My in-laws came to visit for Easter this year, and I had a chance to sit down with my mother-in-law and sort through a huge box of old family photos that had belonged to her mother, Joanna (Drajem) Barth. Mom was invaluable in identifying the individuals in them, although in some cases Grandma Barth had done this job for us by making notes on the backs of the photos. One of these photos was of Grandma Barth’s maternal aunt, Sister Mary Rose Kantowska, F.S.S.J. (Figure 1).1
Sister Mary Rose was born Johanna Kundt on 7 October 1884 in Klotildowo, Kreis Schubin (Schubin County), in the Posen province of the German Empire. This location is presently known as Klotyldowo, powiat żniński (Żnin County), in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie province of Poland. She was the oldest daughter of Johann and Marianna (Kończal) Kundt, or Kąt, as the family was recorded in Polish parish registers. According to oral family tradition, the family adopted the surname Kantowski, since they felt it was more acceptable to American ears than their original surname. Joanna Kantowski’s birth record is shown in Figure 2.2
The Kantowski family immigrated to Buffalo, New York, circa 1886, where another daughter, Stanisława Maria, was born to them on 8 September 1886.3 Figure 3 shows the young family circa early 1887.4
In 1900, the Kantowski family was living at 25 Newton Street, according to the 1900 census.5 At 15 years of age, Johanna was employed as a Marble Finisher.
Two years later, she entered the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph.6 Her obituary stated that she was a teacher, whose career spanned about 40 years and included teaching positions in Shamokin, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Figure 5).7
Sister Mary Rose was also a loving and affectionate aunt to her many nieces and nephews. Her younger sister, Mary Kantowski, married Albert Drajem on 22 October 1912, and by 1916, Albert and Mary were the parents of three children—Victor Albert Drajem, born in 1913, and twins, Joanna and Stanley Drajem, born in 1916. A simplified family tree is shown in Figure 6.
The three siblings—Victor, Joanna and Stanley—appear in a photo from circa 1917, shown in Figure 7.8
Joanna Drajem—my husband’s grandmother, otherwise known as Grandma Barth—preserved three postcards with holiday greetings, addressed jointly to her and to her twin brother, Stanley, by Sr. Mary Rose. Although Grandma wrote on the postcards that they were from 1916 and 1917, it seems that the last postcard, with Easter greetings addressed to little Jania alone, must have been written after Stanley’s death in 1919.9 The first post card is shown in Figures 8a and b.
The following transcriptions and translations were kindly provided by Dr. Roman Kałużniacki.
Postcard 1: Isn’t It Fun To Be Sweethearts
1916 – 1917
“Czy Jania i Stasiu też tak się kochają jak te dwoje które na tym obrazku przedstawiają.
Do Jania and Staś love each other also so as these two who themselves on the photo show?
Jakie one szczęśliwe nic im nie brakuje, jedno przy drugiem siedzi i swą radość czuje.
How happy they are nothing they lack, One by the other sit and their joy feel,
Niechaj i waszym maleństwom tak czas miło leci, By pozostały miłe wspomnienia jak jeszcze były małe dzieci.
Let the time for your youngsters also warmly flow, That sweet memories remain as little children they still were.
Ze chociaż kłopotu nieraz narobiły a i bez uciechy dni one nie były.
That though trouble at times they caused but yet no such days without joy there were.
Kiedy szczebiotaniem naśladować chciały to co od innych usłyszały.
When they wanted to mimic with twitters That which they overheard from others.
Tak niech im słodko płyną młodociane dni Jak błogo jest temu co mu się dobrze śni.
So for them let sweetly flow youthful days As blissfully as for one who soundly dreams.”
The second postcard is a Christmas card, shown in Figures 9a and b.
Postcard 2: Christmas Greetings
“Czy Stasiu i Joasia tak smacznie zasypiają jak oto te dwa dzieciątka co tu spoczywają?
Do Staś and Joasia so charmingly fall asleep As these two babes who here do rest?
Jedno już się budzi czuje pewnie że coś je czeka Czy i dla waszych maleństw gwiazdka będzie uciecha?
One already wakens feeling something for it awaits Will the Christmas star also bring for your little ones joy?
Czy też może w kołysce leżą chore I zasmucają twarze w tak wesołą porę.
Perhaps they also lay sick in the cradle And sadden their faces at such a joyful time.
To im życzę jeśli chore by Jezusek mały Przyszedł je uzdrowić by nie chorowały.
Then I wish if they are ill that little Jesus Come to heal that they not ail.
Jeśli zaś zdrowe by tem czerstwiejsze Pozostało ich zdrowie na zawsze.
If else healthy that for them yet ruddier Remain their health forever.
Aby na pociechę Wam wyrosły Dużo radości w życiu przyniosły.
That they for you grow up in comfort That much joy in life they bring.
Życzę im dużo ach dużo dobrego Od Dzieciątka Jezus nowo narodzonego.
I wish them all oh so much good From Baby Jesus newly born.”
Finally, the third postcard with Easter greetings is shown in Figures 10a and b.
Postcard 3: A Happy Easter to you.
“Wesołych Świąt małej Jani Czy ona też tak sobie zasypia że ani kogut jej zbudzić nie może? Posyłam tu kurkę z całą gromadką kurczatek wszystkie one razem życzą jej.
Happy Easter for little Jania Does she herself also so falls asleep that not even a rooster can her awaken? Here I send a hen with her entire clutch, they all together wish her.
1916 – 1917 Siostra M. Róża”
It’s delightful to find such treasures among the documents preserved in Grandma Barth’s personal archives. Through her postcard poetry, written more than a century ago, a bit of Sister Rose’s personality, warmth and affection has been preserved for generations to come.
1 Joan (Drajem) Barth, Kantowski/Drajem/Barth/Szczepankiewicz Family Photographs, circa 1880s–2008; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewcz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2022.
2Urząd Stanu Cywilnego Jabłówko (Jabłówko, Szubin, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), Akta urodzeń [birth records] 1874-1911, 1884, no. 69, Johanna Kandt; digital image, Genealogiawarchiwach (https://www.genealogiawarchiwach.pl/ : 30 April 2022), citing Archiwum Państwowe w Bydgoszczy, Sygnatura 6/1698/0/2.1/031, image 70 of 84.
Nr. 69. Hedwigshorst am 11 Oktober 1884. Vor dem untergezeichneten Standesbeamten erschien heute, der Persönlichkeit nach bekannt, der arbeiter Johann Kundt wohnhaft zu Klotildowo, katholischer Religion, und zeigte an, daß von der Marianna Kundt geb[orenen] Kończal, seiner Ehefrau katholischer Religion, wohnhaft bei ihm zu Klotildowo am sieben Oktober des Jahres tausend acht hundert achtzig und vier Nachmittags um sieben Uhr ein Kind weiblichen Geschlechts geboren worden sei, welches den Vornamen Johanna erhalten habe. Vorgelesen, genehmigt und unterschrieben Johann Kundt Der Standesbeamte ???
No. 69. Hedwigshorst on 11 October 1884. Before the undersigned registrar appeared today the laborer Johann Kundt, personally known, resident in Klotildowo, of the Catholic religion, and reported that Marianna Kundt, née Kończal, his wife, of the Catholic religion, living with him in Klotildowo, gave birth on the seventh of October of the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty and four at seven o’clock p.m. to a child of the female sex, which was given the first name Johanna. Read out, approved and signed by Johann Kundt, The registrar ???
