My mother grew up in the small town of Torrington, Litchfield, Connecticut.  The population of Torrington was 36,383 as of the 2010 Census. That may not seem all that small but it is if you’re related to half the town.  Jonas “John Michael” Grinvalsky & Anna Zaharek had seventeen children between 1901-1926, many of whom stayed in Torrrington, CT and had children of their own. John Michael Grinvalsky also had two sisters and a brother that came from Slovakia and settled in Torrington, CT. They all married and had between six and nine children of their own who then would marry and mainly stay in Torrington, CT. Anna Zaharek had two brothers and a sister come over from Slovakia as well and settled in Torrington, CT. Combined her siblings had 20 children born in Torrington who then had children and so on. Remember, this is just my mother’s paternal side.

Mom’s father is James Jacob “Jack/Jake” Grinvalsky, one of the seventeen born to John Michael & Anna Grinvalsky. He would marry Julia Margaret Tomala and have four children, mom being the youngest. In kindergarten, my mother would meet her best friend of sixty two years. They went through school together and both attended St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduation, my mother went to work at Mass General in Boston, Massachusetts. Her best friend returned to Torrington, CT, married her high school sweetheart and had two children.

In 1998 what they had always joked about actually happened. One of her best friend’s sons announced he was engaged to be married. He would be marrying the granddaughter of my mother’s Aunt Susan Grinvalsky [her father’s sister]. The wedding took place in 1999 in Torrington, Connecticut with my mother in attendance. It was a beautiful wedding, but for best friends of 62 years it meant even more. My mother and her best friend were now legally cousins, remain close, and will be attending their 50th High School Reunion together this fall.


I recently taught a RootsMagic 6 workshop that covered the basics of the software and I explained why it was a good idea to have genealogy software on our hard drive and not just have family trees online, i.e.

During the workshop a question was asked about tape recording family members and whether it was a good idea.  My answer was a definite “YES”. However, I felt I had an even better suggestion – VIDEO.

I got my first webcam in 2002 to stay in touch with close friends moving to Europe. I never did think of it then to use it for genealogical purposes.

In 2006, my Nana [Dad’s mother] needed to have an operation and would be in the hospital for a week. I volunteered to spend the week with my 91-year-old grandfather to alleviate any worries the rest of the family had. I also saw this as a great opportunity to do an in-depth genealogical interview with him.

The second day I was there I pulled out my interview questions and tape recorder and sat in front of him at breakfast.  I was surprised to learn my grandfather could answer open-ended questions with just one word.  The only new thing I learned was that he had seen every Charlie Chaplin movie.

On the third day, I woke up early and my grandfather walked in on me making a video diary of my trip with my webcam.  He looked like he had seen a ghost – I didn’t know what was wrong. Then he smiled – then he frowned. Just then I realized my grandfather had never seen himself on TV before just by the expression on his face.

At this point the doorbell rang so I was gone about ten minutes while Grandpa was left alone with my computer. Later, I discovered ten minutes of hysterical video as he tried to figure out how the technology worked.

That afternoon I brought my computer and webcam with me when we went to visit my Nana in the hospital.  To my surprise I filmed two minutes of a humorous video clip of my Nana, Grandpa, and myself. Before I left Boston I decided to do a walking video tour of the home they had lived in since before I was born.  I took all three clips, made a CD, and sent copies to my immediate family. I hoped they would cherish it as much as I do.

Although it was off topic, I decided to share the short clip of my grandparent’s interaction. The class roared with laughter as it played. When it was over I showed them how to link the file into RootsMagic 6. Since I shared it with the class, I thought I’d share it will all of you.

My grandfather would pass May 2007, the day after his great-granddaughter was born [my niece]. I was so lucky that I had made that video. Every May when I miss my Grandpa, I watch the CD and it always makes me laugh.

This year, I decided it was my goal to interview my parents on video. My mother was very reluctant at first but she agreed.  After asking just one question about her childhood, she spoke for 45 minutes about her life all the way up until she met my father.  I’m still working on getting my father to sit down with me but I still have to the end of the year.

