Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 10 Genealogical Finds of 2017

Photo by Pierce Place

As 2017 comes to a close, I’d like to step back and reflect on what I’ve learned over the past year.  So in my best David Letterman voice, I bring you my seventh (and a half) annual Top 10 genealogical finds of 2017.  You can read my previous years’ discoveries here.  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2012.5  2011

It seems like it’s been a pretty quiet year for me.  I’ve focused on documenting things and less time on actual research and this list validates that.  So my takeaway from this is to get back to researching!

Number 10:  This is a late development and brings me back to my takeaway of researching more since this genealogical find is going to require A LOT of that.  Was my mother’s step father, and the only “Grandpa” I knew on her side, married TWICE before he married my grandmother?  I’d known about Harriet Pease, who I thought was the mother of Robert Melvin Hunter, my mother’s step brother who was killed at Pearl Harbor.  But when I found reference to Lyda Viola Souza, who died in 1920 from tuberculosis at the age of 24, as the “beloved wife of Sheldon A. Hunter”, I knew I needed to add this to my list.  If Lyda died in 1920 and Robert was born in 1918, was she his mother?

Lyda Souza Hunter Obit

Number 9:  Was I finally able to put a name to a previously unnamed face?  Could this handsome man be Earle Norton, an early beau of my grandmother’s?


Number 8:  I was able to put photos all in one place and learned that my ancestors liked cars – who knew?  MACHINES AND ROADSTERS AND CARS

Unknown maybe Sig middle right

Number 7:  I learned a lot about my grandmother’s only sibling, Wilton Louis Gunzendorfer.  I have so many memories of Uncle Wilt but as I’m sure isn’t that different from most kids, it never connected that he was my grandmother’s brother.  Grandmothers had brothers?  And what fun to learn that Wilt wrote a song!  Read about him HERE and HERE.

My beautiful picture
 Loraine (Gunzendorfer) Levy and Wilt Gunzendorfer, c. 1980

Number 6:  I knew my family loved to scrapbook (I don’t have that gene) but I really had no idea of the extent of it until I finally opened up the box of scrapbooks and found this.

Number 5:  As part two of the scrapbooks, I discovered a scrapbook outlining the Levy Family Motoring Trip of 1940.  What fun to read about the trip my dad, his brother, and his parents took from California to Washington and back again.

Number 4:  The total eclipse on August 21 this year was all anyone could talk about for weeks (or probably even years) before hand – special glasses were flying off the shelves and people were traveling hundreds of miles to get the best view.  It occured to me that the previous total eclipse that spanned the country was nearly 100 years before in 1918.  WAIT!  My grandparents were writing letters back and forth during that time and I wondered if they might have “talked” about it with each other – turns out they had!  Eclipse Fever

Number 3:   My Top 10 Genealogical Find of 2015 was having my grandfather’s home movies from 1936-1942 converted to DVD and how wonderful it was to see my ancestors at play.  But I knew there were more as my dad was an avid photographer and besides still photos he liked to take movies.  So we (my siblings and I) took those films and had them converted to DVD – thanks to my brother for spearheading the project.  When they arrived, my husband and I sat down to watch a movie of my life.  What made it particularly fun was that we had music from the time period (1952-1980) playing in the background.  I gotta say – it was an episode from This is Your Life! 

Number 2:  Right as I was celebrating my 6th blogiversary, I connected with a woman in Atlanta who had found my Uncle Rob’s hat!  It turns out my cousin, Rob’s daughter, had given the hat to the Goodwill by mistake and a kind soul bought the hat and found ME so that I was able to get it back in the right hands! 

Robs WW2 Hat

Number 1:  My number 1 genealogical find of 2017 turned out to be a Christmas gift, as well.  One of the first people I connected with when I started this journey nearly 10 years ago was Victoria, a woman who was contributing and editing a book about the Jews of Santa Cruz.  We shared information and she ‘introduced’ me to the author, George Fogelson.  While I didn’t have much new information to share with George, I did share some photos that he seemed interested in and thought he might use in the book.  As part of the research, I was able to learn where my 3x great grandfather was buried (in the same cemetery as my parents!) and other tidbits that I’ve tucked away.

So how excited was I when I went to the post office on Christmas Eve and found this with MY PEEPS MENTIONED AND MY PHOTOS INCLUDED!

There is so much information about my ancestors but a couple of facts I found particularly interesting.
  • In 1860, the population of Santa Cruz was 950 of which 15 were Jewish.  And on that list were my 3x great grandpartents, Hannah (Plotzky) and Joseph Steen, and my 2x great grandparents, Rebecca (Steen) and Louis Schwartz.
  • Rebecca’s sister, Lillie/Lily, was the first documented Jewish child born in Santa Cruz.
  • The Eulogy for Louis Schwartz, delivered by Rabbi Marcus Friedlander of Temple Sinai, was delivered on May 27, 1893 and it is included in the book!
George even signed the book with a personalized message.

So that’s what I’ve been up to in 2017.  24 hours ago I wasn’t sure I could even come up with 10 significant genealogical finds but here I am with 10 plus a few others in reserve.  I’m looking forward to more research in 2018 and hope I can break down a few brick walls to add to my list next year.

Who knew?


  1. What a great year of finds. And, what a fantastic idea to document them. I’ve never thought of doing that. But, I sure will now. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading, Diane. It helps me to realize I have made progress even though at times it seems like I haven't.

  2. I'd love to read more about the scrapbooks.

    1. Ha! You might not find them all that interesting but here's the link to the first one.

  3. You had quite a year. I found myself remembering the stories and saying, “Oh yeah, that was a good story.” Happy New Year!

    1. Happy New Year to you, too, Wendy! I'm excited for both of us to share more stories.

  4. It's been great following your journeys in 2017, and I look forward to where you will be taking us in 2018! Happy New Year, Debi!

    1. Putting this list together had inspired me to continue on this journey. Thanks for following along and Happy New Year!

  5. You've got some real treasures in those scrapbooks, the old home movies and the book (wow). And you've kept up the blogging. I say you've had a good year. Happy 2018!

    1. Thanks for the reminder about blogging - sometimes I feel like no one is listening. Happy New Year, Elizabeth!

  6. What a great list! You had some fantastic genealogy experiences in 2017. I hope 2018 is even better.