3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Church records, 1873-1917, Baptisms 1874-1903, 1886, no. 556, Stanisława Maria Kantowska; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 30 April 2022), Family History Library film no.1292864/DGS no. 7897436, image 441 of 2958.
4 Joan (Drajem) Barth, Kantowski/Drajem/Barth/Szczepankiewicz Family Photographs, circa 1880s–2008; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewcz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2022.
51900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 11, Enumeration District 0085, Sheet 39A, household no. 638, lines 1-7, Jan Kantowski household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 30 April 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration publication no. T623, 1854 rolls, no specific roll cited.
6 Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, New York), 21 May 1968 (Tuesday), p 5, col. 5, obituary for Sister Mary Rose, FSSJ; digital image, Old Fulton New York Postcards (https://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html : 30 April 2022), image “Buffalo NY Courier Express 1968 – 7798.pdf”.
8Joan (Drajem) Barth, Kantowski/Drajem/Barth/Szczepankiewicz Family Photographs, circa 1880s–2008; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewcz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2022.
Recently, a long-standing “brick wall” came tumbling down, and I’m still reveling in the victory. I was finally able to definitively identify the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Maria Magdalena (Causin) Roberts, and establish their place of origin. This has been a research problem for nearly a decade, so it’s an especially sweet victory. Here’s how it unfolded.
Introducing Mary Magdalene Roberts
Mary Magdalene (or Maria Magdalena) Roberts has been quite the mystery for me, but it’s not as if she left no traces whatsoever in the historical record. On the contrary, her life is well-documented from the time of her marriage until the time of her death. I knew that Mary was born in New York about 1833–1834 and that she died on 27 February 1894 in Dearborn, Michigan.1 She married Michael Roberts (formerly Michael Ruppert), a German immigrant from the village of Heßloch in Rhineland-Palatinate, and together they became the parents of eight children, four of whom outlived her. However, her family’s origins prior to her marriage were considerably less clear. The record of Mary’s marriage to Michael Ruppert from St. Joseph’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Detroit is shown in Figure 1.2
The record is in Latin, and states that Michael Rupert married Magdalena Causin on 12 May 1857, and names Michael’s brother, Arnold Rupert, as a witness, along with Maria Brant (?). Unfortunately, the record does not provide the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and neither were Maria Magdalena’s parents identified on her death record.3 However, the death record stated that her parents were born in Switzerland, and the 1880 census reported that both her parents were born in France.4
Mary’s place of birth was identified as Buffalo, New York, on baptismal records for her children from Old St. Mary’s, and these records provided additional evidence for her maiden name. Figures 3a and b show the baptismal record for Franc. Henricus (Franz Heinrich, or Francis Henry) Ruppert in 1866.5
In this image, the mother’s name in the column at the far right, slightly cut off in the photo, appears to be “Magdalena Causin.”
The first column on the left in Figure 3b is the mother’s place of birth, which was identified as Buffalo, New York. The godparents, recorded in the next column, were Franciscus (Frank) Rupert and Catherine Rupert, the baby’s paternal grandparents.
Similarly, Buffalo was identified as the Mary Magdalene’s place of birth in the baptismal record for her son, Franz Georg, in 1871 (Figure 4b), but the mother’s name looks more like Casin or Cosin than Causin (Figure 4a).6
The godparents noted here were Franz Rupert, again, and “Charl.” (presumably Charlotte) Braun, and again, Magdalena was reported to have been born in Buffalo.
To further complicate the issue of Mary Magdalene’s maiden name, it was recorded as Couzens on the death record for her daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Hecker (Figure 5).7
Moreover, Mary’s maiden name was reported as Curzon in the brief biographical entry about her son, Frank M. Roberts, which appeared in the Buffalo Artists’ Register published in 1926 (Figure 6).8
The Search for Causins in Buffalo
With no hard evidence for her parents’ names, but pretty good evidence for a birth in Buffalo, New York, circa 1833, my Aunt Carol and I hoped to find a baptismal record for Mary Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon in the church records from St. Louis parish in Buffalo. St. Louis was the only Roman Catholic church in Buffalo at that time, having been established by immigrants from Germany, France and Ireland in 1829, and records are available from the Family History Library, originally on microfilm (currently digitized).9 Aunt Carol had a chance to review them first, and was disappointed to discover no good matches for a baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Causin. Her best guess was an 1832 baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Krauter, daughter of Matthias Krauter and Anna Eva Knab, but she conceded that this was a shot in the dark. I took a look at the film myself, and similarly struck out. Broad searches in indexed databases at Ancestry and FamilySearch for “C*s*n” living in Buffalo in 1832 produced plenty of results for Casin, Cassin, Cushion, Cousin, etc. but many of the individuals identified were Irish or English, arrived in Buffalo too late, or were ruled out for other reasons. A History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, published in 1898, contains a list of the German heads of household of St. Louis parish in 1832, but there were no surnames similar to Causin.10 We had no knowledge of any siblings that Maria Magdalena might have had, and no evidence for the family’s whereabouts from the time between her birth in Buffalo circa 1833, and her marriage in Detroit in 1857. Whoever Mary Magdalene’s parents were, they seemed to have left no trace of their time in Buffalo.
Hoping to get some new perspective on the problem, I posted in the Facebook group for the Western New York Genealogical Society back in 2013, wondering if there might be some other places besides St. Louis church that Mary might have been baptized.11 Admin Nancy Archdekin came through with an interesting suggestion: a birth record from St. Louis parish that Aunt Carol and I had overlooked, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, daughter of Joseph Antonius Gosÿ and Maria Agatha Hensy (Figure 7).12
According to this record, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ was born on 14 August 1832 and baptized (“renata vero”) the same day, with godparents Joseph Lang and Maria Anna Hensy. I was intrigued. I could see how “Gosÿ” might be a phonetic approximation of “Causin,” if the latter were pronounced with a nasal French ending. Could Gosÿ be the “correct,” original version of the surname, and all the subsequent records got it wrong? Searches for Gosÿ in Buffalo in 1832 were negative, suggesting that the name was a misspelled version of something. Could it be Causin?
I put that record on the back shelf, thinking that we had not yet exhausted documentary research which may still produce some leads or insights. I searched the 1840 census in both Detroit and Buffalo, the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, and Buffalo city directories, chasing down every Cousin, Cossin, Causin, Cassin, Curson, Cozzens, and any other surnames that seemed remotely similar phonetically. I checked probate records from Wayne County, Michigan, for any references to Mary as an heir, and although Mary was not mentioned specifically, I came up with one promising reference to “Pierre Casson (Coussin),” that was at least close to the right name. However, subsequent searches suggest that he may have been French Canadian rather than Alsatian. Still, it was a lead that I could have pursued further. I checked probate records in Buffalo, as well, but found nothing. Church records from St. Joseph’s might still be revealing. Perhaps they have records of premarital investigations, which sometimes provided more information about the bride and groom than is found in the actual marriage record? Furthermore, church records (deaths, in particular) from both St. Louis in Buffalo and St. Mary’s in Detroit had not yet been examined. There was—and still is—work to be done.
I also had some nagging doubts. What if Mary was never baptized? There was some evidence that the Alsatian community in Buffalo in the 1820s was “not unduly devout;” might her parents have omitted that rite?13 This hypothesis might have been more likely had Mary been born in Buffalo prior to 1829, but if a Catholic church was already in existence by about 1833 when she was born, it seemed probable that she would have been baptized there. But then another concern presented itself. In my research experience, many immigrants approximated their place of origin to the closest big city. What if Mary was not born in Buffalo, but near it? I’d found evidence in my research for Alsatian families farming in rural communities throughout the Western New York area, from Buffalo to Rochester. Maybe she was born in one of those communities?