I know you are probably wondering what the point might be. Now that video is so readily available there is no excuse not to use it via digital cameras, cell phones, etc.  It can be used not just for your ancestors that are still alive, but for yourself as well for future generations.  Sit down and tell your story and put it away.  Your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will appreciate it someday – I’m sure of it.

Someday when my niece is older I will share the video of her great-grandparents with her. And someday far far far into the future when my parents are gone, I will show her the DVD I’m making of them.

If one day you were lucky enough to find video of your great-grandparents and grandparents wouldn’t you cherish it? So stop procrastinating, and do it.  I promise it will be worth it in the end!!


Just so I don’t miss out on possible connecting with a distant relative, I put a rough sketch of my family trees on I advise my clients to do the same, but to make the tree private so that other people don’t just take a piece of their research without contacting them.

Coleman Joyce was my father’s mother’s father – my great-grandfather.

5 October 1846 at his daughter’s wedding

He was born in Ireland in 1893 in Galway, Ireland. I know his parent’s names and where they got married. I know exactly where Coleman was born in Ireland; however I keep that off public sites.

Coleman Joyce was one of eleven children, however on my tree I only list the six that came from Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts. I know the fates of all the children except for one – Anne Joyce.

Anne “Annie” Joyce was born in Ireland in 1891 and once she came to Boston, MA she married a Coleman Kelly in 1914. On Coleman’s draft registration card for WWI he listed he had a wife and two children and was also born in Ireland. This is where I got stuck – I could find the family on the 1920 US Federal Census.

To cover my basis I sent in two requests for death certificates – one for Annie (Joyce) Kelly and one for Coleman Kelly. To my surprise I received one back for Coleman. It seems he died from the influenza epidemic in 1918. I was stuck again – I didn’t know Annie and Coleman’s children’s names and didn’t know if Annie may have remarried prior to the 1920 Census. So that was how the story ended in the Family History Book I compiled for the Joyce Family.

I was on the other day and I had about 238 “hints” for my research. I don’t really follow the hints as I do my own research and only use other people’s trees as guides and I add documents into my genealogy software instead of adding them to a person in my online trees. However, I notice I had eight messages that I didn’t know I had and one made my heart stop.

It was from a woman who claimed to be the great-granddaughter of Coleman Kelly and Annie (Joyce) Kelly. She said her grandmother was their daughter and she wanted to know more about the family and share information with me about their other children. I almost fell out of my chair.

I immediately wrote back to her and probably sounded like a desperate stalker. I told her that Annie (Joyce) Kelly was one of eleven children born in Ireland and that six had come to the Boston, MA. I also told her that the family lost touch with Annie after her husband died of the flu and no one knew what became of her. I actually gave out my phone number, something I never do but I was overly excited.

After that, I called Joyce descendants that are still living. There are six children still alive from the original eleven that were born in Ireland. There are also numerous cousins that I also dug up along my journey. So many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and so on that our now not only relative, but friends. Everyone I spoke with is excited about this possible lead.

Now all I can do is wait, and patience it not once of my strong personality traits. If this is not a hoax this would completely blow through another one of my brick walls and bring an end to what happened to Annie (Joyce) Kelly. What a great holiday gift that would be.


If you’ve ever read my biography [] you know how I got started as a genealogist. It was my grandfather’s request. However, with all research, at some point, many genealogists and family researchers hit some kind of a brick wall.

I started out my grandfather’s research by starting with him as the main person and going backwards to his father and his grandfather whose names were both named Dennis Leary. Such a common name for an Irish man, I thought it would be difficult to fill in the details and put flesh on the bones of my research.

That was until I hit my grandfather’s great-grandfather and I was shocked. His name was Bartholomew Leary. I had never come across the name Bartholomew in any of my Irish Research before. That is how I was able to trace my grandfather’s family all the way to their crossing from County Cork, Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts in 1849 at the end of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.

That is also where I got stuck. I did at least know Bartholomew’s parent’s names as he died before his wife and they were on his death certificate and he was born about 1820. However, County Cork is very large, and after examining every documents I could get my hands on, I had hit my brick wall.

I decided to leave it alone and instead put my grandfather’s family story together for his birthday as I had promised, but I still had that unfinished feeling.

