FGS In the News

Oct 6, 2018

Learning about Fairbanks’ Founders, the Cleary’s and Learning about the Cleary’s

A gold mine of information: Skilbred pulls audiences into way-back-when of Alaska

Pioneer Air Museum – General Dale Vincent Gaffney (link no longer works)

Journey Home Genealogy, Lost in Alaska and the Yukon


Fairbanks is home to a large, and growing, group of genealogists

By MARY BETH SMETZER Fairbanks Daily News-Miner May 5, 2008

While doing genealogical research, a distant relative gave Rachel Levine an intricately carved cow horn pincushion.

The object was hewn in the early 1900s by another relative serving time in a Colorado prison on false murder charges.

He was released 10 years later when frequent sightings of the “dead man” were reported and evidentiary bones were determined to be non-human.

Adeline Peter Raboff treasures an early 20th century photograph of her father, Stephen Peter, as a young teenager in Arctic Village. Over the last 10 years of Peter’s life (he died in 1997), he shared with his daughter an oral tradition of Gwich’in genealogy going back more than six generations, before any English names were included in the family tree.

Joanie Skilbred dug deep before learning that her Norwegian great, great grandmother, Anna Goodmanson, immigrated to America in May 1882. During the sea voyage, two of Anna’s children died and were buried at sea. Two years later, after settling in Iowa, Anna died in childbirth while delivering twins, one of whom also died. She left behind her husband and five children.

After learning that Joseph translates as “Giuseppe” in Italian, Robin Renfroe tracked down her Italian grandfather Giuseppe Pollastrine’s arrival at Ellis Island at age 16 on March 25, 1902, and she has a copy of the ship’s manifest to prove it. She also found his name on 1910 Fairbanks census rolls.

Ferreting out family histories with only fragments of information as a starting point is the challenge of genealogy.

Renfroe describes the pursuit as “the thrill of the hunt. … Where is this going to take me next?”

At times the quest is tedious and slow, but it turns exciting and rewarding when small but important little puzzle pieces surface and start fitting together into a whole.

According to some national statistics, genealogy is gaining in popularity as a favorite American hobby.

The Fairbanks Genealogical Society, established 35 years ago, has been steadily growing in recent years as more information becomes readily available via the Internet.

Society members vary from beginners to accomplished researchers who provide support for each other, share research tips and undertake genealogy-related community projects, said Joanie Skilbred, the group’s president.

Some members give informational classes upon request, answer requests and inquiries from around the world, provide research services for an hourly fee of $10, preserve records and record publications of research interest.

In addition to a monthly newsletter and an upgraded Web page, a current Society project is locating and compiling source information on cemeteries sprinkled along the Interior highway system.

“The one biggie members all have in common is a desire to share their knowledge, share their skills and share their stories,” Skilbred said.

“For the longest time, I was all by myself (researching), and it’s kind of neat to be in a room with other people like that, who share that passion.”

Skilbred describes members of the Society as “brick wall busters,” here to help families in the Interior find families in Alaska, the rest of the states or another country.

Part of the genealogical society’s mandate is to try to pull together records to help other people, Skilbred said.

One of the places to start sleuthing is the Family History Center Library at 1500 Cowles St. in the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints building.

The extensive collection of books, microfilm and microfiche is open to the public 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, and users can order birth, death, marriage and probate records, wills, etc. Volunteers are always on hand to assist with research.

Levine said she spent a lot of time at the history center and got a lot of help in the process.

For Alaska ancestors, the archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson library is a good place to start before going online to Rootsweb.com or Cindyslist.com, which has links to county historical and genealogical societies, libraries and archives.

“You learn by doing,” Skilbred said. “So when you make your trip to where your ancestors are from, you’ll take that knowledge with you, and chances are you’ll have better results.”

Fairbanks also boasts a nationally certified genealogist, Connie Bradbury, who owns her own genealogy consulting business. She is a co-author with David Hales of “Alaska Sources for Historians and Genealogists,” a 325-page book published in 2001.

Bradbury also recommends starting off at the Family History Center Library to get help doing a preliminary family survey, “so you don’t reinvent the wheel.”

“It’s probably one of the best local libraries,” Skilbred said. “It is outstanding.”

Once genealogical research gets under way, it is important to gather all the records and do a good job of documenting where you got the records, Bradbury advised.

“For instance, information from an aunt’s letter or e-mail should be documented with received from so-and-so on such a date. … If you copy something out of a book, you document the name of the book, name of the author, title date, publishers and where you actually saw the book.

“So many people depend on the Internet, and the Internet isn’t always right,” she added.

Bruce Parham, director of Regional Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Alaska Region, said visitors need to come prepared with personal identification to access the archives, and with as much information they can collect on their own beforehand. The archives are located at 654 West Third Ave., between F and G streets in Anchorage.