Clues from the Causins’ Cluster
Since cluster research (also known as FAN research, research into an ancestor’s Friends/family, Associates, and Neighbors) has been so fruitful for me in the past, I decided to take a closer look at Maria Brant (or Brandt) and Charlotte Braun, two of the Roberts family’s FANS who were noted on church records, and were not known family members. Again, nothing jumped out at me; surveys of indexed records did not produce any good candidates who were born in France, Alsace, or Switzerland and who might have been connected to Mary. I kept coming back to that baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ: the mother and the godmother had the same surname, Hensy, and I suspected that they were at least cousins, if not sisters. Searches for “Hensy” in Buffalo and Detroit suggested that this surname, too, may have been misspelled, and I quickly discovered a plethora of German surname possibilities from indexed records, including Hintse, Hantz, Hense, Hentzi, Hentz, Hentzy, Hans, and even Hohensee. There were no obvious matches for Maria Anna Hensy, however. Something more was needed to shed light on this research problem, and I hoped that something would be DNA.
DNA to the Rescue
Although I could have used my own DNA match lists, I have in my arsenal DNA match lists for both my Dad and his paternal aunt. Aunt Betty is two generations closer to Mary Magdalene Roberts than I am, and she should have inherited roughly 12.5% of her DNA from this particular ancestor. With so much “Causin” DNA, I expected that it would not be too difficult to identify matches in Aunt Betty’s match list that are related to us through Mary Magdalene Causin. Nonetheless, it took some time to get to the point where I had identified enough matches that were probably related through the ancestors of Mary Magdalene Causin—and not one of our other German or Alsatian ancestors—that I could try to compare family trees and look for common surnames and places.
And that’s when it happened.
I was looking through Aunt Betty’s DNA matches one evening for something completely unrelated to Causin research. I was examining the public tree associated with one of her matches, when a name jumped out at me: Anna Maria Hanzi, who was married on 8 October 1838 to Moritz Schneider at Old St. Mary’s church in Detroit. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the Anna Maria “Hensy” of the baptismal record! Shared matches for this person included people I’d previously identified as having probable Causin ancestry, and several of them had public trees. All of them had Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze in them, and Ancestry reported that this same Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze appeared in 326 trees, quite a number of which cited a birth in 1814 in “Vaterhunn,” Alsace, France—information which was supposed to have come from the church record of Anna Maria’s marriage at Old St. Mary’s. Furthermore, Anna Maria’s parents were identified as Dionysius/Dennis Hanzi and Agnes (__), both of whom also immigrated to Michigan. The fact that this Mary Ann/Anna Maria had the same name as Mary Magdalene’s godmother, was also married in Detroit, and was showing up in the family trees of multiple DNA matches to Aunt Betty, could not possibly be a mere coincidence. This was the key to the whole problem!
A quick internet search revealed that “Vaterhunn” does not exist. It may have been a phonetic misrendering of whatever village name was provided orally to the priest, or it may have been a mistranscription by whomever tried to decipher the handwriting in the church record, or a combination of these. My first thought was that I needed to write to the church to request a copy of the marriage record. Although these records have been microfilmed and are available for research as part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Collection is temporarily unavailable (as of this writing) due to major renovations at the library. Obtaining the record from the church so I could see the handwriting myself seemed like the fastest way to discover what the real village name ought to be.
In the meantime, I decided to take a shot at guessing what the town name should have been. Lacking a good gazetteer for Alsace, I approximated one by searching the FamilySearch catalog for “France, Haut-Rhin,” and then drilling down to “Places within Haut-Rhin” for a list of about 400 locations for which FamilySearch has microfilmed/digitized records. I have no idea how complete this coverage is, but it seemed like a good start. Since many vital records for Haut-Rhin are online, I started searching for a civil birth registration for Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentze in 1814, to confirm the location. I thought perhaps that the “-hunn” in “Vaterhunn” might be “-heim,” instead, so I checked records from Waltenheim, Wettolsheim, Battenheim and Bartenheim for a few years around 1814, but did not find Anna Maria’s birth, nor even evidence for the existence of the Hentze surname in these locations.
Not feeling especially patient at this point, I switched gears and searched the Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy Facebook group for “Vaterhunn.” If there are 326 family trees out there that mention Anna Maria Hanzi in them, and a large percentage of them repeat this information about “Vaterhunn,” then I figured it was quite possible that someone before me had sought help in trying to identify this village. Lo, and behold, I discovered an old post from 2014 in which a group member (whom I’ll call “OP”) had asked about this very same question, for the very same reason.14 The comment thread was incomplete; it looked as though some comments had been deleted, but it appeared that a baptismal record had been located by a member of the group. A second search of the group’s history for OP’s name produced a second thread in which she requested a translation of a birth record which had been found by a group member previously—a birth record for Anna Maria Hentze.15 The record came from a collection of civil birth registrations for the village of Pfetterhouse—the elusive “Vaterhunn” mentioned in the oft-cited marriage record for Anna Maria Hentze. I quickly looked up the original birth record, which confirmed that Maria Anna Hensÿ was born 29 April 1814 to Dionisÿ Hensÿ, a 34-year-old laborer, and his wife, Agnes.16 Having nailed down the location, I started searching marriages records for Pfetterhouse for the marriage of Joseph Antoine “Gosÿ” and Maria Agatha Hensÿ, and voilà! I discovered their civil marriage record on 8 September 1829 (Figures 8a and 8b).17
“No. 6, Cassin, Joseph Antoine Avec Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, Le 8 Septembre 1829
L’an mil huit cent vingt neuf le huit septembre à quatre heures après midi pardevant nous Jacques [Hemis?], maire et officier de l’etat civil de la commune de Pfetterhausen, canton d‘hirsingen, arrondissement d’altKirch département du haut-rhin, sont comparus le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin, cordonnier né le douze thermidor l’an neuf de la republique constaté par l’extrait de naissance de la commune de Seppois le bas domicilié à Pfetterhausen fils majeur légitime de feu Jacques Cossin cultivateur et de feu Barbara Maker en leur vivant domicilié à Seppois le bas, le père décedé le dix avril mil huit cent quatorze constaté par l’extrait mortuaire du dit lieu, et la mère décedé la quatorze germinal an onze de la republique constaté par l’extrait de décé de Seppois le bas, et quant aux aieuls, le dit Cossin s’est présenté avec quatre habitans de la commune de Seppois le bas, les nommés François Joseph Wendlinger cultivateur âgé de soixante sept ans, Joseph Waller cultivateur âgé de cinquante sept ans, Moritz Cossin cultivateur âgé de cinquante six ans, et Antoine Martin marschal ferrant âgé de cinquante trois ans tous les quatre nous ont déclaré qu’ils n’ont point de connaissance et ne savent pas ôu les aïeul du dit Joseph Antoine Cossin sont décedés et d‘aprés la lettre de M. le maire Colin de Seppois le bas qui est àjointe, il parait et justifie qu’ils ne sont pas no plus inscrits dans les archives de la commune, et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy journalliere née le vingt sept mars mil huit cent onze constaté par l’extrait de naissance de Pfetterhausen fille mineure de Thienisy Hentzy cabaretier et d’Agnoise Antony ses père et mère tous les trois domiciliés au dit lieu à présent et consentant les quels nous ont requis de procéder à celebration du mariage projété entre eux, dont les publications ont été faites devant la porte principale de notre Maison commune, savoir, la première le dimanche vingt trois aôut et la seconde le dimanche trente même mois de la présente année, chaquefois à l’heure de midi, et aucune opposition au dit mariage ne nous ayant été signiffiée [?], faisant droit à leur requition et après leur avoir donné lecture de toutes les pièces ci dessus mentionnées du chapitre six du titre cinq du code civil intitule du mariage, nous avons demandé aux future Epoux et Epouse, s’ils quelent se prendre pour mari et pour femme chaqu’un d’eux ayant repondu séparement et affirmatisement Déclarons au nom de la loi que le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy sont unis par le mariage, de tout quoi nous avons dressé acte en presence des sus dits quatre habitans de Seppois le bas témoins, dont aucun n’est pas parentes ni alliés de l’un ni de l’autre des deux Epoux, les quels aprés lecture et interprétation en allemand faites, ont signé avec nous et les parties contractantes, dont aite, la mère Agnoise Antonÿ a déclaré ne savoir écrire. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Cossin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Cossin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], maire.”