Every so often I would Google Bartholomew Leary with no results however I kept trying hoping someday I would find out something about him in Ireland.

This year, my Google search paid off – one hit for a Bartholomew Leary. I tried not to get my hopes up but they were and I went to the website I was directed to. There was a baptismal record for a Barth Leary so I opened it and guess what? It had the same parent’s on it as his Bartholomew’s death certificate in Boston, MA. I was overjoyed – and I wished my grandfather was still alive so I could have shared that moment with him.

Now that I know where he was born and baptized there are more questions to be answered: how many siblings did he have? When were his parents married and what were their names? I got so excited and overwhelmed at the same time.

It only took 15 years for me to get past that brick wall. Patience in genealogy is definitely a virtue.


If you can believe it, this is just one family. This is my maternal grandfather’s family. The elderly looking woman in the center of the picture actually gave birth to seventeen children – yes I said seventeen. One unfortunately died at a young age. This family picture was taken to commemorate my grandfather’s brother becoming a priest on 26 May 1938.

My grandfather’s father Jonas “John Michael” Grinvalsky was born in current day Slovakia. He and his brother Conrad arrived in New York in 1899 and they moved to Torrington, CT. Anna Zaherek was born in current day Toporec, Slovakia and in 1898 her and her brother James arrived in New York and they moved to Torrington, CT. John Michael Grinvalsky and Anna Zaharek married 9 June of 1900.

In 1901 they had their first child and they would go on to have a total of seventeen. My maternal grandfather was child number eight/ James Jacob Grinvalsky [Yes – I always refer to them by their name and birth order number]. The last child was born in 1926. Family lore says Anna was actually pregnant 20 times, but had three miscarriages. Can you imagine being pregnant for 25 years? Or raising seventeen children? I chalk it up to fertility and devout Catholicism.

What I find strange is that the children did not follow suit and have large families. Most of “The Original Seventeen” as I call them only had one or two. My mother is from a family of four which is the second largest besides Dr. Henry Grinvalsky [number 15] and his wife who had ten. Five originals would never even marry. Maybe, growing up in such a large family they decided to have smaller families, however I can only speculate. Unfortunately, all the originals passed before I started researching my family history. On the bright side it’s been fun tracking down cousins I never knew I had and hearing their stories.

In Beloved Memory Of

Margaret Mary “Marge” (Palker) Grinvalsky

Wife of the late Dr. Henry Grinvalsky



In my former life, before becoming a full-time genealogist I was an Account Executive with an insurance company. I kept spreadsheets on all my clients that included their children’s names, birthdays, what they always ordered when I took them out to eat, etc. Everything was saved on my work computer and I thought nothing of it – until I almost lost it all.


I was working at home one day when my computer started to smoke, and then a small flash of fire burst out [this is a true story]. I yanked the computer out of the wall, threw it on my front lawn and called the fire department. They checked all the wiring in the room I was working in and everything was fine, but I was still panicked. Was my hard drive affected? Had it melted? Did I just lose everything I had been working on for ten years?


The next day when I brought the computer to the IT department, they didn’t believe me until they opened up the computer. It turns out that two wires had come loose and touched each other which had caused the smoke and the flash of fire. I could have cared less. All I wanted to know was whether my hard drive been affected. Thankfully it wasn’t. They were able to put my hard drive into another shell and I was on my merry way. However, this was when I realized I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, or one computer, in this case. That’s when I started talking to computer people about backing up my data.


Back in those days they had come out with these big and bulky external hard drives which were expensive at the time. I bought one anyway as a business expense, and every month on the first of the month, I would lug the drive out of my closet and backup my data.


Now that I have switched professions and am aware of the tragedies many have faced when their computers have crashed or died, I am extremely careful with my data. My laptop is just for genealogy and if I were to lose it I would lose years of research and data.


Now that backups are inexpensive, there is no excuse to have all your data in one place. You can back up your data to discs, flash drives, portable hard drives, the cloud, etc.


If your eyes just glazed over because what I mentioned sounds complicated, it’s really not. And if you don’t want to do the work yourself there are always services like Carbonite (  that backup up your computer continuously for a yearly fee.


