Reading Ghost Stories – Genealogy Lite?

I sometimes have a guilty pleasure in reading material – historical fiction books that have ghosts or a supernatural theme. I tell myself that they are really not all that bad because they are actually dealing with history. Hum, that might be a stretch….

Most of these books take place in present day with the story line weaving between the current lives of the main characters and the past lives of the ghosts that haunt the place they are living/visiting. There is usually something about the main characters that allows them to hear and connect with the ghosts e.g. psychic sensitivity or ancestral connections. The plots center around a murder or a secret from the past that must be resolved before the spirits can move on.

So why do I like them? Well, when I am reading about the life of my ancestor, piecing together facts from the records, understanding the history of the time and location they lived in as well as potential financial, work and church influences, I start to see them in my head like characters in a novel. When I visit their graves, I recognize that I might be the first person to visit in 50 years.  I imagine them there trying to connect with me to tell me more about who they are and most of all to remember them. In The Waiting Room, one of main characters discusses what he believes is happening when we see ghosts and says, “I believe we go back somehow to their time. That is how we see them. The events they were part of have a pull or orbit into which we are dragged as unwilling witnesses. It is as though the intensity of emotion or experience they endured in life cannot be eradicated by the calendar. We are the visitors.” Sounds like genealogy doesn’t it?

Anyway, here are some that I have been reading lately if you feel like taking a break from research:

  • The Waiting Room by F. G. Cottam –WWI, England
  • Murder Bay by David R Horwitz – Civil War, Washington DC
  • Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst – Late 1800’s, Wisconsin
  • By Blood Possessed by Pat Montella – Civil War, Virginia
  • Madeleine’s Ghost by Robert Girardi – early/mid 1800’s Louisiana and New York

Have you read any other good historical/genealogical ghost stories you would recommend?

Posted in Books, Genealogy General | 1 Comment

Harry Cork 1872-1886: The Obituary Saves the Day Again

Harry Cork was born October 29th 1872 and died February 7th 1886 at just 13 years old. I had first seen Harry as a 7 year old boy in the 1880 census record living in the home of his parents William and Jane in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. I dutifully added him and all of his siblings to the family noting their ages etc. I happened to be more focused on determining if Jane was the mother of the first 3 children listed in the 1870 census or not (she isn’t-see William Cork Obituary blog) and was checking the British records for comparison. I committed the early crime of inexperienced genealogists, by not noticing the little hash marks next to Harry and his older brother’s Hugh’s name indicating that Harry was blind and his brother Hugh was deaf.

1880 US Census William Cork Family

1880 US Census William Cork Family

This is a huge reminder to really look at all the details of a record to see what they directly or indirectly might suggest. Luckily, when I was in Wisconsin in April, I found other records that helped me ferret out the details of Harry’s  blindness that I missed years ago. According to Harry’s death certificate he died of “paralysis of the brain” in the Village of Mazomanie, Dane County, Wisconsin. It is another sad example of a child dying too early in life and a vague cause of what it might have really been. Was it meningitis or some other infection? It’s hard to know with the state of medical diagnosis of the time. At 13 years old, there aren’t a lot of records for children in the late 1800’s. Fortunately, Mazomanie published a newspaper and there was an obituary for Harry that told quite a bit about his life, his death and the family.

Mazomonie Sickle Obituary – February 13, 1886:

The sudden death of Harry Cork, at his home here on Sunday evening last, aged about fourteen years, caused a deep pang of sorrow to the hearts of his many friends in this community.

The deceased, from early childhood, had been over-shadowed by the greatest affliction that can possible befall anyone, the loss of sight which obliterated from his vision the glorious sun-light and the beauty and grandeur of nature, he was blessed with such acute senses of hearing and feeling, and with the such buoyancy of spirit that his loss of sight was in a degree repaired.

He returned home from Janesville a short time since, where he had been attending the School for the Blind, which his health somewhat impaired, but he was not considered dangerously ill. On Sunday evening last he laid down to rest upon the sofa when the mysterious hand of death touched him and he slept. Without a sigh, without a murmur, he passed from time into the portals of eternity.

His funeral took place at the P.M. church on Wednesday morning at 10:30, Rev. Thos. Hodkinson officiating, and was attended by a large number of mourning relatives, and friends, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather.

Harry Cork's Gravestone in the Mazomanie Cemetery

Harry Cork’s Gravestone in the Mazomanie Cemetery

Harry was blind and went to the Wisconsin School for the Blind (which is still in existence).  His older brother Hugh was deaf and went to the Delevan School for the Deaf. William and Jane had 10 children and two of them had special needs in the 1880’s! Whatever challenges that might have been, nothing could have prepared them for Harry’s sudden death. The family and the town’s people obviously mourned the loss of this young boy. The more I find out about the Cork Family, the more there is to admire about them.