I’ve translated the record below:
“The year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine on the eighth of September at four o’clock in the afternoon. Before Us, Jacques [Hemis?], mayor and civil registrar of the commune of Pfetterhausen, Canton of Hirsingue, District of Altkirch, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin, shoemaker, born on the twelfth [day of the French Republic month of] Thermidor of the year nine of the Republic, according to the birth record of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas; residing in Pfetterhausen, son of legal age of the late Jacques Cossin, farmer, and of the late Barbara Maker in their lifetime residing in Seppois-le-Bas, the father deceased on the tenth of April eighteen hundred and fourteen according to the mortuary extract of the said place, and the mother died on the fourteenth [day of the French Republic month of] Germinal [in the] year eleven of the Republic, according to the extracted death record of Seppois-le-Bas, and as for the grandparents, the said Cossin presented us with four inhabitants of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas, by name, François Joseph Wendlinger, farmer, age sixty-seven years; Joseph Waller, farmer, aged fifty-seven; Moritz Cossin, farmer, aged fifty-six years, and Antoine Martin, blacksmith, aged fifty-three years; all four declared to us that they have no knowledge and do not know where the grandparents of the said Joseph Antoine Cossin are deceased and according to the attached letter of Mr. Colin, the mayor of Seppois-le-Bas, it appears and can be judged that they are no longer registered in the archives of the of the commune; and the Miss Marie Agatha Hentzy, [female] day laborer, born on March twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and eleven, as verified by the extract of birth of Pfetterhausen, minor daughter of Thienisy Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony; her father and mother all three domiciled in the said place at present and consenting, who have required us to proceed to the celebration of the marriage planned between them, of which the publications were made in front of the main door of our common House; namely, the first one on Sunday, August twenty-third, and the second one on Sunday, the thirtieth [day of the] same month of the present year, each time at the hour of noon; and after no opposition to the said marriage [was found], and after having read them all of the documents from Chapter Six of Title Five of the Civil Code pertaining to marriage, we have asked the future spouses, if they want to take each other as husband and wife [and] each of them having answered separately and affirmatively, We declare in the name of the law that Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy are united in marriage, of which we have drawn up an Act in the presence of the above-mentioned four witnesses of Seppois-le-Bas, none of whom is related to either of the two Spouses, who after reading and interpreting in German, have signed with us and the contracting parties; the mother Agnoise Antonÿ declared [that she does] not know how to write. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Coſsin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Coſsin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], Mayor.”
The groom’s name was recorded as Joseph Antoine Cossin, with a “long s,” (Figure 9), and the names of the bride and groom are an exact match to the names of the parents of Maria Magdalena in the baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, eliminating any further doubt that the “Gosÿ” of the baptismal record was intended to be something closer to the “Causin” more commonly found on records pertaining to Mary Magdalene Roberts.
Joseph’s parents were identified as Jacques Cossin and Barbara (née Maker) Cossin, both deceased—a brand-new ancestral couple for me to research! I even got a bonus ancestral signature on the second page, where Joseph himself signed the record. The record is packed with genealogical gold, including the dates of birth of both the bride and groom and the dates of death of both of the groom’s parents. Some of the dates are given according to the old calendar of the French Republic, created after the French Revolution. Steve Morse offers a handy tool for converting old French Republic dates into their modern Gregorian calendar equivalents, and after conversion, we see that Joseph Antoine Cosson was born 28 July 1804, and his mother, Barbara, died 1 April 1806, when Joseph was just two years old.
The Cossin family was from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas, shown on the map in Figure 10, and the two villages are just a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border.
The marriage record tells the story of Joseph Cossin’s process of fulfilling the legal requirements of the Napoleonic Code for marriage by rounding up four witnesses to accompany him to the mayor’s office. The Code specified that, in cases where the parents of a bride or groom of legal age for marriage were deceased, the permission of the grandparents was nonetheless required, until the age of 30 for grooms and 25 for brides. Article 155 further states,
“In case of the absence of the ancestor to whom the respectful act ought to have been made, the celebration of the marriage may be proceeded in, on producing a judgment given declaring absence, or in default of such judgment that which shall have directed an inquiry, or if such latter judgment shall not yet have been pronounced, an act of notoriety delivered by the justice of the peace of the place where the ancestor had his last known domicil. This act shall contain the deposition or four witnesses officially summoned by the justice of the peace.”19
So, in order to avoid possible fines and imprisonment, Messieurs les maires of the communes of Seppois-le-Bas and Pfetterhouse had to carefully document that Joseph’s grandparents were deceased and that he had no family members whose consent was required for the marriage. Although the record states that none of the witnesses were related to either the bride or the groom, the fact that one of the witnesses, Moritz Cossin, shares a surname with the groom and was from the same small village, suggests that he may, in fact, have been a distant relative, although they were apparently unaware of any relationship.
On the bride’s side, the record states that she was the daughter of “Thienisy” Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony, which are reasonable phonetic matches to the Dionisy and Agnes Hentzy who were reported to be the parents of Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, according to numerous family trees on Ancestry. This confirms that Mary Magdalene’s godmother, Anna Maria Hensy, was in fact, her aunt.
While many genealogical research questions remain, this is such a satisfying breakthrough for me, and I look forward to growing my family tree in this fertile ground of records from both the U.S. and France. From Causin to Curzon to Gosÿ and back to Cossin; from Pfetterhouse to Buffalo to Detroit to “Vaterhunn,” this has been quite a journey of discovery. And yet, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. In my next post, I’ll share all the missteps I made, the things I wish I had done differently, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Featured image: The author at the grave of Mary Magdalene Roberts, Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit, Valerie Koselka.
11860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and
1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Magdalena Robert in household of Michael Robert; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and
Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 June 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.
2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
4 1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.
5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1866, no. 194, Franc. Henricus Rupert, born 29 August 1866, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1871, line 188, Franz Georg Rupert, baptized 8 October; Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
7 “Michigan, U.S., Death Records 1867-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 30 October 2021), Katherine Hecker, died 13 June 1942, file no. 293521, citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan.
8 Lee F. Heacock, The Buffalo artists’ register : a general review of the activities of representative organizations of Buffalo, N.Y. … related to … the creative and interpretive arts (Buffalo, New York: Heacock Publishing Company, 1926), pp 381-382, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York.