What do I use? Since I’ve had a computer catch on fire and another one die on me, I am extra careful. I have an iMac that I don’t use since I got my laptop, so I used Apple’s ‘Time Machine’ to back it up onto a portable external hard drive, which I keep in a safety deposit box.


As for my genealogy laptop I have multiple backups. I have about six flash drives; one for each of my family lines, one for client data, and one for miscellaneous projects. I also have an external hard drive to hook up to my laptop at the end of the day to backup anything I have worked on that day. Once done, I put it in my purse to carry with me when away from my laptop, or leave it at home when I have my laptop with me. Lastly, I have a Carbonite account as the end-all safety net.


I’m not saying that you need to take after me and have the “what if everything fails” mentality. But if you have all your data on one computer, what would you do if something catastrophic happens? I encourage you to look into using one of the above suggestions to have a second copy of your hard drive. That way, if your computer does die, when you get a new one, you can use your back up to reload the information onto your new computer and your data will not be lost forever.


I got a call from a prospective client this past May who had been doing his own genealogy for a few months. He had traced his ancestry all the way back to the first King of Scotland. However, something was nagging at him. He had three census documents for his grandmother and all three had different ethnicities listed for her. One census records said she was Scottish, one said Scots-Irish, and the last one said Ireland. I asked him how he had traced his grandmother’s entire family so far back in just a few years. His answer was this – By following the leaves on

I get this answer a lot from prospective clients. Some people assume all information on is correct – it is not. I don’t think people understand that those leaves are generated by other member submitted trees. And the majority of the time, those members do not have the proper documentation to back up their claims. I’ve met many people who are Mayflower Descendants or are related to royalty or celebrities, however when asked where there documentation is, people usually look at me like they don’t understand what I am talking about. People need to understand that not everyone is related to someone famous. To be sure of your research you need to document, document, and document it again using more than just leaves, but by obtaining actual vital records, census records, naturalization records, military records, passenger lists, etc. And the best piece of advice I can give is to never take someone else’s research at face value. How do you know where they got their information?

This is how the story ends. The man who was related to the first King of Scotland became my client. I analyzed his research and realized where the first mistake was made, so I started pulling records. What did I end up finding? His grandmother was born in Ireland, not Scotland! When I called to tell him the news, I thought he would be upset as he was not related to a king. Instead he was thrilled with the news and asked if he was eligible for Irish Citizenship. Since his grandmother was born in Ireland he was, however since he had no proper documentation except for what I had found we had to start from scratch. Four months later, with proper documentation, and source citations, I finally sent in his application for citizenship.

The moral of this story is, if you click on leaves and connect yourself to someone else’s research, and if the outcome seems too good to be true, it usually is.

The Genealogical Puzzle and the Importance of Languages

The field of genealogy is very similar to one of children’s favorite games: a puzzle.  It consists of finding all the missing pieces – of priceless information – and making them fit together as to create a perfect final picture. Unlike a real puzzle that can be hung on the wall for all to admire once it’s completed, the information collected and gathered by a genealogist actually helps others learn more about themselves and their long lost identities.

In a certain way, the perseverance and research involved in the process complete – for many – much more than a simple picture because such work offers new links to follow and new paths to explore to people worldwide. Genealogy is indeed an interactive field that helps individuals reconnect with a past they’ve always pondered upon, therefore, allowing them to grow (on a personal level) and build new relationships, or foundations, with the latest generations of their cultural heritage.

Once again, the field of genealogy is not as simple as a regular puzzle that can be purchased in any store. It doesn’t come in a box.  All the pieces are not always evident and many often have to be deciphered before being able to create a whole picture. A regular puzzle might take a day to complete, while a genealogist may spend months to gather all the information needed to provide someone with a reliable and trustworthy plan to follow.

Since most Americans are of European descent, genealogists often have to handle important documents in many different languages, therefore needing the assistance of reliable linguists for all their translation needs. This is how K.B. Genealogy & Research is really able to distinguish itself from the rest of its competitors.  They are not interested in providing their customers with half of a puzzle, they go beyond to acquire the most reliable information they can by entrusting their records to language professionals who share the same goal: making a “real” difference in someone’s life by accepting no less than the most reputable sources of information, whether in English, Italian, French, German or Dutch (amongst others)!

