record. Also on the 1800 and the 1810 census is a female of the approximate (b 1756-1765) same age as Andrew. This would be Andrew’s FIRST wife. Andrew’s first wife’s name is first found in the birth and christening records of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manheim, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These records for the birth of Christian and Emanual in 1779 and 1781 show the names of the parents as Andr. Bez and Catharina. This is the first evidence of Andrew’s first wife’s name. They had other children born from 1783 to 1797 and perhaps two who died young before and after these. Perhaps someone has more detailed church records for all of Andrew and Catharina’s children.

During the time that Andrew and Catharina’s children were born, Anna Catherina Cherpantier was born, daughter of Johann Cherpantier and Maria Catherina. She was born on 9 May 1784 and baptized on 6 June 1784 at Christ Church, Hamilton Square, Hamilton Township, Northampton County (now Monroe County), Pennsylvania. This proves conclusively that there were two Catherine’s during the time that Andrew’s children were born from 1777-1797.

In the 1800 and 1810 census records, there are females in different households that account for both of these Catherine’s. In the 1800 census for Andrew Betts, the female aged 26-44 is his first wife, Catharina. In the 1810 census for Andrew, the female over age 45 is also his first wife Catharina. At the same time, in the 1800 census for Melcher Sherbondy, the female aged 10-15 is Catherine Sherbondy, sister of Melcher. The census takers would have come near the beginning of the year, before May 1800, so her age would have been 15 at the time of the census. This year (1800) was only one year after the death of their father, John Sherbondy. Catherine and her brother, John, b. 1780, were living with their older brother Melcher at the time. All other family members of the Melcher household were accounted for in the 1800 census. In the 1810 census for Melcher Sherbondy, the female aged 16 to 25 is Catherine Sherbondy, sister of Melcher. Once, again, the census takers would have come near the beginning of the year, before May, 1810, so her age would have been 25 at the time of the census. All other family members of the Melcher household were accounted for in the 1810 census. This proves once again that there were two Catherine’s at the same time in 1800 and 1810.

Andrew’s first wife Catherine is not on any other records after the census of 1810. Andrew’s first wife Catherine must have died after 1810. In the Crawford County History, published in 1899, it states that Andrew Betts married “Miss Shibondi” in the “dawn of the century”. In the “dawn of the century,” would be after 1800, and since both Catherines are accounted for up to 1810, he must have married Catherine Sherbondy sometime around 1810-1815, and possibly as late as 1820. Catherine Sherbondy Betts is not shown on any documents until March 1820 when she signs a land sale with Andrew. She is also not on any documents after 1820 and some records show that she died in 1820.

Life was tough in Pennsylvania during this era. Catherine Sherbondy’s grandparents’ (Phillip and Eva Catherine Bossard) family was attacked and some killed by Indians in the 1750s. There was great reluctance to leave populated areas. If Andrew’s first wife died, he needed someone to help care for his children and she needed someone to provide her a living. This marriage may have been out of necessity.

In 1999, a memorial plaque was erected commemorating Andrew Betts and Catherine Sherbondy. This was approximately 245 years after the birth of Andrew’s first wife. It states Andrew Betts dates as 1755-1823. It also states Catherine Sherbondy Betts dates as 1755-1820. The donor, Ellis Royal Higgins, was not aware of the birth records for Anna Catherina Cherpantier from 1784 (found in 2006 and also was not aware of the two women accounted for on the census records of 1800 and 1810. The conclusion is that the memorial has two errors: 1) the birth date of Catherine Sherbondy is not 1755 and 2) Catherine Sherbondy Betts is not the mother of Andrew Betts’ children.

There may be key information that we will never know and, as is often the case, there may be undiscovered documents that turn up later with new information.

Please feel free to share this with other relatives.
Jeffrey D. Sherbondy
Sherbondy Family Association
www.sherbondy.org
Dec 2021

I Just Entered the Million-Dollar Lottery for Vaccinated Ohioans

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I just signed up for Ohio’s Vax-A-Million lottery to promote vaccinations in the state. It was really quick and easy. Took about 3 min to fill in the required info. Now I will be eligible for one of five drawings for $1 million each in the coming weeks. If you live in Ohio, are vaccinated, and want to opt in to participate, go here: https://ohiovaxamillion.com/

Note: The signup website went live at 8 am Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The result of the first drawing will be announced May 26. The drawing actually will be held on May 24, allowing the Ohio Lottery Commission to confirm the eligibility of the winner.

More on eligibility: Permanent Ohio residents who are 18 years and older and have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine by the Sunday before the weekly Wednesday drawing are eligible to enter the lottery. The state determines permanent residency using the same requirements that it uses for issuing an Ohio driver’s license or eligibility to vote. The state also will check institution/pharmacy records to confirm the actual vaccinations.

I offer this selfie to show that I got my first Pfizer vaccination on January 27, 2021. I got the second vaccination on February 17.

Will I win a million bucks? Obviously I don’t know. But I will have five chances. The winners will be announced on May 26, June 2, June 9, June 16, and June 23.

A similar drawing will be held for “full-ride” funding for children 17 and under to attend a Ohio state university.