12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York), Church records, 1829-1910, Baptisms 1829-1881, 1832, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.
We genealogists love finding our ancestors’ signatures, right? Of course we do.
Well, recently I found what I believe are the authentic signatures of both my great-great-great-grandfather, Michael Roberts, and his son, my great-great-grandfather, Michael Frank (a.k.a Frank Michael) Roberts. Let me set the stage with a brief introduction to these gentlemen.
Michael Roberts (1834–1895)
It was the winter of 1894 when Michael Roberts lost his wife. It had been almost 37 years since Michael wed the former Maria Magdalena Causin in the beautiful Roman Catholic church of St. Joseph in Detroit, Michigan on 12 May 1857.1 The details of how they met, and whether it was a happy marriage or not, have been lost to time, but it is known that Michael was a German immigrant, born in the village of Heßloch in the Rhenish Hesse region of the Grand Duchy of Hesse (commonly known as Hesse-Darmstadt) to Franz Ruppert and Catherine, née Schulmerich.2 In 1853, he immigrated to Detroit, Michigan with his parents, his 17-year-old brother, Arnold, and his 15-year-old sister, Catherine.3 Although there is no notation on the manifest to reflect this, the family believed that Catherine died at sea, as explained in the following letter (Figure 1), written by Michael’s sister, Mary Roberts Standfield, to his grandson, John Frank Roberts.4
The letter also confirms that the family’s original surname, Ruppert, was changed to Roberts upon settling in Detroit, and that Michael’s oldest brother, Johann Georg, or George, as he was known in the U.S., arrived in Detroit before the rest of his family, settling there in 1851.4
Following his marriage, Michael worked as a carpenter to support his family.5 Michael and Mary had eight children, of whom the oldest four have living descendants. The family data are summarized below (Figure 2).
Michael Frank (aka Frank Michael) Roberts (1858–1930)
Although I have no photographs of Michael Roberts, his oldest son, Michael Frank (known in later life as Frank Michael), is the stalwart Victorian gentleman shown here (Figure 3).
In that winter of 1894, when his mother died, Frank was a 35-year-old architect living in Buffalo, New York;7 married, with four children. Frank had married Mary Elizabeth Wagner back in their hometown of Detroit, but they relocated their family to Buffalo about nine years earlier, in 1885.8 Mary Elizabeth was home, raising their four sons: 15-year-old Harry, 10-year-old John, 7-year-old George, and 3-year-old Bert.9
And so it was that on 27 February 1894, Mary Magdalene Roberts died intestate (without having written a will) in Nankin Township, Michigan. Her husband, Michael, petitioned the court for administration of her estate (Figure 4).10
According to this petition, Mary Roberts was in possession of an estate valued at approximately $800, which would be the equivalent of about $25,396 in today’s dollars.11 Since she died without naming an executor to handle her financial affairs following her death, her husband had to formally request this authority from the court. The document identifies Mary’s heirs at law, who were her children and husband, as
Michael F. Roberts, son, 36 years old, resides in Buffalo, N.Y.
Catherine Hecker, daughter, 34 years old, resides in Nankin, Wayne Co., Mich.
Mary P. Stanfield [sic], “, 32 ” ” ” ” Detroit, Wayne Co., “
Anna Carlston [sic], “30 ” ” ” ” Nankin, Wayne Co., “
and your petitioner, husband of deceased, who resides in Nankin, Wayne County, Michigan.
These children were named in birth order, and their ages and places of residence are reasonably consistent with prior evidence. It’s worth noting that Mary’s and Anna’s married surnames were misspelled as “Stanfield,” rather than “Standfield,” and “Carlston,” rather than “Carlson,” which underscores the variability in surname spellings that exists in historical records.
The handwriting throughout the document is fairly uniform, and the formation of the M’s and the R’s where they appear in “Michael” and “Roberts” is consistent, suggesting that the document was written by a single person; namely, the notary public. However, the handwriting in the signature is distinctly different, which suggests that it was written by Michael Roberts himself (Figure 5).
Included within that same probate packet is a second petition for administration of an estate, this time written by Frank M. Roberts (Figure 6).
This petition similarly identifies the children of Michael and Mary Roberts, but goes on to state, “…that Michael Roberts, husband of said deceased and her survivor and administrator of said estate, has departed this life,” and therefore Frank M. Roberts requested that administration de bonis non of the estate be granted to his sister, Mary P. Standfield. Presumably it was a matter of convenience for Mary (or any of his sisters) to handle the estate rather than Frank, since they were still living in the Detroit area, but this is somewhat speculative. In any case, Frank’s distinctive signature included at the bottom of the document (Figure 7), in addition to his father’s signature, made this probate packet an exciting find for me.
1 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
2 Roman Catholic Church (Heßloch, Kr. Worms, Hesse, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1715-1876,” 1834, unnumbered entries in chronological order, baptismal record for Michael Ruppert, 1 February 1834, FHL microfilm no. 948719.
3 Manifest, SS Wm Tell, arriving 4 March 1853, p 9, lines 49-51, and p 10, lines 1-2, Franz Rupard family; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 26 August 2021), citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, 1820-1897; List No. 146.
4 Mary Roberts Standfield (1862–1946), undated letter to her nephew, John Frank Roberts, Roberts family documents; privately held by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
4 Manifest, SS Vancluse, arriving 30 May 1851, p 5, line 23, Geo. Rupert; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 24 August 2021), citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, 1820-1897; List no. 599.
6 1860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Michael Roberts household; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and
1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Michael Robert household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and
1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Michael Roberts family; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.
8 George Whitcomb, compiler, Buffalo City Directory (Buffalo: The Courier Company, 1885), p 751, Roberts, Frank; browsable images, New York Heritage Digital Collections (https://nyheritage.org/ : 24 August 2021), image 763 of 1076.
9 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 23, Enumeration District 190, Sheet no. 5B, house no. 439, family no. 127, Frank M. Roberts household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 24 August 2021), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, no specific roll cited.
In my last post, I shared my excitement over finding a birth record for my 3x-great-grandmother, Catherine Grentzinger, which was signed by her father, Peter, in 1828. Since ancestors’ signatures are so fascinating (to me, at least!) I decided to create a new category for this blog where I can tag posts that contain such images. In keeping with this theme, one of my favorite documents containing an ancestral signature is the land petition for my 5x-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist. Before I present the document, though, let me offer a bit of an introduction to John Hodgkinson himself and provide some historical context.
John Hodgkinson of Clinton and Grantham, Upper Canada
John Hodgkinson was known as a United Empire Loyalist (UEL). This honorific was created by Lord Dorchester, the Governor of Quebec and Governor General of British North America, to recognize those who remained loyal to the principle of “Unity of the Empire” during the American Revolutionary War. John’s name appears with the surname variant “Hodgekins” on the roster of Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist military unit that fought in the Revolutionary War.1 However, much of his early history is shrouded in uncertainty. There are plenty of family trees out there posted by people who claim to know his date and place of birth, date of death, and parents’ names, and maybe those people know something I don’t. I’m by no means the ultimate authority on the Hodgkinson family, and my research on this family is still a work in progress. However, I, personally, have yet to see convincing evidence for any of that information, so I prefer to focus on what I can state definitively at this point.