So, as you can see, although puzzles appear to be adaptable to human situations, they are not. A puzzle already provides the pieces needed to achieve results, human situations require time, devotion, research, reliability, cure, patience, understanding and preciseness – especially when dealing with foreign languages – in order to be able to create a perfect path worth following. Every single one of us has roots across the oceans, beyond the national boundaries and around the globe. None of us were born alone; we all had a biological mother and father.  Chances are that our very own parents had brothers and sisters, long lost cousins that may not even know of your existence, nor you of theirs.

Genealogy, like a puzzle, helps you put the pieces of information available together to help you come to terms with your questions: “Why did my great grandpa come here”, “Where did he come from”, “Who did he leave behind?”, “Does anyone even know of my existence?”, “Where do I have to travel to find my long lost relatives?”. Genealogy and languages will help you find the answers to your questions. Why live in doubt when there is a great multi-lingual genealogy partner next door who is ready to help you reconnect with your heritage worldwide? It’s time you take action and to become one of the many success stories of our global genealogical research!

Written by Caroline Schena – Professional Translator with a Bachelor’s in Languages.


What are naturalization records and why you need them?

I have told many people that before you “jump the pond” to your ancestor’s homeland, it is important to gather all the documents and information you can on their life in the United States first. Many people will notice on census records that their ancestors were either AL-Aliens or NA – Naturalized Citizens and there will be a date of Naturalization next to the NA. What most people don’t realized is there is usually at least a two page file with a wealth of information associated with the male immigrants. Wives and children were usually naturalized under their spouse/father. The file usually includes at least two very important documents:

  1. Declaration of Intent – a document they file when they come to the United States telling the government they would like to become a citizen. The waiting period was usually 5 years of residency. Information on the Declaration varied during different time periods, but usually included valuable information such as full name, date of birth, place of birth, arrival date in the U.S, the name of the ship or railroad, plus the names of his wife and children. Newer declarations could include such things as the applicant’s picture.
  2. Petition for Naturalization – after the waiting period the alien would file this with the government and without any issues would be granted citizenship after denouncing allegiance to their prior government and signing an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S.

Sometimes, the 5 year waiting period was waived.  My great-grandfather, Coleman Joyce, came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1915 and was recruited into the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Devens in Massachusetts, and was taught a trade. When he was discharged after nine months, he filed a Petition for Naturalization and was approved for citizenship. The great thing was that his documents mentioned what ship he came on and where he left from in Ireland [Lettermore Island, Galway, Ireland], which made it easier to find him on a passenger list. The passenger list then confirmed where he was born and his father’s name. When my parents took their “Trip of a Lifetime” to Ireland in 2011 they were able to take a detour to where Coleman Joyce, my father’s grand-father grew up. He could not imagine that his father was one of 13 known children that lived in a two room house on such a small island. It made the trip more personal to him and it can for you as well.

Other times, citizenship was denied. My great-grandfather’s brother, Michael Joyce came to this country in 1914 and filed a Declaration of Intention. He filled out a WWI like everyone did in about 1917, but he was drafted.  To keep from serving in the war he used his legal right to declare alien ship and not have to serve. He filed his Petition for Naturalization in 1920. He must not have realized that the government would check with the military to see if he was a veteran or not. Since it was found that he claimed alien ship during the war [his legal right], the government exercised their right to deny him citizenship and make him wait another five years to file again. By the time he refilled in 1925, things had changed to my delight. This time he was granted his citizenship, however when I got his file I was shocked that I was staring at a picture of my great-grandfather’s brother.

Top 5 Reasons to Obtain Naturalization Files -

  1. Naturalization records can be a wealth of knowledge that may help you find where your ancestor came from.
  2. Naturalization records after 1906 are usually held by regional National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] locations who are easy to work with
  3. If the record is held by NARA, the cost is usually $7.50
  4. Once the request is received by NARA they have 10 business days to let you know whether a file was found or not, so less wait time then most records
  5. Why not? What do you have to lose?


K.G. Genealogy and Research specializes in obtaining Naturalization records post 1906 from NARA for New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. We are also helpful in locating records from local courts prior to 1906; however those records usually cost more than those held by NARA.