Parham suggests beginners start gathering information about themselves, parents, grandparents, etc., gleaned from family letters, Bibles, diaries, scrapbooks, obituaries, and birth, marriage and death certificates.

Federal archives contain census, military, immigration, land and court records, maritime records, passenger arrival lists and indexes, territorial and regional records and regional naturalization records after 1906.

“Before 1906, local courts handled citizenship,” Parham said.

The regional treasury is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday and one Saturday a month. For information, e-mail alaska.archives@nara.gov or call 907-261-7820, and expect a reply within 10 working days, Parham said.

“Things just don’t lay around. They get acknowledged,” he added.

According to local family sleuths, pursuing family genealogy has a number of positive side effects. It keeps the brain active, provides good reasons for travel, passes winter more quickly, makes for interesting conversation, finds long lost relatives and might eventually answers some of those niggling questions about your forebears.

“I think it is important for people to know who their families are,” Renfroe said. “Our families shape us whether we knew them or not.”

Renfroe, who especially enjoys finding and duplicating old photographs, has tracked down family trees on both sides of her Athabascan/Italian family roots.

Renfro enjoys sharing the research skills she has developed over the years. Those skills also help her in her job as enrollment manager for Doyon Ltd., which is one of four Native corporations enrolling children of Natives who enrolled in 1971, who have a quarter or more of Native blood.

“I will help guide them in doing their research, and I may do it for them if it is in an area where I already have some records from my own family research,” Renfro said.

Rachel Levine has neglected her paintbrushes since becoming immersed in her family history in the mid-1990s, spending more time in front of her computer.

“I used to do a lot of watercolor,” she said. “This genealogy is a real addiction. I’m happy doing research on the Internet.

“It helps with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The monitor is always the same brightness. It doesn’t matter what it is like outside the window,” she said.

Since she took up genealogy, Levine has published two books, (the first has 300 pages and the second has 600 pages) on her family’s history.

“It makes history a lot more personal when you put your family in a historic context,” said Levine, whose mother’s side of the family landed on American shores before the 1700s.

Although Levine’s husband, Richard, has gone on to other interests, she credits him for getting her interested in genealogy.

“He had some rough notes and these huge albums from his bar mitzvah and all these family group shots and all these strangers,” she said.

After identifying as many as he could with his parents, he made copies of the photographs and sent them all around and managed to identify everyone in every photo.

Richard Levine, who grew up in New York City, also put together two genealogical books with a lot of photographs, but didn’t gotten very far with records since his ancestors are from Russia and Romania.

“In those two countries,” explained his wife. “Most of the Jews flew pretty low under the czar’s radar.”

Since Rachel Levine’s relatives lived in small towns, she pored over microfilm to glean reams of family information.

“Small town newspapers are wonderful … if you have the time and patience to keep rolling through and looking for your surname,” she said.

Along the way, Levine was able to track down a number of distant cousins and share information and photographs.

“I met so many kind and generous and trusting people.” she said.

While living in Fort Yukon in the 1960s, Adeline Peter Raboff started taking notes about her family’s Athabascan history during a two-week visit from a talkative older relative.

In 1987, Raboff picked up the thread again while living in Arctic Village and added to her written records the oral genealogy her father had gathered and retained over his lifetime.

To date, Raboff has compiled more than enough information for a book, which she intends to eventually publish.

“I’ve been doing the whole Yukon Flats,” she said. “… Not only genealogy, but where people came from; what tribe they came from and the stories of the families and stories given to me by family members and their marriage groups.”

Marriage groups were important and were observed by Athabascans throughout the Interior, Raboff said.

Usually, there were three marriage groups in an area, and people could not marry within their own group, only into one of the other groups.

“In other parts of the world where people have intermarried for centuries, there are genetic anomalies,” Raboff said. “Medical professionals have remarked upon the relative absence of this within Athabascans.

“But it is changing. In the past century, the whole marriage patterns that were honored for centuries are no longer honored or remembered because of various situations that came about, for instance the (1918) flu epidemic. There were a lot of orphans, and a lot didn’t necessarily know which group they came from.”

Many of the children were raised in missions and the older girls would be married to whomever would take them.

One elder told Raboff he refused to marry a girl he was offered because she was from his same marriage group, and he was told he was being superstitious.

“And he didn’t marry the girl they wanted him to,” Raboff said.

In addition to talking to a lot of elders, Raboff said she has listened to a lot of tapes of elders and scoured Episcopal Archdeacon Robert McDonald’s journals, censuses and lots of Gwich’in source material. Raboff still intends to research the journals of the Rev. Jules Jette, a Catholic priest who served in the Interior in the early 20th century.

