Down the Rabbit Hole

As genealogy researchers, we often stumble upon interesting historical tidbits while researching other things. Since time for research and writing is limited, I do my best not to let my curiosity take me too far down the rabbit hole into further exploration of those individuals or events. Yet sometimes, those individuals stay with me, returning to my thoughts every now and then, so I decided to write about two of them today.

Lament for a Nameless Child

The first item I’d like to share is a death certificate I discovered recently while reviewing the entry for Thomas Coyle on the same page. Number 2827, bordered in red on the image below, is the death certificate for an unnamed child from Nepean township, Carleton County, Ontario.1 Records on this page were erroneously described in the FamilySearch catalog as being from the city of Toronto, some 400 km away.Nameless Child Death Certificate

The death record is for an unnamed baby girl who died on 7 June 1896 having lived for just a few minutes. As was typical for civil death records from Canada in this era, no parents’ names were required on the form, so her identity may be lost to the descendants of any siblings she may have had. Her cause of death was noted to be “difficult parturition,” meaning she died as a result of some trauma from her birth. The informant was her father, who was a resident of City View, which is a neighborhood formerly located in Nepean, which is now located in Ottawa.

As family historians, we often think in terms of preserving the stories of those who have gone before us. Stories like this one, of lives ended before they’d even begun, always make me sad. Perhaps there’s a genealogist out there somewhere who’s researching a family from Nepean, wondering about that gap in the births of the children, noting that there should have been another baby born circa 1896. Or maybe that genealogist has already discovered a Catholic burial record which identifies the parents for this little one, so this civil death record is just one more piece of evidence to document a life cut short. In an era when infant mortality was so much higher than it is today, it’s quite possible that her parents had already lost children prior to the death of this baby girl, yet losses like this aren’t something one ever forgets. I hope that her parents and any siblings found some measure of peace in this life after her death, and as a person of faith, I also hope that the souls of all the family are reunited in the joy of the next life.

A Cinderella Story

The second historical tidbit is this 1891 baptismal record for Cinderella Maria Howe, found in the records of St. Stephen’s parish in Middleport, Niagara County, New York.2 I stumbled across it one day last year when researching my husband’s Lewandowski/Levanduski ancestors (there’s a baptismal record for Joseph Levanduski on the preceding page). Cinderella Baptism

The record is in Latin, and it states that Cinderella Maria Howe was baptized on 15 August 1891, and that she was the daughter of Morgan L. Jones and Elizabeth White. Godparents were Maria Butler and Daniel Hurlihan. All of this is pretty standard, apart from the uncommon given name, but what really intrigued me was the fact that Cinderella was 62 years old at the time of her baptism, having been born on 13 February 1829.

Although people can get baptized into the Roman Catholic faith at any age, infant baptism is common practice. So if one is researching ancestors that one knows or suspects were Catholic, one might expect to find a baptismal record within a year or so after birth, not 62 years later. A researcher investigating the family of Cinderella (née Jones) Howe would have absolutely no reason to go looking for her baptism in these records, in this time period, unless there were an oral family tradition which stated that Cinderella was baptized as a Catholic late in life. Moreover, since these church records from St. Stephen’s are not presently indexed online, this record can only be found by browsing through the digital images, page by page, or by visiting the parish. (More information on finding such unindexed scans at FamilySearch can be found here.)

Quick searches on Ancestry and FamilySearch reveal quite a lot of “low-hanging fruit” in the form of easily-found documents that can further inform us about the life of Cinderella Howe, but this baptismal record was not cited in any of the family trees I reviewed that mention Cinderella. This is perhaps unsurprising in light of the factors already discussed. One wonders what the factors were that inspired her to convert to Catholicism at the age of 62. As a widow who had buried her husband a few years previously, was she merely pondering her own mortality, and felt drawn to the Catholic faith? Were there other family members who converted as well? Perhaps these questions will one day be answered by one of her descendants. In the meantime, I need to climb back out of the rabbit hole and get back to my own genealogy projects. Those dead ancestors aren’t going to research themselves.

Sources:

1 “Ontario Deaths, 1869–1937, and Overseas Deaths, 1939–1947,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 4 May 2019), no. 002827, register entry for Not named, died 7 June 1896 in Nepean, Carleton, Ontario, Canada, accessed as browsable images, path: Deaths > 1896 > no 1001-6523 > image 579 of 1466.