See Michael Joyce’s second attempt at citizenship below:




My grandfather was a man of few words. His favorite pastime during his retirement was sitting in his kitchen in Massachusetts, and watching his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, play. When they won the World Series in 2004, I almost fell over. I immediately called my grandparent’s house to see if my grandfather was okay. He was after all 89 year of age and in poor health and I wanted to make sure he didn’t have a heart attack and collapse. Luckily that wasn’t the case. He was chatty and I could hear pure pride and happiness in his voice. Something I had never heard before in my lifetime but would one more time.

My grandmother had to have when my grandfather was 91 and since she was going to be in the hospital for five days and since my grandfather couldn’t drive anymore, I flew up to Massachusetts to stay with him for the week and to bring him to visit my grandmother daily. Since he had already brought up the subject when he asked me to look into his family history for him, I made what I thought was a great list of interview questions for him. When we sat down to breakfast one morning I started asking him a few questions about his favorite music, movies, and so one. I pretty much got one to two word answers to my open ended questions. I thought I was wasting my time, until I asked the question he must have been waiting to be asked, “What was it like being in the Navy during WWII?” His face lit up like I had never seen and a big smile came across his face. He told me that serving his country during WWII was “The best time of my life”. He then launched into a two hour one sided conversation with me. He told me that he was working in the Navy ship yard repairing ships when the war broke out. He said he followed the war through the papers but never thought about enlisting until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After that he felt the need to enlist and since he was working for the Navy it only made sense to him to join the Navy.[1] He told me so many stories that day that it felt I was really meeting the younger version of my grandfather for the first time. My hand was taking notes so fast it would ache for days after, but I was having a fantastic time.

Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away the following May, just before his 92nd birthday. He and my grandmother had made it through 67 years of marriage. He was buried with his fellow soldiers at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts. After his funeral, I found myself a little lost about what to do next with my life. Should I drop the subject of genealogy or should I still pursue it even though I had lost the person who had inspired me to pick it up. Then one day, during my day job, I was on the internet clicking on random items about WWII. I saw that copies of military records were available to veterans or next-of-kin of deceased veterans.[2] I clicked on the link and it brought me to an online ordering system. I immediately called my father and had him request my grandfather’s military record. Even though he was only in the Navy for just under two years and the charge to the next-of-kin was $60, I thought  the file would just give me back a piece of my grandfather’s life.  I didn’t expect the treasure I received.

Two weeks later I got it in the mail unopened by my father and was amazed with what I had. It was a plain manila file folder that had to be at least 2 inches thick. What could be in there? He wasn’t in the service that long. I opened the folder and there he was, my grandfather’s mug shot I call it. It was the first picture that was taken of him when he enlisted showing his height and noting his weight. Next I found my grandfather’s fingerprint card, and after that a picture of his class when he graduated from boot camp in New York. New York? He never mentioned New York. Every page was a different treasure, a piece of information I never knew.  During his story to me why would he have thought to mention his starting rank, his promotions, where he went to boot camp, what his specialty was in the Navy and so much more. He told me the stories of the who, what, when, and where. Now I was seeing the official story straight from the Navy to his file.  It completed the picture for me and I was beyond thrilled.

A friend of mine’s father passed away just over a year ago. While at our house for dinner she was telling a story about him and at the end mentioned he never would talk about his time in the military. I perked up and asked her how long he was in the service for and she told me he had been in for 20 years and was honorably discharged when she was a child. I couldn’t speak quickly enough. I told her about my grandfather’s military record and even brought it to the table for her to look through. My grandfather was only in for a short time and she was amazed at the information. I went to my file drawer and got the forms that she needed if she decided she wanted to order her father’s military record. She is still debating whether or not to get it. She thinks maybe there was a reason he never talked about it and she’s a little scared of what might be in it.[3] Either way she decides it doesn’t really matter. It’s about knowing she has an option which she never knew existed.

[1] Interview, Name withheld due to privacy, 15 October 2006

[2] National Archives and Veterans Administration [NARA], St. Louis, MO.

[3] Interview, Name withheld due to privacy, 6 May 2012