The earliest reference to John Hodgkinson’s family that I’ve found occurs in documents contained within the collection known as the Haldimand Papers. This collection consists of correspondence and other documents of Sir Frederick Haldimand, who served as Governor of the Province of Quebec from 1778-1786. These papers include evidence of families of Loyalists who lived in refugee camps in Quebec and received public assistance from the Crown, after having fled from their homes in the American colonies when those colonies declared their independence. John Hodgkinson’s family was enumerated in one such refugee list, dated 24 March 1783. The list begins on page 111, and the Hodgkinsons appear several pages later, on page 125 (Figures 1a-b).2
Figure 1a: Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783, page 111.2
Figure 1b: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” page 125.
This indicates that as of 24 March 1783, the family of Jno [sic] Hodgkinson included one woman, no men or male children, one female child over age 6 and one female child under age 6, for a total of 3 persons who were to receive one and one quarter rations per day. The Hodgkinson family was not noted to be attached to any particular corps, so from this document alone, it is not clear that John Hodgkinson was a member of Butler’s Rangers. John himself seems to be absent from this tally since no men were recorded with the family. However, this may be explained by the fact that Butler’s Rangers did not disband until June 1784 and this document was dated March 1783, several months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War. So at the time this document was created, John Hodgkinson was presumably still engaged in military service while his wife and two children resided in the refugee camp at Chambly, Quebec.
The reference to two female children in John Hodgkinson’s household is curious. Although his wife’s name was purported to be Mary Moore, nothing is known about her, so it’s possible that the couple did have two daughters who died young, although no daughters are commonly ascribed to them. However, John is known to have had two sons, Samuel and Francis, who are believed to be from this first marriage to Mary Moore. Therefore another possibility — perhaps more likely — is that the two children counted in the tally were boys who were misrecorded as girls. However, this same tally was reported in a similar document dated 24 July 1783 (Figure 2).3
Figure 2: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” page 142.3
Perhaps the individual responsible for the tally cut corners and recopied the data from the list created in March, rather than re-counting everyone? The question of which “girls” were meant by the tally marks in the provision lists will have to remain a mystery. In any case, John Hodgkinson’s only children who have been identified by name are sons Samuel and Francis, who are presumed to come from his first marriage to Mary Moore, and son Robert, whose mother was John’s second wife, Sarah Spencer. Early vital records from Upper Canada are rather sparse, and no marriage or death records have been discovered for Samuel, Francis or Robert which name their parents. Nonetheless, we can be certain of their names and of the fact that John was their father because each of them received a land grant on the basis of this relationship.4
Free Land, You Say?
The prospect of cheap land was a significant attraction for immigrants to the New World, and a seigneurial system for distributing land had been in place in the Province of Quebec (which originally included what is now southern Ontario) since 1627. When the British Loyalists from the new United States arrived in Quebec as refugees, they were unhappy with these French laws and cultural institutions, and the result was the Constitutional Act of 1791, which divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (presently southern Ontario) and Lower Canada (presently southern Quebec). Lower Canada retained the French institutions, while Upper Canada practiced English Common Law. To encourage settlement of Upper Canada, and also to reward Loyalists and compensate them for lands lost in the U.S., each Loyalist and each daughter or son of a Loyalist was entitled to a free grant of land. The size of these grants varied from 100 acres to a head-of-household, to as much as 5,000 acres for a field officer.5 A grant of 200 acres was typical for a private like John Hodgkinson.
Library and Archives Canada offers several databases pertaining to Canadian land records. For researching Loyalist ancestors, the first place to search is in “Land Petitions of Upper Canada (1763-1865).” However, “Land Boards of Upper Canada (1765-1804)” should also be checked, along with “Land Petitions of Lower Canada (1764-1841)” since some early Loyalist petitions might be found in these collections instead. “Land Boards” refers to the system of granting land that was in place in Upper Canada between 1789-1794, when each individual district (Hesse, Nassau, Mecklenburg, and Lunenburg) had its own administrative board to oversee land matters. A map of these four original districts is here. In 1794, an Executive Council was created as a centralized authority for granting land, and the Land Boards were abolished. It is these petitions to the Land Committee of the Executive Council that comprise the first collection.
Although there’s some variation in the information provided in any given land petition, all of them intended to verify the petitioner’s identity and justify his claim to free land. Samuel Hodgkinson’s petition illustrates this process of identifying the petitioner and justifying his entitlement. He was the oldest of John’s sons, and he petitioned for land in 1806 (Figure 3a).6
Figure 3a: Extract from Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, 16 August 1806 6
The writing is a little difficult to read in this image, so the transcription of the document is as follows:
“To the Honorable Alex. Grant Esqr. President
Administering the Government of the Province of
Upper Canada &c. &c.,
The Petition of Saml. Hodgkinson of the Township
of Grantham, shoemaker, Humbly Sheweth —
That Your Petitioner is the Son
of John Hodgkinson of Grantham
is on the U.E. List and has never received any
Land or order for land from the Crown
Wherefore your Petitioner prays
Your Honor may be pleased to grant him two
hundred acres of the west land [sic] of the Crown, and
your Petitioner as in duty bound will ever
pray — Samuel Hodgkinson
Township of Grantham
16th August 1806”
Samuel’s petition includes several pages of affidavits confirming both his identity, and that of his father. My favorite of these is shown here (Figure 3b), written by Rev. Robert Addison, a prominent Anglican missionary who built the first church in Upper Canada, St. Mark’s in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).
This is to certify that John Hodgkinson, the father of Saml. Hodgkinson the Bearer, has the name of an industrious and honest Man, and I believe that he deserves it — I have always understood that he belonged to Sir John Johnson’s Corps of Royal Yorkers and I think he is on the U.E. List. He lives about 6 miles from me, and I have known something of the Man this 8 or 10 years. — Robt Addison”
We can perhaps forgive Rev. Addison’s confusion over the particular provincial regiment with which John Hodgkinson served since Sir John Johnson’s Royal Regiment of New York fought alongside Butler’s Rangers in many of the same battles.
Samuel Hodgkinson’s land petition was ultimately successful, as indicated by the final page of his petition (Figure 3c).8
Figure 3c: Saml. Hodkinson, Petition & Certificate, Read in Council 16 June 1808.
In addition to a number of signatures of approval of the petition, it was noted, “The Name of John Hodgkinson of the Home District is on the U.E. List. It does not appear by the Council Books that the Petitioner has received any order for land. SUE [Son of a United Empire Loyalist].”
Since John Hodgkinson was recognized as a United Empire Loyalist, I found it a bit curious that he apparently made no petition for land in his own name. Broad wildcard searches in all three of the databases mentioned previously (both Land Board records and Land Petitions) for first name “J*” (to turn up any matches for John, Jon, or first initial J) and surname “Ho*” or “Hu*” (to turn up matches for any variants such as Hotchkinson, Hodgekins, Hutchinson, etc.) produced only one petition for land which he made in the name of his wife, Sarah Spencer.9Sarah was the daughter of another United Empire Loyalist, Robert Spencer, and his wife, Catherine Sternberg, and as such she was entitled to her own land grant of 200 acres. John’s petition appears below (Figure 4).