Posted in Cork Family | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Walter John Cork and His Very Short Military Career in the Spanish-American War

Like many young men, Walter Cork probably had romantic ideas about joining the Army and going to war against the Spanish in 1898. But the idealistic dreams of our imagination rarely come true when they come face to face with reality. They certainly don’t when faced with warfare and the tropics.

William Cork Family Tree

William Cork Family Tree

Walter was the 6th child of William Cork and Jane Dame. He was raised in the small town of Mazomanie, Wisconsin about 15 miles west of Madison. When he was about 20 years old he headed to Minneapolis, Minnesota where his sisters Selina and Bertha and two of his brothers Charles and Hugh lived. Perhaps he left for better job opportunities? His brothers both worked for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway and he took a job there as a carpenter when he arrived.

I imagine that he read the newspapers in late 1897 and heard about the sequence of events that lead to the declaration of war against Spain.  First, there were the headlines about Spain’s cruel treatment of its Cuban citizens and the Spanish army putting down the colonists bid for independence. Then in early 1898, McKinley sent the American ship the USS Maine to Cuba to protect the Americans living there. Shortly after the ship arrived in February, it  exploded and sunk in Havana Harbor. It is unclear if the cause of the explosion was internal, but at the time it was thought that the Spanish had attacked the ship. The Spanish and the Americans declared war on April 21, 1898.  It was in this patriotic environment that Walter joined the army on June 13 and headed to the Philippines.

Walter J Cork Enlistment

Walter J Cork Enlistment

It is unclear from his service record when he arrived in the Philippines and if he ever actually fought in any battles.  What is clear is that by the beginning of August, he was in the hospital with typhoid and had pemphigus on his back.  (This is very nasty blistering on the skin and I suggest you look it up for pictures…I couldn’t post them…ick.)

Walter J Cork Hospital Transfer

Walter J Cork Hospital Transfer

And then all the fighting was over in Cuba and the Philippines on August 16th.   Walter was sent home to San Francisco to recover at the Army Hospital for a few months and he was finally discharged December 31st 1898.

Walter J Cork Discharge Information

Walter J Cork Discharge Information

It turns out that Walter was actually one of the lucky ones.  From May 1898 through April 1899 there were 968 people killed as a result of battle, there were 5,438 who died from disease and over 20,000 that were sick from tropical illnesses.

Serving in the military doesn’t always turn out to be all honor and glory, but Walter deserves respect for the sacrifice he made during those 6 months of his life.  I hope that he didn’t suffer lasting effects from typhoid or that horrible skin ailment.


Minneapolis Directory Company, Davison’s Minneapolis City Directory, XXV, 1897: 306; digital images, fold3 accessed 7 Jul 2014.

Compiled service record, Walter John Cork, Pvt., Co. L, 13th Minnesota Inf.; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917, Spanish-American War; Record Group 94; National Archives and Records Administration, Washington.

US Army Medical Department Office of Medical History – The Spanish-American War:

Public Broadcasting Service – The Great Fever: The Scourge of the Spanish American War:



Posted in Cork Family, Spanish American War | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Don’t You Wish All Your Family Trees Were This Clear?

I was organizing some photos from my vacations and ran across this photo from a trip I took to the Dordogne region of France in 2012.  I wish my families had left such good records! Don’t you??? But then again it helps that they had a castle and didn’t have to leave it unless the English were invading….

Beynac Genealogy

Beynac Genealogy

Posted in Genealogy General | 2 Comments

William Cork’s Obituary Deconstructed

I don’t know about you, but most of the obituaries I have found for my family have been absolutely no help at all in the research process. They have just given the name and the date the person died, the names of the main family members, and when and where the funeral services will be held.  However, sometimes if you are lucky the person you are researching had some standing in the community or they were so loved, someone wanted to give a complete tribute to their full life.  Such is the case with my 2nd Great Grandfather William Cork.  As you will see below, there are many details in the obituary about William’s life and hints of other avenues to purse to find out more about William, his wives, his children and the extended family.

William Cork's Obituary

William Cork’s Obituary pg. 1

William Cork's Obituary pg. 2

William Cork’s Obituary pg. 2

Wow!  Look at the summary of my new research plan….it will keep me busy for months!

