2021 is on its way out, and we’re about to get a fresh start with 2022. It’s traditional to reflect on the past year and consider our accomplishments, as well as our goals and resolutions for the new year, and this practice seems to be no less relevant to genealogical research. With that in mind, I’ve been taking stock of my genealogical triumphs and tribulations from 2021, and creating some research resolutions for the new year.
Connecting the Dodds
In 2021, I furthered my understanding of the history of my Dodds family. As of 2020, I had traced the family of Robert and Catherine (Grant) Dodds to 1871, when they were living in Yarmouth township in East Elgin, Ontario. I knew the fates of the parents, Robert and Catherine, after 1871, as well as the fates of their oldest three daughters, Hannah, Isabella, and Margaret. I also knew what became of their youngest two children, Martha Agnes (my great-great-grandmother), and Warner Howard. However, three of their sons—Alexander, John H., and Gilbert M.—disappeared from Canadian records after 1871. Thanks to clues gained from DNA matches, I was able to discover a second marriage which produced two children for Alexander Dodds, prior to his death in Buffalo in 1899. I was also able to discover the record for Gilbert’s death in Buffalo in 1898. Furthermore, DNA was instrumental once again in determining that John H. Dodds migrated to Pennsylvania, where he and Gilbert were working as day laborers in 1880. Although Gilbert eventually moved on to Buffalo, where other family members were also living, John remained in Pennsylvania, married Lena Frazier in 1892, and settled in Pike Township (Potter County) to raise a family.
Archival Acquisitions and Album Assembly
In the spring and early summer, researching my roots gave way to other demands on my time as I dealt with the task of cleaning out my parents’ home in preparation for sale. I’ve been slowly working my way through that pile of boxes in my basement, finding new homes for all their books and furnishings with sentimental value. However, I have yet to start scanning all the family photos and documents which I acquired. Similarly, I’m still chipping away at the process of filling my daughter’s baby album—never mind that she graduated from high school in June. I took a break when I realized that, having waited this long, it makes more sense to do the job right by organizing all the materials first, rather than grabbing the first box of photos from the time of her birth and hoping that additional photos from that era don’t turn up in other boxes. I think if I can get all the family photos and documents scanned and organized, with physical copies stored in archival boxes or albums, and digital images edited to include meta data, I will be satisfied. It may take the rest of my life to accomplish that, but it would mean that my kids could inherit a manageable, accessible family history collection.
Autosomal DNA testing has been a consistent theme in my genealogy research in 2021. DNA Painter has allowed me to coordinate my research across test companies through ongoing development of my ancestral chromosome map. Over the summer, I was able to connect for the first time to living descendants of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras. I was thrilled to be able to add them as a new ancestral couple to my chromosome map, bringing the total to 16 ancestral couples from whom I can now verify my genetic descent. Of course, there are still some ancestral lines where DNA has not yet shed any light, due to a small number of “close” (3rd-5th cousin level) DNA matches. This is often because the families were small, with few living descendants, or because those descendants live in countries such as Poland, where DNA testing is relatively uncommon. Lack of available data on living individuals in Poland—for example, from newspaper obituaries, or public records databases such as we have in the U.S.—makes it difficult to identify living individuals for target testing, but perhaps this can be a focus of my research in 2022.
Honing in on the Hodgkinsons
In October, I spent some time researching my Hodgkinson ancestors, a well-researched family of Canadian Loyalists. I was especially excited to discover a baptismal record for Ellender “Huskinson,” whom I believe to be a previously-unknown daughter of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. I examined a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of the Hodgkinson family, based on assertions made by family trees online, and discovered that these hypotheses ranged from “possibly true,” to “patently false.” I also started some research into the history of Mary Hodgkinson, who was named as godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson, and who was (I believe) a sister to John. I hope to write about this in another blog post early in 2022.
Caus(in) for Celebration
Of course, the biggest discovery of the year for me was the identification of the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts, and their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. This discovery was made through identification of the family’s FANs—specifically, a godmother named Anna Maria Hensy, who was mentioned in the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ—combined with evidence from family trees of DNA matches who descend from that same godmother, Mary Ann/Anna Maria (Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze) Schneider. Even though my process was not perfect, this breakthrough has had a profound impact on my research. Although I haven’t blogged about all the individuals I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result, I can now state definitively that Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York on 14 August 1832 to Joseph Antoine Cossin (“Gosÿ”) and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, who were married in the village of Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, on 8 September 1829. Marie Agathe was the daughter of Dionisÿ Hensÿ and Agnes Antony, while Joseph Antoine was the son of Jakob Cossin and Barbara Maker from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas (or Niedersept, in German). Figure 1 summarizes the ancestors in my direct line that I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result of this breakthrough.
