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The Daily Dig

When I was little I thought that being an archaeologist would be a really neat thing to do. Then I learned about how much math and science was needed and being hot, dirty, frustrated and tired and decided maybe archaeology wasn’t for me. What I didn’t realize then was how many different ways there were to do historical research.

kids in yard

Now that I am older and completely fascinated with genealogy, I am feeding that enthusiastic archaeologist child in me with digging in my families’ historical dirt. I have been scanning glass slides that my great great photographer grandmother, Mrs. West, took, digging for clues to her life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She adored her grandchildren, especially the ones that lived locally, which is evident in the number and creativity of the slides including them.

One photo stood out to me, begging for location identification. There were the grandchildren, playing in the front yard of a house, in what I was guessing was Bradford, Pennsylvania.

294 e main 2015 across street

I looked up the address of the children’s mother and entered it into Google earth. From the street view, I located the address and looked across the street to see if the houses matched the ones in the photograph. I had found the location, even though a couple of the houses had been torn down and a street inserted, three of the five houses still stood in the same place.294 e main 2015

I spun the Google street view around to see where the children would have been standing. With my mother’s memory of her grandmother’s house, we had the location. Even the electric pole was still in the same spot as it was in 1907, 108 years ago. From Mom’s memory, even the yellow paint on the enclosed sun porch has never been changed through all of the owners of the house. The sidewalk has been changed from wood to concrete and a railing added to the steps to the street.


She must have taken the photo from the enclosed sun porch of her daughter-in-laws house from the angle of the photograph, I can’t match the buildings exactly using the Google earth image..

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Mount Alton School, 1912, Lafayette, Pennsylvania

Documents and photos scatter repeatedly with the death of each generation. What was once a treasured bit of history becomes an unknown piece of historical data tossed in the bottom of a drawer, eventually to be thrown away in a housecleaning.

Leah Van Houtte, top row on right Amos Van Houtte, front row, second on left John Van Houtte, front row, second on left

I remember it being suggested that I write the names of classmates down on the back of school photos. I also remember thinking, why that was necessary, I know who they are and could name them all off. Looking back now, 45 years later, no one seems to remember who that one little blonde in the photo was or that shy looking kid in the back.

I have been gathering information for a family book on my Van Houtte ancestors. I asked my cousins if they had any photos that I could include in the book. One cousin shared with me a photo of the Mt. Alton School children in 1912. The Mt. Alton School was located in Lafayette, Pennsylvania, an area now that is dominated by the Bradford Regional Airport. Property that my great grandfather owned is now a part of the airport property. My grandfather, great uncle and great aunt are in the photo, along with 30 other nameless children.

I am pretty sure among those children are the children of Peter DePrater. Peter was my great grandfather’s sponsor. The DePraters were from Belgium and had lived in Tourcoing, France, where my great grandmother’s family also had lived. Immigrants had to have someone state side that would be responsible for them and their integration into America. Peter and his wife Adele had been living in Pennsylvania for almost 15 years before my great grandfather and his family decided to try their luck in the United States. Peter and Adele would have 11 children, 8 of which were born in New York or Pennsylvania.

Of the 11 children, there is a great possibility that five of the DePrater children could be in this picture. Mary Margaret, 14 years old, Victor, 12 years old, Madeline, 10 years old, Fanny, 8 years old and Anna at 5 years.

Leah Van Houtte, top row on right
Amos Van Houtte, front row, second on left
John Van Houtte, front row, second on right

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And the Wall Came Tumbling Down

I have been looking into my Siffrinn line for years. I have poked, prodded, scratched, looked over and under and around and been wrong many more times than I have been right. My father knew even less than I did about his mother’s family and where his grandfather came from.

I wondered all along if the spelling of the name had been changed and that was the problem I was having. No matter what I entered, Siffrinn or Siffrin, in the ancestry search, I only came up with the relatives I knew and some optional spelling of the last name as Siegfried or Sifferman.

Persistence has paid off. I didn’t realize that the day I found the marriage record information for William Siffrinn to his sister-in-law Caroline Everhard Siffrinn I had the key to break the wall. With the names of his parents and his birth date I would be able to make the bridge from the USA to Germany and relatives.

