What I thought I knew:
Antonia Vulcu, having left her small village in the Transylvanian Alps, arrived in Boston in the early 1900s. She journeyed on, joining a large enclave of fellow Romanians who had settled in Indiana Harbor, found work cleaning houses and married John Simon, another Romanian immigrant. They had five children – Dan (my father), Mary, John, Charles and, much later, Violet. As for my grandparents siblings I never heard about any of them and always assumed they remained in Romania.
What I know now:
According to immigration records, in October of 1907, Antonia Vulcu arrived aboard the Hannover, disembarking in Baltimore. By the time a census taker interviewed John Simon in 1910, he and Antonia were married and living with my grandfather’s two brothers, Nic and George, and a one-year-old child Dionise with the same birth date as m father. By 1913, according to my grandmother’s naturalization papers there were three more children – Maria, John and Vasile. Dionise? Would my father have been nicknamed Dion? And go figure, Uncle Charles, the proper English professor who wore tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and smoked a pipe, was really Uncle Vasile – in ways, a much more fun sounding name?
20 years later, when the 1930s census taker came around, Dionise and Vasile were now Dan and Charles, Mary (not Maria) was a stenographer in a law office. Nic and George are gone from the household and as far as I know from the family history books.
I have, it seems, learned more about my family history in less than an hour than from half listening to old stories for most of my life.
Tracing my father’s family was easy enough. I joined Ancestry.com and by simply typing Antonia Vulcu, her country of origin, where she lived in the U.S. and estimating her birth year I am quickly able to access the ship she arrived on (the Hannover), where it departed from (Bremen, Germany) and where she disembarked as well as her age and year of birth. As I collect documents, I drop them into my “shoebox,” an online file to hold records I want to easily access again.
Plowing through these old records becomes addicting. I click on a link that opens up the Hannover’s manifest and I see my grandmother’s signature. I join the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society (NWIGS) which connects me to Lake County’s marriage records where I find my grandparent’s marriage certificate including the name of their witnesses. A quick Google under Romanian immigration to Northwest Indiana tells me the first major influx -– about 145,000 – took place between 1890 and 1920 with. Well, I know four of those travelers.
I spend over an hour talking to Marlene Polster, president of NWIGS and the state appointed Lake County genealogist. The society, founded in 1970, is staffed by unpaid volunteers who donate hours and hours inputting information online.
“Right now we have a volunteer at the Lake County Recorder’s Office indexing court order books,” she tells me. “Indexing means she is going page by page and writing names, document dates, filing dates as well as page and book numbers. We have volunteers at the Calumet Regional Archives working on the Pullman Company employees’ records.”
The last was a great coup for genealogists. The archives received a call telling them the records were going to be thrown away unless someone came and got them.
“People should start with themselves, see what you have at home,” says Polster telling me how to conduct a search. “Look at church records. All the cemeteries in Lake and Porter Counties have indexes that are online.”
Delve into microfiches of old newspapers but beware that before the 1960s, obituaries weren’t always found in one section of the newspaper but rather all through it.
Online genealogy search sites abound. Polster sums up a few including Cyndi’s List which is free. Though it costs to join Ancestry.com they have an easy way to create a family tree. Membership to the Indiana Historical Society includes a subscription to their magazine, “Connections: The Indiana Genealogist” with articles like Finding a Family Member” and “Pharmacist Records” and access to their online data base.
“While we have several collections here that may interest genealogists, the best place in the area is the Valparaiso Public Library’s Genealogy Department,’ says Stephen McShane, co-director and archivist/curator at the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest. “The department head, Larry Clark, is a top-notch genealogist with great experience and a wonderful collection. In addition, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne is a world-renowned genealogical library.”
The Lake County Public Library also has a large genealogical collection including microfilmed copies of local newspapers such as the Hammond Times (now Northwest Indiana Times) from 1906 to the present as well as now defunct papers like the Gary Daily Tribune (1908-1921), Hobart News (1911-1930) and the Lake County News (1893-1918).
Polster and McShane are always looking for “new” old information to add to their archives.
“It might help others find out more about their families,” says Polster.