Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 10 Genealogical Finds of 2016

Photo by Pierce Place
As 2016 comes to a close, I’d like to step back and reflect on what I’ve learned over the past year.  Unfortunately, I’ve been sluggish when it comes to genealogy this year and haven’t really accomplished much so picking out 10 top things was a bit of a stretch.  I hope to rectify that in 2017.  I did go back and read what I’ve accomplished in years past (it helped a little) so inevent you’re interested in what I’ve done before this year, you can read my past posts.  2015 2014 2013 2012 2011

So in my best David Letterman voice, I bring you my sixth annual Top 10 genealogical finds of 2016.

Number 10:  The book is close to completion!  When I first began this journey, I connected with a woman who was editing a book about the Jews of Santa Cruz and my peeps were included.  Over the last several years we’ve shared information and she’s kept me apprised of the status of the book.  I shared some photos of my family (which I think might just be used) and we even met a few months ago when she was in Seattle for the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.  And just a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the author to say he is hopeful the book will be published in March, 2017.  Be on the lookout for the book Between the Redwoods and the Bay: The Jewish Community of Santa Cruz County.  Stay tuned - I’m hopeful that the completed book will be one of my top 10 finds of 2017.   

Number 9:  Letters.  I know I’ve posted before about the letters I have between my grandparents while they were courting in 1916-1919 – it’s probably something that should be on my Top 10 Finds every year – but this year I felt like I made some headway.  I was able to get all of the letters from my grandmother to my grandfather sorted by date and transcribed and am pretty proud to see one of the boxes (there’s another one just like this) looking so organized.  And to know I have the words transcribed and saved in several places makes me really, really happy – even though there are 253 pages in 11 point font!

I did get started on organizing and transcribing the letters he wrote back to her but I still have a LONG way to go.  Maybe I should be blogging about my goals for 2017 and put that on the top of the list?

Number 8:  Revisiting the Copper King Mine.  It’s always fun to read about the history of a particular place from someone who was there, but even more fun when that ‘someone’ is your great grandfather!  Read the article HERE  Not only did my great grandfather, Edward Fitzgerald, work in the mine but he and my great grandmother actually spent their honeymoon there.  

Number 7:  I found a mini photo album.  Once again, my packrat grandmother has amazed me with the things she kept throughout her lifetime. 


Take a look HERE.  It’s a small look into life at the turn of the 20th century.  I love all photos but seeing my ancestors doing “normal” things is just so rewarding and a real glimpse into the past.

girl at doghouse  
Number 6:  The mystery of Harry Meals.  

Harry Meals Headstone

Yep, that’s right.  The headstone for Harry Meals, the husband of my husband’s great aunt.  Doesn’t look like much of a mystery here but after delving in a bit deeper, it turns out Harry Meals was, at one time, known as Charles Biesel.

Charles Biesel Interment

After blogging about him HERE, several readers gave me some suggestions on how to proceed.  And after requesting and receiving his SS-5 form, I promptly put it aside and DID NOTHING WITH IT.  Note to self:  Put this on the top of the pile for things to do in 2017.

Number 5:  Finding the Diploma of Graduation from the Grammar School of Monterey from 1911 for my grandmother, Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer.

After spending a few years in my garage – not even in a box – I stumbled across this and realized what I had.  It prompted me to search through some other things which helped me discover her autograph book from about the same time frame.  You can read about it HERE

Number 4:  There were photo booths in the late 1800’s.  While I can’t be sure these photos were actually from a photo booth, it looks possible to me.  But the best part is seeing my grandfather and his brothers as young kids.

Levy Brothers c1898

Number 3:  Photos, photos, photos!  A cousin of my husband whom I had recently connected with filled my e-mail inbox with photos of my husband’s paternal grandfather and his family.  It is amazing to me how you can know someone from the last years of their life and when you see a photo of them as a child, you know them instantly.  It was nice to take a Time Out and document these new finds – I particularly love this photo of his paternal grandfather, Herman Paul Ast, and Herman’s sister, Bertha Ast.

Ast, Herman and Bertha abt 1900

Number 2:  Aunt Charlotte.  Because of #9 above, I’ve been able to learn so many details of my grandparents’ lives, and even the lives (and deaths) of their families.  We all hope for these details and pray that one day we will discover first hand accounts of what our ancestors were doing on a daily basis.  And, in some cases that actually happens.  It sure hits home when you read the personal story about a victim of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, especially when it my grandmother’s Aunt Charlotte.

Number 1:  COUSINS!  This should be in my Top 10 finds every year!  What struck me this year is now that I have connected with cousins, and continue to connect with more, I’m also reminded how short life is and how loved ones come in and out of our lives.  While I found a new cousin – his great grandmother and my grandmother were sisters – I also lost one of the cousins I have met because of my blog.  I loved getting to know her and loved the family connection we shared.  For someone who has one surviving first cousin (out of two), I’m overwhelmed with just how many cousins I actually do have.  Read about my lost cousin HERE

It’s been a quiet year but I am pleased that I was able to add to this blog as my goal has been to document things for future generations.  While genealogy typically has us focused on the past I’m going to take this opportunity to focus on the future and what I still have ahead of me.  Onward!


  1. I'm with you on #6 -- makes my head hurt to try to imagine what made those name changes take place. Baffles me!!

    1. Our task for 2017 is to figure this out!

  2. Looks to me like you've done just fine in 2016. Keep up the good work in 2017!

    1. I guess something is better than nothing but I wish I'd done more.

  3. It doesn't seem like a quiet year to me! That's quite a bit. I hope 2017 brings you lots of new discoveries and interesting challenges.

    1. I hope so, too, Amy. I don't want to have to struggle to list my accomplishments next year.

  4. I enjoyed reading this review and being reminded of some of your wonderful stories like the Charlotte stories - one of my favorites.

  5. I love reading your top 10 list. It really shows what an amazing year you've had. I just posted my top 10, too, but realized I forgot to add all the PHOTOS I discovered my dad has! And other cousins! Photos are one of the highlights of genealogy, and I'm so thankful to those who have kept them and are willing to share!