2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stephen’s parish (Middleport, Niagara, New York, USA), “Church records, 1878-1917,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 4 May 2019), Baptisms, 1891, p. 35, unnumbered entries, Cinderella Maria Howe, baptized 15 August 1891, accessed as browsable images, image 23 of 154.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

The Siren Song of the BSO

One of the guiding principles of efficiency in genealogy research is to create a research plan and stick to it. We all run across distractions as we research, of course, and we’ve probably all had that experience of heading down a research “rabbit hole” in pursuit of something not directly related to the original goal, and then emerging hours later with little to show for one’s research time, beyond, say, a new appreciation for plants which our ancestors might have used to make clothing dyes.  (Okay, maybe that’s just me.  Anyway.)  In the genealogy community, these distractions are commonly referred to as BSO’s: Bright, Shiny Objects.  The prescribed remedy is to make a note of each BSO as it arises, jotting down where it was found so that it can be explored in detail during another research session, and then move on, in order to achieve the research goals set forth in the initial research plan. This is absolutely sound advice.

And yet, there are times when I am so very glad that I pursued those BSO’s.

A perfect example of this arose last weekend.  My husband and I had a date night planned, but I had allotted some research time in the afternoon prior to that.  My goal was to make a list of distant cousins on my Dad’s paternal line who might be persuaded to donate a DNA sample to address some research questions that have recently cropped up. In reviewing my data on this side of the family, I took a look at my Grentzinger line.

The Grentzingers of Steinsoultz, Alsace and Detroit

Henry and Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner of Detroit, Michigan, were my 3x-great-grandparents.  Henry was the son of Johann Heinrich Wagner and Maria Anna Nau, immigrants from Germany who arrived with their family in Detroit in 1853.1 Catherine was the daughter of Peter and Elizabeth (née Eckhardt/Eckerd/Eckert) Grentzinger of Steinsoultz in Ober-Elsaß, or what is now the Haut-Rhin department of France.  It’s not yet clear to me whether Peter also emigrated, or if Elizabeth came to Detroit with her children as a widow, but Elizabeth herself is buried in Assumption Grotto Cemetery in Detroit.2  It is also known that Catherine had at least one sibling who emigrated:  a brother Peter, who was living with Catherine and Henry Wagner’s family in 1870 (Figure 1).3

Figure 1:  Extract of 1870 census showing Henry Wagner household.3henry-wagner-household-1870Note that the family includes not only Henry and Catherine and their two children, John and Mary, but also 16-year-old Mary Meat.  I haven’t yet figured out how she fits in, so that’s another mystery for another day.

In reviewing my notes, I realized that I still didn’t have Henry and Catherine’s marriage record.  Henry and Catherine Wagner should have married circa 1855, based on the fact that their older son, John, was born circa 1857.  Catherine was born in 1828, meaning she would have been 27 at the time of her first marriage.  That’s certainly a reasonable age for a first marriage.  But in a previous round of research, I’d noted the following marriage record in the index at FamilySearch (Figure 2)

Figure 2:  Michigan Civil Marriages, 1834-1974, index-only entry for Catharina Grenzinzer.catherine-granzinger-marriage-index

I’d wondered if it was my Catherine, but there were other Granzinger/Grentzingers living in the midwest at that time and the relationships between them aren’t yet clear to me. I know from experience how easy it is to draw erroneous conclusions based on limited data, so I was hesitant to get too excited about this record.  Although Catherine’s age here suggests a birth year of 1828, which is consistent with what is known for “my” Catherine, this indexed entry did not include parents’ name or any other identifying information that might make it easier to draw firm conclusions. So I put this puzzle piece aside for the time being and moved on.

When I rediscovered this puzzle piece last weekend, it occurred to me that many of the indexed records collections on FamilySearch now have images online.  A great place to see what’s online (indexes and scans) is to visit the “Research by Location” page for your area of interest.  For example, the page for Michigan  shows all these fantastic collections of online images (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Michigan Research Page at FamilySearch.michigan-research

I noticed that the Michigan County Marriages, 1820-1940 database has been updated since the last time I researched my Grentzingers two years ago.  I looked up that marriage record for Catherine Grentzinger and Victor Dellinger again, and this time, I was able to obtain the image of the record (Figure 4),4 despite the fact that Figure 2 states “no image available” in the upper right corner. Sometimes it seems that the left hand at Family Search knows not what the right hand is doing.

Figure 4:  Marriage record for Catherine Grenzinger and Victor Dellinger, 1846.4catherine-granzinger-and-victor-dellinger-1846-crop

The full record reads, “1733.  State of Michigan, County of Wayne. I do hereby certify that at the City of Detroit on the third day of February A.D. 1846 I received the mutual consent of matrimony between Victor Dellinger, 22 years of age, + Catherine “Grenzinger,”18 years of age, both of the City of Detroit, and joined them together in the bonds of holy wedlock in the presence of Henry “Diegel” [Diezel?] and + John Damm of Detroit, given under my hand this 22nd day of Xbr 1846 (signed) Rev. A. Kopp.”

Unlike that index-only record, this image was a cause for celebration, because it provided a necessary clue that allowed me to conclude that this was, indeed, my 3x-great-grandmother.  The clue was the first witness, Henry Diegel.  When I saw that name, my heart leaped with joy.