I have been finding more information on family members on family search, building out Louis and Caroline Siffrinn’s children’s birth order. I was also able to fill in Caroline’s siblings and parents. It was then I decided to try another search on Louis and William’s parents on ancestry that finally results for the family showed up. There was the Siffrinn (Siffrin) line from Louis and William to their father, Johann, Grandfather Johannes, Great grandfather Jakob, and Great-great grandfather Philipp, taking the line back to the mid-1700s.

The only difference in the last name when arriving to the states was the addition of an “n” to the last name. It seems that the name may have started as Siveri at some point years ago. I noticed it listed as an optional spelling in the other genealogies of the Siffrin line. I would be interested in knowing more about the spelling variation.

I noticed in the details of my 6th great grandfather Philipp, he was a glassmaker, as was my 5th great grandfather Jakob. My second great grandfather was also a Glassblower and worked in Norristown, Pennsylvania at a glass factory. My great grandfather started out as a Glassblower and later became a painter and paperhanger.

After my first marriage, we bought a beautiful house in the country that had been built around the time of the Great Depression. The original family was well off and the house was decorated in the finest manner of the time. All of the rooms were wallpapered and the floor covered in a custom made rug over beautifully finished oak hardwood floors. The wallpaper hadn’t been touched since the day it was put up and it was showing wear. We began tearing it off. As I worked my way around the living room and reached the fireplace I noticed hand writing on the wall. My great grandfather had wallpapered the house, it was his signature was on the wall.

From the trees that I found I noticed that my 3rd great grandfather and all of his siblings were born in Schoeneck, Lothringen, France. Their father was born in Ehlingen, Saarland, Germany, but their mother was born in Schoeneck, Lothringen, France also and they were married in Forbach, Lothingen, France. Previously the Siffrin line was in Ehlingen, Friedrichsthal, and Bildstock Germany. My 2nd great grandfather was born in Merchweller and documents show that my great grandfather and his brother William were born in Stolberg, Germany.

The family seemed to be used to moving a lot. I found a new address for them every two years while members were living in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Even though Philadelphia and Kane, Pennsylvania are at opposite sides of the state and a five hour trip on paved highways today, an unimaginable trip in the late 1880s early 1900s, many of them moved multiple times between the cities.

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Grandpa Delivered Groceries

I remember my grandfather, Chester Davis West telling stories about delivering groceries. He would tell about how he wasn’t suppose to go inside the pesthouses, but would walk up to the door and straight into the kitchen to place the groceries on the table. The pesthouses were places where people sick with tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox or typhus would go to get well. At one point an old schoolhouse was used as the local Bradford pesthouse. Starting around 1918 Grandpa delivered groceries driving the Spencer Grocery horse and wagon.


By the 1920s the horse and wagon was to be replaced with a 1920s Dodge Screenside Delivery Truck. The pictures of the delivery vehicles turned up in a batch of photos that my mother had never seen. They must have been Grandpa’s private stash of  photo memories before he married my Grandmother. A couple of photos of a very young her were tucked in the mix.


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Massachusetts Town and Vital Records on

My Burgess line goes back predating the arrival of the Pilgrims to Thomas Burgess, born in England in 1601 and died in Massachusetts in 1685. My connection to the Pilgrim’s would come when Joseph Burgess, great grandson of Thomas Burgess, would marry Thankful Snow, great granddaughter of Pilgrim, Nicholas Snow.

Many of the spouses of my Burgess line have been documented with the exception of Benjamin Strong Burgess and his two wives, Laura and Jeannette H. Recently released the Massachusetts Town and Vital records for 1620 – 1988. Included in the digitized documentation is the marriage intent and marriage license for Benjamin S. Burgess and Laura Britton.


According to the documentation Benjamin and Laura were living in Springfield, Massachusetts and married September 14, 1836.


Below the annotation for Benjamin and Laura is the marriage of Martha A. Chapin and Joel K. Bliss for September 19, 1878. Martha is related to me through Levi Chapin, who is my 5th great grandfather. Levi’s daughter Rebecca married Benjamin Shepard Burgess, father of Benjamin Strong Burgess.

Below Martha and Joel is the marriage record for Joseph Chapin and Sophronia Jenks. Joseph was Martha’s brother. He and Sophronia were married September 20, 1839.