Figure 4: The Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, 27 April 1797.9
A transcription of the text is as follows:
“To His Honor Peter Russell, Esquire, Administering the Government of Upper Canada
&c. &c. &c. In Council
The Petition of John Hodgkinson of Clinton
That your petitioner is married
to Sarah the daughter of Robert Spencer
a Loyalist U.E. who having never recei-
ved the King’s bounty, to persons of her
description; your Petitioner humbly
prays your Honor would be pleased
to grant him 200 acres of land in
his wife’s behalf and your Petitioner
as in duty bound will ever pray
27 April 1797 John Hogkisson [sic]”
Certainly, John would have been entitled to 200 acres of land in his own name in addition to the 200 entitlement for his wife, and it’s probable that he settled on some land in Grantham as early as 1784 when Butler’s Rangers disbanded. In his site, Niagara Settlers Land Records, Robert Mutrie describes Grantham Township with a quote from the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Lincoln and Welland, Ont. Toronto: H.R. Page & Co., 1876:
“The Township was first settled during the year 1784, when members of Butler’s Rangers who were discharged during that year, commenced to clear up land to make homes in the township. Many of those who received land from the Government considered it worth little, or nothing and bartered away their sites for mere trifles, and those who look over the map of Grantham which was made about 1784, or the year after, will notice the large tracts of land which some persons owned, and which, in many instances, were bought for sums almost too low to be called a price.”10
It’s likely, then, that John Hodgkinson’s land petition in 1797 represents a request for additional land to supplement the lands already granted. In a future post, I’d like to share some of the maps I’ve found which indicate where the Hodgkinsons’ land was located. For now, let’s take another look at that signature.
The Real Deal?
Although this document contains the signature of John Hodgkinson, was it actually signed by the man himself? Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL noted, “If the petitioner was educated, he may indeed have written the whole document himself. If an agent wrote the petition on his behalf, this fact is not necessarily stated. Therefore you cannot conclude a signature is truly that of the petitioner unless the body of the petition indicates so, or unless it is compared with other evidence.”11 I’m no handwriting expert, but it appears to me that the handwriting in the body of the text differs from the handwriting in the signature, especially when comparing the letter formation in the signature with John’s name as it appears at the top of the document. The name is even spelled differently in the signature — “Hogkisson,” rather than “Hodgkinson,” although I’ve also seen documents written in the same handwriting throughout which nonetheless include variant spellings of the same surname. The different handwritings may suggest that an agent wrote the body of the petition, but John himself signed it. However, as Merriman noted, it’s impossible to state this definitively on the basis of one document. Perhaps further research will turn up additional examples of John’s signature and we can know for certain whether this was really his. In the meantime, I’ll optimistically hope this is the case, and that this really is the signature of my 5x-great-grandfather, written in his own hand on a document from the 18th century.
Featured image: Extract from Smyth, David William. “A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, describing all the new settlements, townships, &c. with the countries adjacent, from Quebec to Lake Huron. (1st ed.) Compiled, at the request of His Excellency Major General John G. Simcoe, First Lieutenant Governor, by David William Smyth Esqr., Surveyor General. London, published by W. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Charing Cross, April 12th 1800. Accompanied with a topographical Description. Price 10s. & 6d,” David Rumsey Map Collection, http://www.davidrumsey.com/maps3638.html : 8 September 2018), Licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
2“British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca : 3 September 2018), images 730-748 out of 1240. Images 730 and 745.
3“British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” p. 142, LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca : 3 September 2018), images 749-764 out of 1240. Image 762.
4 “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1806, no. 18, Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, Vol. 226, Bundle H-9, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 329-334 out of 1042; and
“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 77, Land Petition of Francis Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images, (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 1009-1011 out of 1042; and
“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 78, Land Petition of Robert Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 112-114 out of 1042.
9“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1797, no. 32, Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, Vol. 224, Bundle H-3, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2043, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca : 6 September 2018), accessed as browsable images, Microfilm C-2043 > images 766 and 767 out of 990.
One of the things I love about the genealogical community is its generosity. Whether it’s time spent in indexing records, volunteering assistance in Facebook groups, or helping novice researchers at a Family History Center, many family historians are eager to share what they’ve learned and contribute their expertise in ways that benefit the community as a whole. It’s probably safe to say that anyone currently engaged in family history research has benefited from the assistance of others at some point, and I’m no exception. I was reminded of this recently, when I obtained the birth record of my great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner. The acquisition of this document was relatively simple and straightforward, but this is only thanks to the years of research and generosity of a few individuals.
I became interested in genealogy in my mid-20s, around the time that my husband and I married. By that point, my aunt, Carol Fischer, had already been actively researching my Dad’s side of the family for at least 10 years. Since Aunt Carol was working on Dad’s side, I figured I’d start my research with my Mom’s Polish side. Polish research techniques also served me well in documenting my husband’s family, since all of his grandparents were of Polish ancestry. All this research kept me pretty busy, so it wasn’t until about 2006 that I started poking around in records on my Dad’s side, and serendipitously discovered the ancestral village of our Ruppert ancestors through indexed records at FamilySearch. Aunt Carol’s original intention was only to document our family back to the immigrant generation in each surname line, so from that point on, we arranged a loose collaboration in which I would try to determine our immigrant ancestors’ places of origin and trace the lines back to the Old Country, while she would continue her thorough documentation of more recent generations, locating living relatives throughout the U.S.
My great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine Wagner, was one of those immigrant ancestors whom I hoped to trace back into the Old Country, but there were some research obstacles that we needed to surmount. By October of 2012, according to my research notes, we still had not determined Catherine’s maiden name. What we knew from census records and from her death record was that Catherine was born circa 1830 in Germany or France, she married Henry Wagner circa 1855, they were the parents of two children, John and Mary Elizabeth, and that Catherine died 25 November 1875.1 The fact that her place of birth was recorded as “France” in the 1860 and 1870 censuses, and “Germany” in her death record from 1875, suggested that she was born somewhere in Alsace-Lorraine, a territory which belonged to France in the first part of the 19th century but was ceded to Germany in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. No marriage record had been discovered at that point for Catherine and Henry — I didn’t find that until just last year (see here for the story). Neither did we know specifically where Catherine was born.
Aunt Carol and I both realized that church records from the parish the Wagners attended in Detroit would be required for further research into this family. In particular, we hoped that the baptismal records for Catherine’s children, John and Mary Elizabeth, might indicate where their parents, Catherine and Henry, were born. Those baptismal records were also likely to mention Catherine’s maiden name. Although we could have written to the church in Detroit to request copies of those baptismal records, we had a substantial amount of research to do in Detroit church, cemetery, and newspaper records for both our Wagner and Roberts families. It seemed to make more sense to gather all the records at once during several days of onsite research in Detroit, or else hire a local professional researcher to obtain the records for us. Since both of us had other research we could do in records that were more readily available, we put the Detroit research on the back burner.