  • William Cork birth in Bentley, Staffordshire, England
  • William Cork’s parents in censuses and other records
  • William Cork census records in England 1841, 1851, 1861
  • William Cork’s death record in Dane County, Wisconsin.
  • William Cork’s marriage to Anise Eardley in England.
  • Anise Eardley’s birth, death and census records.
  • William Cork’s marriage to Jane Dame in England.
  • Jane Dame’s birth and census records in England.
  • William Cork and family immigration records in US, England and Canada.
  • Hugh Cork records in WI & MN.
  • Mrs. William Conover’s (Selena Cork) records in WI & MN.
  • Arthur Cork’s records in WI.
  • Edwin H. Cork’s  records in WI.
  • Mrs. F.O. Vye’s  (Bertha Cork) records in Chicago and WI.
  • Frank Cork’s records in WI and SD. (This is my great-grandfather and I have quite a few records already, but more about him in a later post.)
  • Walter J. Cork in WI and MN.
  • Wilfred Cork in WI.
  • Research deceased children – Charles and Harry Cork listed in census records.
  • Primitive Methodist Church history and records in England and US (specifically WI).
  • Congregational Church history and records in Mazomonie, WI.
  • William Cork’s Masonic records.
  • William Cork’s public service history in Mazomonie including the School Board.
  • Rev. H.J. Hartwell biography and if he left any records for the Congregational Church.
  • Mazomanie Cemetery graves for Cork and Dame families.
  • Determine who James Woodrich, John Dame, Harry Dame and Arthur Gillette were and how they are related to William and Jane Cork.
  • Research John and Harry Dame immigration, birth, death, census etc. records.

Did I forget anything???

Posted in Cork Family, Genealogy General | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Road Trips, Cork Family Discoveries and Improving Your Genealogy Skills

I love the high that comes from picking all the low hanging fruit of genealogy. You know what I mean – sitting at your desk using all the online resources that allow you to do the quick leapfrogging linking one family to another through the census records that come every 10 years like clockwork. The censuses that have everyone accounted for, grandparents living in the house, children clearly identified and no ambiguity if you have the right one all tied up with a nice bow. You quickly find other digital resources such as birth and death records, military service, city directories and newspapers to fill in the gaps. But then the inevitable happens, you run up against the abyss – the family or portions of the family disappear, you can’t make the jump to the previous generation, some behavior of a member of the family is inexplicable and/or questions just keep coming up that you can’t answer sitting at your desk.

So what to do, what to do? You get out your handy dandy toolbox of research techniques and methods that you have acquired through formal and informal education. You create timelines, look at maps, look again at the old records for critical clues you may have missed and determine what records are still out there that don’t exist online. And then you take a road trip!

And that is just what I have done for the last 2 months – road tripping around the United States to see family, friends and, of course, do genealogical research in the towns where my family lived. One of those places was Mazomanie, Wisconsin where my 2nd Great Grandfather William Cork and his family lived from 1870-1916. This trip illuminated critical historical facts about the family that would not have been achieved without the visit. Here are the highlights:

1)      I connected with Virgil, the historian at the Mazomanie Historical Society. He met with me in his home (the society was closed for the season) where he had copies of all the records in his own library. The list of items he found for me is too long for me to put in a blog, but they included obituaries, and illuminating references to the family in the local paper that are not indexed, and are only partially available online. The obituaries made connections to their extended family that had immigrated with them and gave the names of their parents in England.

Cork_William School Board Picture high res0001

William Cork 1833-1916

2)      The Mazomanie Historical Society also had a picture and biography of William Cork from the local high school publication where he served 14 years as the clerk of the Board of Education. Virgil was incredibly kind and helpful, and he will continue to be a resource if I have additional questions. You usually can’t make those kinds of connections via phone or e-mail.

3)      At the Wisconsin Historical Society, I was able to go to visit the Archives. There I was able to hold and copy William’s original will and probate records. Within these documents I could see his character and his relationships to his children.

4)      The Archives also had the records for the Wisconsin Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb at Delavan, where William’s son Hugh attended from 1869-1876. I reviewed all the boxes and found Hugh’s admission and attendance records.

Hugh Cork Admission Records to Delavan

Admission Records for Hugh Cork to Delavan

5)      At the Wisconsin State Vital Records Office and the Wisconsin Historical Society Library, I was able to get birth, marriage and death certificates for many of William’s family members.

Downtown Mazomanie, Wisconsin

Downtown Mazomanie, Wisconsin

6)      And finally I was able to walk through the town of Mazamonie and see where he lived, worked, attended church, took the train and was buried. There is no research online that can compare to seeing where your ancestors lived.

So what made my trip so successful was utilizing the skills I have honed over the years by taking classes from experienced genealogists. As genealogists, we are always looking for ways to improve our abilities, become more efficient at our craft and enhance our research with additional sources. Attending conferences and classes given by the experts in our field is an essential way to do that. We are fortunate to have national, and regional, professionals teaching at Washington State Genealogy Conference on the subject of “Improved Genealogy Through Better Methods and Techniques” on August 15-16. I encourage you to take advantage of this and attend. No telling what you will learn and the discoveries that await for you online or on a trip!

