Genealogy Research: Start Simple

Genealogy Research: Start SimpleI attended Heritage Day at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley last weekend. It was a great program (and free!) and in addition to hearing 2 fantastic seminars by Sharon Hodges (she is repeating her incredibly helpful session, "Hi Ho Hi Ho, It's Off To Work I Go", at the spring conference of the Fairfax Genealogical Society), I was able to help solve a genealogy brick wall. The attendee sitting next to me was discussing a photo of her great grandfather in an unidentified uniform. My curiosity got the best of me and I asked to see the photo. She wanted to discover what service and war (if any) the uniform was from and was not having any luck.

What we started with:

  • The ancestor, Sylvester Lamm, was an immigrant from Germany
  • He was born in 1862
  • The photo looked like it was from the early 20th century
  • The ancestor looked approximately 30-37 years old in the photo
  • The ancestor was wearing a uniform and what looked like a Civil War cavalry-type hat with an insignia
SSB insignia from photo of Sylvester Lamm

SSB insignia from photo of Sylvester Lamm

The clue that jumped out at me was the insignia on the hat. It was the initials SSB inset in an open wreath of gold leaves. I had seen similar insignia styles, but they usually indicated the job a person did in the military (a Navy medic, for example). I had not seen one with these initials and a quick Google search of "SSB military insignia" on my phone turned up nothing. Our afternoon session started and the photo was temporarily put aside, then we broke and went on to our brick wall sessions, one of which was with a volunteer covering military records, so my new friend was hopeful that she might find answers.

After the brick wall sessions were over, I sought her out and asked if the volunteer had been able to help. She had not, and I gave her my cell phone number so she could text me a copy of the photo. I promised her that I would do a little research and get back to her.

Genealogy Research Should Start Simple

Upon arriving home, I ran a few Google searches. I'm not an expert genealogist, but I'm a fair hand at research, so I was convinced that I would be able to turn something up. First, I isolated the hat insignia in the image and uploaded it to Google images to see if they had a similar photo. Nothing. Next, I did an image search for various forms of the terms SSB, military unit, insignia, uniform, and others. I even tried adding in Spanish American War and WWI since the ancestor was born in 1862. Nothing. I searched within websites that seemed relevant - such as sites that specialize in military uniform identification - for the terms SSB. Nothing.

The more I searched, the more determined I became.

There was just no way that this man's uniform insignia had zero documentation online, but I couldn't figure out why I wasn't finding it. In frustration, I thought maybe I should focus on finding information about the man instead of the uniform. I plugged his name into the search engine, and as an afterthought added the initials SSB. Immediately I had results with enough information to find an answer.


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn, New York; June 19, 1906, page 8. Accessed 2 February 2015. © 2015

The first result, a link to Pg. 6 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from June 12, 1907, was a notice in a newspaper article about the Wilhelm Tell Company No. 13 of the SSB, of which Sylvester Lamm is the captain. A search on "wilhelm tell co. 13 brooklyn lamm 1906", turned up the elusive name behind the initials SSB in the newspaper clipping to the left, stating that Sylvester Lamm was captain of the William Tell Company of the Sueddeutscher Schuetzenbund.

Now I could search "Sueddeutscher Schuetzenbund" and I discovered that Sylvester Lamm was in a German competitive shooting club with chapters around the world; he had personally organized the Brooklyn chapter, Wilhelm Tell Co. 13, of which he was the captain. With this information, there is quite a bit of research that could be done through the organization's records if more details are desired about Sylvester's involvement in the organization. There are a couple other newspaper articles of relevance, but her SSB mystery has been solved.

The moral of the story is that sometimes we make things too difficult -- if I had started with a simple search using the terms Sylvester Lamm SSB, I would have immediately found the clue that led to the discovery of the name behind SSB.

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  1. Karen Skelton says

    I cannot believe how similar this sounds to my own longstanding mystery. I have searched for years and explored untold avenues for possibilities to learn who my "mystery man in uniform" is. I have passed it around family, and examined specialty encyclopedias. I have consulted with a military history professor at Quantico, a curator of military uniforms in Fredericksburg, VA, and even the staff of the Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier (who were most intrigued by the "close but not quite" nature of the cap badge.)
    Are you feeling lucky? Ready to try another one?
    If you are, and you do, I will reward you handsomely!

    • Sure, send it over! Not sure I'll have any results, but you never know. I couldn't believe how easy it was when I just used the man's name after all I went through. It would probably be like lightening striking twice to solve two of them, but who knows? Send it through FB with everything you know about it and when I have a chance I'll look at it.

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