Renfroe began informally collecting information about her family when she was a teen.

“Records were not available then like they are now,” she said. “If you wanted to look at census data then, it wasn’t easy.”

Today, the Internet is a valuable resource for researchers, and e-mail certainly speeds up the process of obtaining documents over traditional mail, but it has to be used with caution.

“You’ve got to be real creative and real open and also very careful. You have to make sure you have good reference points.” Renfroe said.

Renfroe posted a message on the Internet about eight years ago looking for relatives of her grandfather. Three years later, she received an e-mail reply. Eventually, Renfroe and her mother attended a Pollestrine family reunion in California, and learned a lot about her grandfather’s origins from a relative who had visited his birthplace and videotaped gravesites. Many of the grave monuments contained photographs of the deceased.

“I still have a lot more to do, but probably more important and more rewarding to me is helping others through the Fairbanks Genealogical Society to do research. I learned on my own, but I think it is important to network and help others. The Fairbanks Genealogical Society will take you to the next level,” she said.

This article is from the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, is copyrighted and is re-published here with permission of the editor.

“Remember the Alamo”, has personal meaning for NP resident


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner May 5, 2008

I don’t know about the younger generation but all of us Baby Boomers grew up singing about Davy Crocket, King of the Wild Frontier. We knew he had a coonskin cap, was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee and killed a bear when he was only three.

But to North Pole resident Sandra Giddings Davy Crockett is something more. The man of legend, who defended the Alamo and is known as the Spirit of the American Frontier, is her great-great-great-grandfather.

Davy Crockett, who was a crack shot, brave warrior, backwoods statesman, and would become an American hero, was born in 1786 in a small cabin near Limestone, Tennessee . He had less than six months of formal education. Crockett was a commander in the Indian Wars, and served in the Tennessee legislature for two terms, from 1821 to 1824. He also served three terms in the U.S. Congress.

Sandra Crockett Giddings grew up knowing she had a famous relative in Davy Crockett, but it wasn’t until she started attending Alamo ceremonies in Texas that she realized that because of him she’s a minor celebrity herself.

In March she flew to San Antonio and met an aunt and distant cousins and joined the activities commemorating the fall of the Alamo . She stayed, of course, at the Crockett Hotel which is located across the street from the Alamo . One highlight of the trip, she said, was meeting up with other Crockett descendents and people she had met from past visits. Direct male lineage must be proven by DNA. Her father and brother both bear the name David.

It’s surprising how far people come to participate: New York , Florida , Alaska , California , Canada , England , and many other places I’ve forgotten, and, of course, Texas had a good representation, she said.

While still a youngster Davy spent four days in school and then had a fight with another student. To escape a licking from his dad, he set off on his own and got a job driving cattle to Virginia . At age 16, after doing a variety of jobs in Virginia for over two years, he returned home and worked off debts owed by his father. During this time he became a notorious marksman, competing in local shooting contests. It wasn’t uncommon for him to pay a quarter for a single shot and win a quarter of beef.
In 1806, just after his 20th birthday, Crockett married Mary Polly Finley. They had two children. Upon her death he married Elizabeth Patton and they had three children, including the son who would be Sandra Giddings great-great-grandfather.
The first segment of the festivities Sandra Giddings and her entourage attended was the “Dawn at the Alamo” Commemorative Ceremony. Being a direct descendant of Davy Crockett she was one of 13 chosen to be a candle holder to commemorate the 13 days of the siege. Afterwards she and her cousin Carolyn laid a bouquet of yellow roses alongside the memorial plaque in front of the Alamo .

After he was defeated in his quest for a third tour in Congress, Davy Crockett decided to explore Texas and soon became involved in the fight for independence. Crockett saw the future of an independent Texas as his future. Besides, he loved a good fight.
In March, 1836, Davy Crockett was massacred at the Alamo , along with 187 others. Not one person survived to tell the tale. For 13 days the 187 men withstood the Santa Ana and the Mexican army. Alongside the brave Americans on the ground lay over 2,000 Mexicans who died at their hands. Crockett was 49.
Later that day, Giddings and the others joined the Daughters of the Republic of Texas inside the Alamo for their annual memorial service for the Heroes of the Alamo . The ceremony is closed to the public.
“Lineage has its benefits”, she said, laughing. The name Crockett, especially in Texas and Tennessee , also carries prestige. She signed autographs and Phil Collins, famous song writer/singer asked to be photographed with her.

The events continued another two days and included joining the Alamo Society and visiting the San Fernando Cathedral which houses a marble sarcophagus which contains the remains of the defenders of the Alamo .