Posted in Cork Family, Genealogy General | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who was Elizabeth (?) “Lizzie” Arro Perez Vargas?

Elizabeth Arro Perez Vargas Gravestone at San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery (Stockton, CA) Dormitory O, Area 1, Station 11, Grave 14.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Arro Perez Vargas Gravestone at San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery (Stockton, CA) Dormitory O, Area 1, Station 11, Grave 14.

I have just returned from a road trip to California and Arizona to see my family.  Part of journey’s focus was to find out more about my father’s mother’s family who lived in the Santa Cruz area.  Having not grown up with this side of my family, I have a lot of holes in my knowledge.  There is also the complication they might have been early migrants of Mexican/Spanish descent in the 1880’s and didn’t leave a lot of records around.

My great-grandmother “Lizzie” has been illusive and perplexing. I have glimpses of her in census and death records and just a few family stories to serve as breadcrumbs. Her name and her birthplace change quite a bit.  I am not completely convinced she was born in California, as I have not been able to confirm her parents’ identities.   The family stories speak of a rabid conviction that they were “American” and not from Mexico. Perhaps they were early Mexican settlers from the early 1800’s prior to statehood, or maybe there was deliberate obfuscation of the facts to fit into society?

Here is a summary of what is stated in the documents I found so far:

1900 Census – “Elsie O.” is married to Joseph Perez (a farmer).  They have been married for 20 years (1880), had 11 children and 8 of them are living.  All the children (ages from 16 to 1) are living with them at their home in Soquel Township, Santa Cruz Co., California.  “Elsie” was born in 1859 in California and her parents were all born in California.

1910 Census – “Lizzie P.” is now married to Frank Vargas and they are living in Tres Pinos, San Benito Co., California.  They have been married for 4 years and have a 2-year-old daughter Delphia.  “Lizzie” claims only to have had 10 children with 9 living.  Now before you think I have found the wrong woman…she is living with 2 of her children with the last name of Perez that were in the 1900 census (as well as another who was born after the 1900 census).  Her age has changed too, so that her birth year would be 1863.  Her parents are from “Mexican Spanish”.

1911 – Death certificate of Alice Perez, daughter of Lizzie and Joseph Perez.  Alice was 18 years old and died of chronic interstitial nephritis. Joseph filled out the certificate and lists his place of birth as Santa Cruz and the maiden name of Alice’s mother as “Lucy Arrow” born in San Luis Obispo, California.

1920 – “Lizzie” is still married to Frank Vargas and living with her daughter Delphia.  They are living in Mayfield Township, Santa Clara Co., California.  And she has gotten younger again, born in 1865.  Her father was born in Mexico and her mother in California.

1924 – Lizzie died in Stockton, San Joaquin Co., California. The informer on “Lizzie’s” death certificate is her oldest daughter Vivian Perez Hansen.  It is remarkably lacking in details regarding “Lizzie’s” parents – simply unknown.  It does state her birthdate as being December 2, 1862.

Names she was known by and/or maiden name:

Source Unknown Informer Joseph Perez Informer Misc. Informer
1900 Census Elsie O.  Perez
1910 Census Lizzie P. Vargas
1911 Alice Perez’s Death Certificate Lucy Arrow
1920 Census Lizzie Vargas
1930 Census Lizzie Vargas
1975 Frances Perez’s Death Certificate Elisa Oro

When and Where was Elizabeth “Lizzie” born?

Source Unknown Informer Joseph Perez Informer Vivian Informer Frances (Daughter) Informer Misc Informer
1900 Census 1859 – California
1910 Census 1863 -California California
1911 Alice Perez’s Death Certificate San Luis Obispo, California
1920 Census 1865 -California Spain At Sea OC (Off the coast of Calif?)
1924 Death Certificate 2 Dec 1862 – California
1930 Census California California
1975 Frances Perez’s Death Certificate California

Where were Elizabeth “Lizzie’s” parents born?

Source Unknown Informer Vivian (Daughter) Informer
1900 Census California
1910 Census “Mexican Spanish”
1920 Census Father – MexicoMother – California
1924 Death Certificate Unknown

Next steps

1)   Order Ernest Perez’s death certificate (Lizzie’s son died in 1911)

2)   Order Frank Vargas’s death certificate

3)   Continue to look for records for Lizzie’s children e.g. marriage and death records that might list the origin of their mother.

4)   Look for Catholic records in the Santa Cruz area for birth, marriage and death records of all the family members.

5)  Locate and order divorce papers for Lizzie and Joseph if they exist.

6)  Locate and order marriage certificate for Frank Vargas and Lizzie.

Well…if Elizabeth was difficult, her husband Joseph Perez/Perrez is just had hard.  I will write more on him next week.

Posted in Women Ancestors | Tagged , , | 2 Comments