Rounding out the year, I was able to locate some ancestral signatures in Detroit probate records for my Roberts ancestors, Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts. I wrote about the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek as a source for vital records, particularly for those with ancestors from the Warmia historical region. Finally, I analyzed Ancestry’s newest ethnicity estimates for a family group (mine!) consisting of four children, their parents, and both sets of grandparents. All in all, 2021 presented ample opportunities for me to do what I love to do: research my family tree using all the tools, technologies, and resources I can muster, discover the stories of my ancestors as told in historical documents, and share my findings.
A Look Ahead
As I think about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, a few research projects stand out, listed below, in no particular order:
I’d like to continue my research into the Hodgkinson family, both in North America and in England, to see if I can convince myself that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham, Upper Canada were really born in Mansfield, England.
I’d love to be able to leverage DNA and FAN research to identify the parents of Catherine (Grant) Dodds and their place of origin, in the same way that I was able to answer those questions in the case of Mary Magdalene Causin.
I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
On my mom’s side, I’d like to resume the search for the elusive Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, my great-great-grandmother, in the hope of being able to find a birth, marriage or death record for her that would reveal her parents’ names. Failing that, I would like to explore alternative historical sources for evidence of her origins, such as Księgi Ludności Stałej (permanent population registers).
I’d love to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
I’d like to invest more time in learning to decipher German handwriting, and gain proficiency in translating German records, so that I can independently research my German and Alsatian ancestors, as well as my husband’s ancestors who were Poles from the Prussian partition.
This is just a modest sample of my research aspirations. If I ever did manage to succeed in accomplishing each of these goals, I could try to discover the origins in Ireland for my Walsh ancestors, identify the maiden name of Christina Hodgkinson, and plan another trip to Poland for onsite research in the ancestral parish of my Zieliński ancestors. The supply of research questions is endless, as is the fascination that accompanies the search for answers, and the satisfaction when victory is attained. Nonetheless, these six items seem like a good place to start, and I’m itching to get started. So, how about you? What are your genealogical goals, hopes, and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in the journey.
Back in March 2019, I wrote about the most recent ethnicity estimates from Ancestry DNA for three generations of my family: myself, my husband, all four of our parents, and our four children. Since this is a rather unique data set, I thought it would be interesting to see what insights such analysis might offer about DNA inheritance, and also about the limitations inherent to these estimates.
Ancestry DNA has updated their ethnicity estimates several times since that first blog post, adding new reference groups and Genetic Communities™ for increased granularity. Last month, they released another update, bringing the total number of Genetic Communities™ to 61 for Poland. So, this seems like a good time to revisit that concept and compare the newest ethnicity estimates for my family members to each other and to those previous estimates, to see how they have changed over time.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™ are the result of Ancestry’s effort to identify more precisely the regions from which each DNA tester’s ancestors originated. They’re assigned automatically, so if Ancestry is able to place you into one of their Communities, they will, without any requirement to opt-in. Ancestry’s algorithm takes into consideration the family trees of clusters of DNA testers who all match each other, and uses the locations mentioned in those family trees to identify birthplaces or migration destinations common to the group. Theoretically, if a majority of the family trees incorrectly identified a place of origin for a group of people, the algorithm might be thrown off, but I suspect that this risk is minimized due to the size of Ancestry’s database.
With this most recent update, Ancestry correctly assigned me to a Genetic Community of those with ancestry from Southeast Poland, and further refined that to Northeastern Lesser Poland (Figure 1).
I’ve traced my Klaus and Liguz ancestors to villages in that region between Szczucin and Mielec, so Ancestry nailed that one. Moreover, they were able to be even more precise with my mother’s estimate, specifying Dąbrowa County as one of her ancestral places of origin (Figure 2).
I was also assigned to the Genetic Community of Northeast Poland, indicated by the larger yellow area on the map in Figure 3, with a further assignment to the Łódź Province and Surrounding Area Community.
Zooming in on that map reveals that the “Łódź” area is defined rather broadly, so I’m not surprised that their map encompasses my ancestry from parishes that are in the Mazowieckie province, but are only a few kilometers east of the border with Łódź province. However, I am a little surprised by the extent to which these Genetic Communities overlap, and by the fact that I was not assigned to all of the Genetic Communities that cover a particular geographic area. For example, the geographic region identified as “Łódź Province and Surrounding Area” encompasses my ancestry from parishes in Słupca County, Wielkopolska, nearly 150 km west of Łódź. However, Ancestry has identified other Genetic Communities (e.g. West Central Poland Community, Greater Poland Community, and Central Poland Community) which also cover this region. The map in Figure 4 defines the geographic region identified as the place of origin of those in the definition of the Central Poland Community, so one might expect that someone with roots in Słupca County—located west of Konin and east of Poznań—would be assigned to this community, but that was not the case for me. My mother-in-law was assigned to this area, however, so the map shown in Figure 4 comes from her ethnicity estimate.