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the filming of “The Alamo, The Price of Freedom”, Giddings said, adding that after a showing of the movie many of the original cast and crew were on hand to tell about the filming, including the fellow who played the role of Davy Crockett.

His tombstone reads: “Davy Crockett, Pioneer, Patriot, Soldier, Trapper, Explorer, State Legislator, Congressman, Martyred at the Alamo . 1786 – 1836. His first rifle, “Betsy”, was presented by the Whigs in Philadelphia in 1834 and is on display in Nashville . His tomahawk is in the Smithsonian. And his motto: “Be always sure you are right and then go ahead” belongs to posterity.

Today, Sandra Giddings has several reprints of Davy Crockett’s biography and a whole host of tales, truths, and information on her famous relative who is so engraved on American history.

Oh, and about that bear? Giddings said Davy Crockett didn’t kill a bear when he was three. But he did kill 103 of the bruins during his lifetime.

This article is from the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, is copyrighted and is re-published here with permission of the writer.

Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Tuesday July 23, 1968
Section B, pg 16

1,150 Buried at Fairbanks Cemetery

EDITOR’S NOTE: If everybody in this world were as cooperative as Pioneer Edby Davis of Fairbanks, this country would be a much grander place in which to live.  The following was compiled by Mr. Davis at the request of a Girl Scout leader who wanted to teach her girls some authentic history about the cemetery that they helped tidy up each spring.  Here are Mr. Davis’s recollections:

The Fairbanks Cemetery lies between Third and Seventh Avenues and Clay Street.  As I arrived here in 1906, at the age of 12, it brings in lots of memories of the 1,150 sleeping there.

A few days ago I was at the main gate with pad and pencil thinking how to start.  Before realizing it, tears ran down my cheeks, as untold numbers I knew.  But one must go on.

It’s all divided into plots.  The General plot, Veterans, Oddfellows, Catholic, Eagles, Pioneers, Moose, Masons.  All 3.5 acres. The Alaska Brotherhood, which ceased to function and the balance of space with permission, was used by the Pioneers.  All markers are supplied by the relatives.  The most prominent are the Veterans, six of the Civil War, nine Spanish American.  The marble slab may be obtained, free by applying for it at Washington, D. C.  Three of my buddies are resting there.

The most impressive is the Catholic Cross.  Close by are three Vachon children burned at Tolovana Alaska in 1909.  One girl came out alive and was recently a sister at St. Joseph’s Hospital.  Three Catholic sisters face the cross, the first on to pass on is Sister Monaldi in 1915. Six priests- the recent one Father Boileau.   In the distance is Mary Pedro; her husband discovered gold that started the Fairbanks Stampede. Her husband, Felix Pedro, is buried in San Francisco, California.

As one walks along there is Pat O’Conner, Albert Miller, Charles McDermitt and Jirden Andrews, all law enforcement officers.  Two died of gunshot wounds.  Four buried there with no markers, whose death was capital punishment.

Dr. De La Vergne and Dr. La Blauc both medical doctors.  Also Rev. Tompkins clergyman of the Christian Science Church.  Near the south fence is a murdered man, by which “Dead Man’s Slough” is named.

Some years ago Surveyor John Quemboe made a blueprint of the general plot.  Two years ago our city government placed a copper marker at each grave.  But there are lots of unmarked graves, out of the general plot.

The first one buried here, 1903, he lived in a hotel at First and Cushman, a suicide.  His grave unmarked.  One lone grave, W. F. Thompson, at one time founder, editor and owner of the News-Miner.  There is George L. Bellows who started a newspaper at Chena, Alaska.  Morton E. Stevens, a lawyer, one of the first of our Board of Regents of our now University of Alaska. Also John A. McIntosh, one of the first Regents; his wife is buried with him. Three cases of lady suicide, because they were accused of sporting.  There are lots of cases of man, wife, children.  One can see some have loved ones as their graves are “kept up”. 

When we lost our father, 1935, there were four types of funerals, $90-$200-$240-and $500-this being a metal casket.  These prices included everything. In talking to an undertaker in Seattle, Washington, he stated “your prices are cheaper than ours.  It must be little overhead.”  How true it was!  An improved warehouse with no facilities and lots of complaints.  There was always a hearse drawn by horses with black netting.  In 1918 it was motorized.

In 1937 some of the plots were “filled up” and the Birch Hill Cemetery started afterward.  The Northern Lights cemetery, on the Yankovich Road and both are used now.  The only ones buried in the first cemetery were those who desired burial by a loved one.

My father is buried in the Pioneer Plot.  We now have a 13 feet by 13 feet of space in the Birch Hill cemetery, where my brother is sleeping.


Transcribed by Joan Skilbred for the Fairbanks Genealogical Society
Copyright 2008 © Fairbanks Genealogical Society