Fast forward to January 2015. At some point around this time, I chatted about my Detroit research interests with my friend and colleague, Valerie Koselka. Since Valerie lives in the Detroit metropolitan area, she kindly offered to do a little searching for me. Among the documents she was able to locate were the long-coveted baptismal records for Mary Elizabeth Wagner and her brother, John Wagner, who was baptized as Augustinus (see this post for more information). Thanks to Valerie’s generosity, we finally had evidence for Catherine Wagner’s maiden name and place of birth (Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1: Extract from baptismal record for Augustinus Wagner, born 3 May 1856 in Detroit.2
Figure 2: Extract from baptismal record for Maria Wagner, born 10 July 1860 in Detroit.3
Catherine’s place of birth was recorded on one document as “Oberelsau,” (i.e. Oberelsaß, the German term for Upper Alsace, or Haut-Rhin) and on the other it appeared to be “Heinsalz, Alsatiae.” I couldn’t find any village called “Heinsalz” that was in Haut-Rhin, but I didn’t search too hard at that point, choosing instead to focus on the other key bit of information revealed by this record: Catherine’s maiden name. The birth records revealed that her maiden name was Granzinger, which immediately reminded me of the 1870 census, in which Henry and Catherine Wagner’s household included a laborer named Peter Grenzinger (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Extract of 1870 census showing Henry Wagner household.4
Although I’d wondered previously if Peter might be some relation to Catherine since he was also reported as born in France, there was no real evidence for that prior to the discovery of this baptismal record. Now, suddenly, he was almost certainly a relative, and quite possibly a brother. Immediately, I was hot on the trail of a Peter Grenzinger, born circa 1832 in France, who immigrated to Detroit. As expected, I found various spellings of the Grenzinger/Grentzinger/Granzinger/Grantzinger surname, and as I sifted through the possible matches in online records, I discovered the Find-A-Grave memorial for Elizabeth Eckert Granzinger, “wife of Peter.”5 According to her grave marker, Elizabeth was born in 1800, which would make her the right age to be the mother of Catherine and Peter (both born circa 1830). Moreover, her husband, Peter, shared a given name with Catherine Wagner’s putative brother, which was highly suggestive as well. Could this, then, be the grave of my 4x-great-grandmother?
As I dug deeper into the records at Ancestry, I discovered a family tree posted by a woman named Constance (Connie) Keavney, which brought all the pieces of the puzzle together.6 It included the family group of Peter Grentzinger, born 6 April 1802 in Steinsoultz, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, and Elizabeth (née Eckerd) Grentzinger, born 21 July 1801 in Steinsoultz. They were the parents of three children: Marie Anne Grentzinger, born 6 December 1824; Catherine Grentzinger, born 8 January 1828; and Peter Grentzinger, born 15 March 1830. The dates of birth were very consistent with the dates of birth for my newly-discovered Detroit Grentzingers, and the names matched perfectly with existing evidence, confirming my hypotheses about the relationships. On closer inspection, the village of “Heinsalz” mentioned on the baptismal record was clearly “Steinsoultz,” too. In Connie’s tree, Peter Grentzinger’s family disappeared from the records in Alsace. She did not know that they immigrated to Detroit, Michigan, until I contacted her and shared my research with her. Her own branch of the Grentzinger family was descended from Francis Joseph Grentzinger, the older brother of Peter (Sr.) Grentzinger. Francis Joseph married Madelaine Hänlin in Steinsoultz and they immigrated with their children to Irondequoit, New York.
Connecting with a new cousin is usually a thrill for us genealogists, and Connie has been a delightful person to get to know. In a bizarre twist of fate, I realized as we chatted that I was already acquainted with her son Chris and his family, having met them several years earlier on a camping retreat attended by both Chris’s family and mine. (Little did we know we were 5th cousins once removed!) Connie did her research into the Grentzinger family decades ago, in microfilmed records for Steinsoultz available from the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library and through onsite research at Saint-Nicolas church in Steinsoultz, so she was unable to share images of her documents with me. However, in recent years these records have been made available online through the Departmental Archive of Haut-Rhin.
This brings us full circle, to the baptismal record for Catherine Grentzinger which I recently located with ease using the date of birth Connie provided in her family tree (Figure 4).6
Figure 4: Birth record of Catharine Grentzinger, born 8 January 1828 in Steinsoultz, Haut-Rhin, France.6
The record is in French, which I studied in high school, so I was able to translate most of it despite the rustiness of French language skills. However, credit goes to Monika Deimann-Clemens of the Genealogy Translations Facebook group for her assistance in deciphering the parts that confounded me. The translation is as follows:
“In the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-eight, on the eighth day of January at four o’clock in the evening, before Us, Jean Walburger, mayor and officer of the civil state commune of Steinsoultz, canton of Hirsingue, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Pierre Grentzinger, having twenty-six years of age, farmer and resident of this commune, and presented to Us a child of the female sex, born this day at eight o’clock in the morning, daughter of the declarant and of Elisabeth Eckerd, age twenty-seven years and his wife, and to whom he declared that he wanted to give the name Catharine. These statements and presentations were made in the presence of Jean Keppÿ, age thirty-five years, farmer and resident of this commune, and Pierre Mißlin, age forty-four years, farmer and resident of this commune; and the father and witnesses have signed with us the present Birth Record, after it was read to them.”
This document made an impression on me for several reasons beside the fact that it was the birth record of my 3x-great-grandmother (which makes it inherently cool). First, it’s the first document I’ve discovered for my family to date that was recorded in French, rather than Polish, Russian, Latin, German, or English. Despite this, the style in which it was written was very familiar to me because it followed the format prescribed by the Napoleonic Civil Code, which was used in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland (i.e. Congress Poland or Russian Poland). This document was also signed by my 4x-great-grandfather, Pierre/Peter Grentzinger (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Extract from birth record of Catharine Grentzinger, 8 January 1828, showing signature of her father, Pierre Grentzinger.
I always get a special thrill when I find a document that my ancestor signed with his own hand — especially when the signature is of an ancestor for whom I have no photographs. Even though I may only be looking at a digital image of the document, it’s still amazing to see that unique piece of personal history.
I find tremendous satisfaction in building a family tree on a solid foundation of documentation, but genealogy research is hardly a solitary pursuit. It’s only because of the research done by Aunt Carol and Connie, and the gift of time and talent given by Valerie, that I have the pleasure of discovering the Grentzinger family through the records of Steinsoultz for myself. For me, it’s a gift to be able to peer into my family’s past, but if I can see a long way back into the mists of time, it’s only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.
1 1860 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit (Third Ward), Wayne, Michigan, page 173, Henry Wagner household, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 30 October 2017) original data from NARA microfilm publication NARA Series M653, roll Roll 565; and
2 Roman Catholic Church, Old St. Mary’s Parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan), Baptisms, 1856, #116, p. 219, record for Augustinus Wagner. “[Record number] 116, [date of baptism] 4 Maji, [date of birth] 3 Maji, [child’s name] Augustinus, [father and place of birth] Henricus Wagner Roßdorf ChurHessen, [mother and place of birth] Catharina Grenzinger, Steinsolz, Alsatiae, [[godparents] Augustinus Wagner et Gertrudis Wagner, [residence] Detroit, [minister] P. Beranek.”
3 Roman Catholic Church, Old St. Mary’s Parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan), Baptisms, 1860, #148, p. 359, record for Maria Wagner. “[Record number] 148, [date of baptism] Julii 15, [date of birth] Julii 10, [child’s name] Maria, [father and place of birth] Henricus Wagner Roßen ChurHessen, [mother and place of birth] Cath. Granzinger, Oberelsau [Oberelsass], [[godparents] August Wagner Maria Wagner, [residence] Detroit, [minister] P. Nagel.”
4 1870 United States Federal Census, ibid.
5 Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 27 August 2018), memorial page for Elizabeth Eckert Granzinger (1800–5 Aug 1854), Find A Grave Memorial no. 108389561, citing Assumption Grotto Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA; maintained by Jackson County Genealogical Society – Michigan (contributor 47614392) .
“Our Beloved Mother
Wife of Peter Granzinger
Born in the Year 1800
Died Aug 5 1854
Aged 54 years.”
6Officier de l’état civil (Steinsoultz, Altkirch, Haut-Rhin, France), Naissances, 1797-1862, 1828, #1, birth record for Catharine Grentzinger, 8 January 1828, accessed as browsable images, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin, (www.archives.haut-rhin.fr : 27 August 2018), Steinsoultz > Naissances, 1797-1862 > image 194 out of 391.