Of course, these estimates and Genetic Community assignments are still a work in progress, and we have every reason to expect that the accuracy will continue to improve over time. With that in mind, here is the table which compares the ethnicity estimates for my family, consisting of a group of four siblings, their parents, and all four grandparents (Figure 5). For each ethnicity component, the reported value is given in bold, with the range indicated in the line below. Check marks indicate the Genetic Communities that were assigned to each tester. A dash indicates that a person was not assigned to a particular ethnic group or Genetic Community. Ancestry tests for over 1500 ethnicities, but only the ten groups shown were reported in ethnicity estimates for members of my family.
As with my previous post, it’ll be helpful to discuss the ethnicities in my family based on pedigree. The ancestors of my father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa” in the chart) were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Prussian partitions as far back as I’ve been able to discover. (A brief discussion of the partitions of Poland and subsequent border changes is found here.) My mother-in-law’s (“Paternal Grandma’s”) ancestors were also ethnic Poles, from the Prussian partition. My mother’s (“Maternal Grandma’s”) family were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Austrian partitions. My father’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) ancestry is more mixed. His mother’s family was entirely German, and his father’s family was half German/Alsatian, half English/Irish/Scottish.
Based on those pedigrees, “Paternal Grandpa, “Paternal Grandma,” “Dad,” and “Maternal Grandma” should all be 100% Polish ethnicity, since all of their ancestors were Poles, living in Polish lands, as far back as I have traced thus far. I’m half Polish, since all my ancestors on my Mom’s side were Polish and none of my Dad’s ancestors were, and my kids, then, are 75% Polish.
For comparison, the summary chart for the data from March 2019 is shown in Figure 6.
In comparison with these earlier data, the November 2021 ethnicity estimates for each person have not changed significantly. My father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa”), for example, was previously reported to be 83% Eastern Europe & Russia,16% Baltic States, and 2% Finland; in this current estimate, 84% of his ethnicity was Eastern Europe & Russia, with 11% Baltic, and 5% Sweden & Denmark. The Baltic and Sweden & Denmark components may or may not be real, since the reported ranges indicate 0% at the low end. It may happen that these components eventually disappear, just as the “Finland” component did, as the ethnicity estimates are continually refined. However, it’s also possible that these components are real, and reflect retained traces of more ancient ancestry. Time will tell.
My father-in-law was also assigned to some Genetic Communities™, specifically, the Northeast Poland community, with additional sub-assignments of Central & Northeast Poland, Central Poland, and Łódź Province and Surrounding Area. Given the degree of overlap between those communities, I think this is, at best, a modest improvement over the simple statement that his ethnicity is Polish, but it’s a step in the right direction, at least.
Another interesting difference between the 2019 ethnicity estimate and the current estimate is the increase in my Dad’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) reported Scottish ethnicity. This is due to Ancestry’s attempt in 2020 to differentiate between the closely-related ethnic groups in the United Kingdom. As explained in this blog post by Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Communications at Ancestry, earlier reference panels included only two groups for this region, an Irish/Celtic/Gaelic group and an Anglo-Saxon/British/English group. In 2020, Ancestry added additional reference panels in an attempt to offer increased granularity, so testers with U.K. ancestry could now be assigned to one or more of four ethnic groups for this region: England & Northwestern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Unfortunately, this particular change to the algorithm led to inflated estimates of Scottish ancestry for many of us. In 2019, my Dad’s combined “Ireland & Scotland” component represented 4% of his ethnicity (range = 0–5%). For comparison, we can calculate Dad’s ethnicity by pedigree. His most recent Irish ancestor was his great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh, from whom Dad would have received, on average, 6.25% of his DNA. Another great-great-grandmother, Catherine (Grant) Dodds, was the source of Dad’s Scottish ancestry, but her family’s origins are unclear, as she herself was most likely born in Canada of parents or grandparents who were Scottish immigrants. If we assume that Catherine’s ancestry was purely Scottish, then Dad would be expected to inherit 6.25% Scottish ethnicity from her, for a total of 12.5% “Ireland & Scotland.” So, the 4% “Ireland & Scotland” reported in 2019 falls short of that, partly due to the random nature of DNA inheritance through recombination—Dad may simply have inherited less than the average amount of DNA from each of those two ancestors—and partly due to the inexact science of generating ethnicity estimates.
