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Grandma Helen

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Written by Juliette Eames

As a child, Kathy had little interest in learning about family members in generations before her. In fact, the extent of her family history endeavors was an interview with her paternal grandmother Helen Weber Ross for a 9th grade biology project, primarily regarding genetic traits.

Ironically, Kathy would learn much more about her grandmother Helen’s past years later, when she had few older living relatives to learn from. Kathy became interested in her family’s history after becoming the steward of her mother’s family picture albums. As Kathy looked through the picture albums she wondered, “Who are these people?” As she gleaned every detail she could from her own memory, and looked for help from her local genealogical society and relatives for information and guidance, she had all kinds of clues — some good and some bad.

Helen Weber Ross remained a bit of a mystery. Some said that she was German, other said that she was Russian or Ukrainian. Questions abounded. Was she Catholic? Or was she Evangelical Lutheran? Did she come to the United States through Canada? And what about the report from Kathy’s mother that Helen was indentured at age 13 to a New York dentist?

Most records Kathy had found gave general places of birth. The obituary written by Helen’s son stated that she was born in Germany. Census records indicated that Helen was from Russia, and her parents were from Poland. The record that had given Kathy the best clue was a World War I draft registration card for Helen’s brother, which stated that he was born in Tutchin, Russia.

One night on FamilySearch, Kathy found a record that she thought might apply to Helen and the Weber family. She ordered a microfilm from FamilySearch, and anxiously looked through it when it arrived at her local center. Although she was able to spot family names, she was unable to read most of the record. She did some additional searches through online indexes, and found five digital images about her family from an Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Although excited to have these records, she soon became a bit tired of the difficulty of struggling with Google translate and deciphering the words on the page. She decided that the best way forward was to find someone with expertise in reading the difficult handwriting. So, rather than continue to struggle, she decided to post a request on AncestorCloud.

One day after posting her request, she had a couple offers from experts who were interested in helping her. She decided to accept the proposal from Nick Gombash. Shortly after that, Nick had provided Kathy with translations of the five records she had struggled through in a format that was easy for her to use. In her own words, “He was “spot on” related to the report I wanted to receive.  The translation was prompt, in a useful Excel spreadsheet format, and exciting to read.”

As a result, Kathy learned of grandmother Helen’s two previously unknown sisters. Kathy learned the birth and baptism dates of each of five sisters, their father’s name and occupation, their mother’s maiden name, the name of their godparents, and where the family lived, among other things. These translated records provide Kathy with reliable sources for important life events, new leads to follow, and hope that she will be able to find out more about her grandmother Helen’s family. And if you ask Kathy, these results are exactly what she hoped for.

Kathy, the granddaughter of European immigrants to America, began her genealogical journey shortly after the death of her mother. She became the steward of “the big leather picture albums” that her mother had kept in the upstairs cedar chest. These albums started a chain of events leading Kathy to learn about her family.

Sometimes we know or spend time with people, but know very little about them. As a child, Kathy spent time with and talked with her paternal grandmother, Helen Weber Ross. Little did Kathy know that in years to come her grandmother Helen would become one of her brick walls. Kathy said, 

I work on my genealogy research for hours every day.  Grandma is one of my “brick walls”.  I would say the time and effort would be measured in years, not in hours

After Kathy’s mother, grandmother, and other older relatives had died, Kathy had to gather hints. From what she gathered, Helen could have been Catholic, Lutheran, Russian, German, Ukrainian, an indentured servant, and so forth.

Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say. If Kathy had known as a child the desire she would have later to discover her family she could have know straight from the source. “Now I am amazed at the total lack of curiosity I had about the history of my family. As a little girl, why didn’t I quiz my grandparents when I spent the night with them?  Where did they come from?  Who were their parents? How did they get here? What happened to their families left in Europe? But, I was young and focused on today, not yesterday. Those opportunities are lost.”

Like Kathy most hobbyists gradually grow into a yearning to know of their heritage. Wouldn’t it be great if we knew this raising children and instilled in them a desire to know about their family? That way the stories and memories would trickle through the generations.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that every endeavor is a lot more complicated than you think it is. But with coaching and a few successes, I became totally committed to understanding the fascinating stories and identifying the ancient people staring out of the pictures protected all those years by my parents.”

I’ll use AncestorCloud again as an adjunct to my research – another “set of hands and eyes” of individuals who are expert in the areas where I am struggling. It makes all the difference.

As mentioned above, AncestorCloud is fast, totally within my control regarding cost and selection of assistance, friendly, with great customer support.  In both instances in working with AncestorCloud, I asked for help on specific questions and I promptly received great results at a reasonable cost.


Post a request to our community to break through your genealogical brick walls. Like Kathy and Nick – join thousands of researchers who can serve as an extra set of hands!

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