Henry Diegel! 

Now at this point, you may be asking, just who is Henry Diegel?

As I mentioned earlier, Catherine’s mother, Elizabeth (née Eckerd) Grentzinger, is buried in Assumption Grotto Cemetery in Detroit.  The last time I was working on this line, I’d made a phone call to the cemetery office to see what they could tell me about Elizabeth’s burial. The receptionist was very informative.  She told me that the burial record is in Latin and in translation it reads,”1 August 1854 Elizabeth Eghart (sic) age 54. Henry Diegel.” She commented futher that Henry Diegel was probably the one who paid for the grave, and was presumably Elizabeth’s husband, based on the way the records are structured.5

Immediately I took a look at the other burials in Find a Grave in Assumption Grotto Cemetery with the surname Diegel to see if I could gather additional clues.  There were a couple hits for men who were born in the mid-to-late 1800s, who were therefore unlikely to have been Elizabeth’s husband.  When I broadened the search to include any Diegels buried in that cemetery, however, there was quite a list of them, including one John Henry Diegel, born in 1798, who seemed like the most plausible candidate for a connection to Elizabeth Grentzinger. But why was she not buried as Elizabeth Diegel, if they were married?  Perhaps one of the other Henry Diegels was a son-in-law who paid for her grave, since her husband Peter Grentzinger was already deceased?  There were too many questions and too few answers, and more pressing matters pulled me away from further research on this line.

Until last weekend.  Last weekend, it became clear that Henry Diegel was connected to the Grentzinger family in some important way, even if that connection is still unclear.  Not only did he pay for Elizabeth’s grave, but he also witnessed the marriage of Elizabeth’s daughter, Catherine. More importantly, I now had clear evidence that Catherine Wagner was married prior to her marriage to Henry.  Armed with that information, it was a matter of minutes before I located her civil marriage record to Henry Wagner in 1855 (Figure 5).6

Figure 5:  Civil marriage record for Henry Wagner and Catherine Dellinger, 1855.6henry-wagner-and-catherine-dellinger-1855-crop

The witnesses named here are Henry’s siblings, August and Gertrude Wagner, providing further confirmation that this is the correct marriage record for my ancestors.  It’s also worth mentioning that although this is the civil marriage record — meaning the one created by the civil authorities for Wayne County, Michigan — this does not imply that they were not also married in a religious ceremony.  In fact, the column heading on the last column (cut off in this image) indicates the name of the officiant at each marriage in the register, and the column heading states, “Ministers of St. Mary’s Church.”  The church record should also be sought because it is likely to contain information beyond what is mentioned on the civil version of the record.

After realizing that Catherine Grentzinger was married to Victor Dellinger in 1846, my next step was to look for them in the 1850 census (Figure 6).7  Bingo!

Figure 6:  Victor Dalmgher household in the 1850 U.S. Census.7victor-dalmgher-household-p-1-crop

They were indexed under Victor Dalmgher, and it doesn’t look like a transcription error, but rather a spelling that’s true to what was recorded in the census.  At this point I don’t know which version is closer to Victor’s true surname, but as my undergraduate research mentor used to tell me, “Keep gathering data, and truth will emerge.”  What’s really exciting about this record is the fact that there are two children living with the parents, previously unknown to me. Also listed with this household, but appearing at the top of the next page, is Catherine’s brother, Peter, recorded here as “Gransan” (Figure 7).

Figure 7:  Peter Gransan in the household of Victor Dalmgher, 1850 U.S. Census.7victor-dalmgher-household-p-2-crop

That was as far as I got with my pursuit of the BSO that afternoon before my husband came looking for me, wondering why I wasn’t dressed and ready for our date yet.  (Have I mentioned that he’s a saint?)  While it’s true that my journey down the rabbit hole kept me from finishing the task I’d assigned for myself, I was still able to complete that research task the next day.  And I’m absolutely thrilled with the fascinating new insights into my Grentzinger ancestors that resulted from one little dalliance with a BSO.

 Sources:

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Henry Wagner family, S.S. Erbpring Luidrich August, 29 September 1853, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

2 Assumption Grotto Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan (image and transcription), Elizabeth Eckert Granzinger headstone, 1800 – 5 August 1854, Memorial #108389561, http://findagrave.com, accessed February 2017.

3 1870 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, 1st precinct, 6th ward, page 11, Henry Wagner household, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940,  (images and transcriptions), record for Victor Dellinger and Catherine Grenzinger, http://familysearch.org, accessed February 2017.

Assumption Grotto Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Notes from telephone conversation, 15 January 2015.

Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940, (images and transcriptions), record for Henry Wagner and Catherine Dellinger, http://familysearch.org, accessed February 2017.

7 1850 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, page 156B and 157, Victor Dalmgher household, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017.