The Ohio Department of Health provides details in this announcement: https://odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/media-center/odh-news-releases/odh-news-release-05-17-21

Vesanto, my grandparents home town in Finland, is 150 today

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Vesanto residents celebrated the municipality's 150th birthday today: May 14, 2021. Vesanto became an independent municipality on May 14, 1871.

Due to the corona virus situation, a small group gathered at the municipal marina and beach by Lake Vesantojärvi for speeches, group singing, and a poetry reading by school children. In addition the event was streamed online to homes, cottages, and elsewhere for virtual viewing.

The celebration ceremony is available on Youtube. If you are interested, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pDvC_4NSew. Sorry, the titles and audio all are in Finnish.

Thanks to my cousin Matti Kiiskinen for alerting me about this event held just hours ago in Finland. It just goes to show you what can be achieved by modern technology.

Another Youtube production prepared for the 150th celebration presents 150 snapshots from Vesanto over the years. It is set to a very nice stereo sound track. Here is this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB4kr2hNuLk

I visited Vesanto in 1999 and in 2018. During the second visit, I was able to meet many cousins. It was a memorable time for me.

Having Fun with Green Screen in Zoom

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In a former life, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I operated an audio-visual production company, As a result of that experience, I have been fascinated by the possibilities of using “green screen” technology (sometimes referred to as chroma key compositing) to achieve a composite video or photo. This technology makes it possible to put a subject (such as me in my Zoom casting) in front of a separate, even distant vista. The technology enables a weather person in a TV studio to stand in front of a giant weather map. The map actually is a computer graphic that is composited with the video of the weather person. Its all done by the studio software.

Today, I participated in a very educational genealogy meeting hosted on the Zoom platform by the Northeast Ohio Computer Assisted Genealogy group. The presenter was Rick Crume, contributing editor with Family Tree Magazine. His view incorporated a beach scene, even though he was Zoom casting from northwestern Minnesota.

I am proud of my use of the green screen feature in Zoom for this meeting. I put myself in front of a landscape photo taken in a birch forest in Finland. My paternal grandparents immigrated from Finland early in the 20th century and I did a heritage tour there in 2018. The view I used was very representative of what I saw moving from one city to another during that trip. It also reminded me of the landscape in Michigan’s upper peninsula during my trips there to attend FinnFest USA.

To be able to share the result more broadly, I also learned how — this afternoon — to take a screen shot of my Zoom image and save it to my PC. Here is is:

I participate in Zoom meeting from my computer room, which I must admit looks rather cluttered. As a background my computer room is not as nice as the backgrounds we see remote broadcasts today: nicely arranged kitchens, living rooms, or libraries. With the green screen technology built into Zoom, I avoid the appearance of being disorganized.

I am using the free personal version of Zoom. It permits me to experiment with the platform’s features. And I can even host small meetings of my own.

World Pandemic Declared 1 Year Ago Today

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 coronavirus had reached world pandemic levels. Soon every thing in the United States was shut down.

Two days before that I drove out to Fairport Harbor in Lake County to give an in-person presentation entitled “Where’s Otto: How the Internet Helped Track Down 10 Members of an Immigrant Family.” My subject was the Nikkari family that immigrated from Finland in four voyages over 15 months in 1903 and 1904. I was speaking to about 40 Finnish-Americans at the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor. There were some comments among the attendees about the outbreak of this mysterious disease. As it turned out, there hasn’t been a monthly meeting of the Heritage Museum membership since then.

That event enables me to remember the date precisely when the pandemic shut everything down.

Another memorable event was being able to get appointments for my vaccine shots. Ohio residents of 80+ years of age qualified for vaccinations beginning on January 19, 2021. On the following Monday I was notified by the Cleveland Clinic that I qualified for a Covid 19 vaccination. I immediately signed up for an appointment for January 27.

I had to drive 30 miles to the Medina Hospital in the Cleveland Clinic system, one of the few Clinic facilities that I had not visited before. Between my health appointments and services, and those for my late wife, M.J., we had visited most of the Clinic facilities in Northeast Ohio.

Once at the hospital, I found everything well organized and I moved quickly through the process. With check-in, the actual vaccination, a 15-min timed wait to make sure there was no adverse reaction, and time spent scheduling the second vaccination, it only took about 45 minutes.

That week’s vaccination program was a continuation for Group 1b in Ohio, including health care workers and people over 80 years of age, which as I mentioned actually began a week before.

Here I am in a selfie with my mask and my vaccination record card.

I got my second shot of the Pfiser vaccine on February 17 at the same Medina hospital.

I consider myself lucky. I have not felt the effects of the pandemic personally, although I do know a few people who have had Covid 19 and recovered.

That is in drastic contrast to the almost 30 million confirmed cases of Covid 19 that have occurred in the United States — and the over 532,000 deaths.

My daughter is a teacher in New York state and she has been vaccinated. We are waiting for my son to be notified that he can schedule an appointment since people over 50 are now eligible to be vaccinated in Ohio.

I think back to my maternal grandfather who died in the spring of 1920 at the age of 39 after a prolonged illness. The cause of death on his death certificate was “unknown” because the pronouncing physician hadn’t treated him. But it may have been that he was a late victim of the Flu Pandemic of 1918. I’ll report on his circumstances in another post.