Further search revealed records for:

Freeman E. Burgess and Theresa Small, Apr 15, 1831, Harwich, Massachusetts

Reuben Burgess and Anna Brooks, Apr 17, 1831, Harwich, Massachusetts

Eliza Swift Burgess and Nathan B Gibbs, Jul 31 (1843), Springfield, Massachusetts

Elijah Burgess and Betsey Wing, their children’s birth records

Stephen Burgess and Sarah White, their children’s birth records

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Indexing Surprise

I have been indexing 1940 Census records as a volunteer on Family Search. Most of the records don’t cause me to pause and look for more information except for this one today. As I keyed in information I noticed something for the first time. The female was listed as  Head of the family and her husband was still living. This was the first time I was typing into the index the word Husband.

By this time my curiosity was peaked and I scrolled to the right on the image to see  what was the reasoning behind the order of the household listed. There on the occupation line was listed, Judge, County Court. Her full name is Hon. Lois Mary Downs McBride. She was born about 1891 and was 49 years old in 1940 when the Census was taken. She lived just outside of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. She was appointed judge June 5, 1934 of the County Court of Allegheny Countyand on November 4, 1934 she was elected to the same office for a 10 year term. has completed posting all of the states for browsing. They are not having volunteers doing indexing, although Family Search is and I have joined that group of volunteers. You can pick a state but the pages you get will be from random counties.


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Fractured Family

I marvel at families who can remain in tack and close over multiple generations. Everyone is always included in celebrations, petty differences tossed aside and forgotten. I wonder if it is the stern matriarch at the helm, herding her flock together with no excuses that maintains that closeness.

My ancestor’s families were large; my great grandfather Van Houtte coming from a family of eight and his wife Mary Clemence also from a family of eight. My grandfather was one of four children and his wife one of eight. Closeness with the families left in Europe started to deteriorate with the move to the states. The language barrier increased the difficulty and once my great grandmother died the tie was completely broken.

My grandmother wasn’t close with her siblings; she selectively spoke to or ignored family members for one reason or another, effectively breaking any tie the cousins might have to one another. Years later I would find out that people I sat next to in class were actually my second cousins. My grandfather and his siblings had inheritance troubles at the core of their family trouble.

My great grandfather, from all accounts, was as they say “tighter than wallpaper to the wall and meaner than a rattlesnake.”  Before his death he told his two sons, George and John, that he had taken care of all of the family, his three sons and daughter. They had nothing to worry about.

I knew both great Uncle George and great Uncle Johnny. My most vivid memory of Uncle George was of him coming to the house to see me when I came home from college. He always had a hundred dollar bill rolled up in his hand that he would shove into mine. “Shh, don’t tell anyone,” he would say to me. I don’t know if he knew just how broke I was, but the money sure was appreciated.

Uncle Johnny was as thrifty as his father. He was never one to pass up a fabulous deal. Story goes that he showed up at my grandfather’s house with a shiny new pair of shoes on. When the shoes were admired he finally confessed that although a great bargain, they were too small and hurting his feet.

I can never remember meeting my Aunt Leah and once I heard this story I began to realize exactly why. Before my great grandfather’s death he had moved from Mt. Alton into town and was living with Leah, who was married to Milford Kenneth Hullihen and living on High Street in Bradford. After his death the brothers went to their sisters house to discuss what had been left them by their father. Leah told them they didn’t have a cut of the money and as far as they were concerned she was dead. She threw them off of the property and shut the door.

Several years later, she reappeared at my grandfather’s door. A stranger to the child, her nephew that opened the door, he watched, puzzled, at this sobbing woman. The money was gone, spent on houses and cars and whatever else came along. My grandfather listened silently and when her tale was done, replied that his sister was dead and closed the door.

My great grandmother’s house was to be sold when all of her children were married and the money divided equally between the siblings. George never married; my grandfather lived in the house with his family until my great Uncle George died in 1980. The stipulation was that the house would always have a room in it that belonged to George. The one thing he was trying to prevent happened anyway; Leah would get her portion of the sale of the house.

Prior to Uncle George’s death, in 1978, at my grandfather’s 50th wedding anniversary, the siblings finally forgave each other when my great Aunt Leah came to the family celebration.

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