However, in Dad’s current ethnicity estimate, his Scottish component is inflated to a whopping 31% (range = 12–33%), while his Irish estimate is 3% (range = 0–7%), and his England & Northwest Europe component comes in at 18% (range = 0–51%). These changes are the result of that attempt in 2020 to distinguish between Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English/Northwestern European ethnicities, and they effectively double his total U.K. ancestry, which should be about 25% since all of his English/Irish/Scottish roots are through one grandmother, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. (Dad’s other three grandparents were all German or Alsatian.) I suspect that this over-estimate of Scottish ancestry will be resolved in a future ethnicity estimate update.
I think the rest of the data in the charts largely speak for themselves, so an exhaustive analysis of each person’s results is unnecessary. However, a few observations can be made:
Both Child 1 and Child 4 both had ethnicities reported that were not detected in the tests of either their parents or their grandparents. Child 1 was reported to have 1% DNA (range = 0–4%) from Sardinia, and Child 4 was reported to have 6% (range = 0–12%) DNA from Norway. Since DNA cannot “skip a generation,” these results cannot reflect any true ethnic origins in those areas. Since we only recognize that that these results are spurious by comparing them with data from both parents, this illustrates the need for caution in interpreting ethnicities reported at values less than about 10%.
Even if a reported ethnicity matches the known pedigree, checking the range of values is recommended; anything that dwindles down to 0% should be taken with a grain of salt, in the most conservative interpretation.
Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™, identified in conjunction with place data from family trees, track well across generations. There were no Communities assigned to children which were not also assigned to their parents, and in one case, a parent’s data exhibited a higher degree of accuracy and precision ((Northeastern Lesser Poland > Dąbrowa County) than was detected in the child.
Identification of Genetic Communities™ did not always line up with known data about ancestral origins, even when those origins are confirmed through DNA matches. Despite having a grandmother born in Greater Poland and having deep ancestry in that region confirmed by DNA matches, my mother was not assigned to this Community. Despite having no evidence of ancestry from places further south than Greater Poland, my mother-in-law was assigned to the Southeast Poland Genetic Community. Go figure.
At the end of the day, these are only estimates of one’s ethnicity, and they are liable to change, modestly or significantly, as additional testers enter the data pool and new reference populations are added for comparison. DNA match lists are ultimately more useful than ethnicity estimates in answering genealogical research questions, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to see how these estimates play out within a family group.
In my last post, I wrote about my recent confirmation of the parents of Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts and the discovery of their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Although this was a thrilling breakthrough for me, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. Let’s unpack the process and see what can be learned from it.
1. Thorough Documentary Research is Always Key
Although this was definitely a stubborn research problem, it’s probably overstating the case to call it a “brick wall” because the documentary research was far from complete. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires “reasonably exhaustive” documentary research, and it’s up to the researcher to identify all collections that are potentially relevant to the research problem and add them to the research plan. Although I’ve been chipping away at research in onsite collections in Detroit as time and money (and the pandemic….) permit, I had not yet examined all of the relevant birth, marriage and death records from the Roberts’ parish in Detroit, Old St. Mary’s, either in person or by proxy. Similarly, my local Family History Center has not been open for quite a while due to the pandemic, making it difficult to research digitized collections with restricted access, such as the church records from St. Louis in Buffalo, where I might have found death records that offered a transcription of “Cossin” that would have been more recognizable. So, it’s entirely possible that this problem could have been solved solely through documentary research, given enough time and focused effort.
2. Don’t Overlook Online Family Trees
Even if I had accepted immediately that the Maria Magdalena Gosÿ who was baptized at St. Louis church in Buffalo, was my Maria Magdalena Causin, I would have had to rely on FAN research for the identification of their ancestral village, since the baptismal record did not mention the parents’ place of origin. So, finding those family trees that mentioned Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzi was a critical clue. One of the things I find most surprising is that searches for “Anna Maria Hensy” did not turn up results for Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, given the number of family trees in which she appears. Even now, when I repeat those searches to see if I can tease her out of the database, using only the search parameters I knew previously (before the trees from the DNA matches gave me her married surname), she is not readily found. I like to think I’m not a rookie when it comes to database searches, and I certainly tried a variety of search parameters, based on what I knew for a fact, and as well as what I could speculate.
Assuming that the godmother was actually present at the baptism of Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ,” I knew that “Maria Anna Hensy” was living in Buffalo in 1832, was most likely born in France, and was probably between the ages of 16 and 60 when she served as godmother, suggesting a birth between 1772 and 1816, although I suspected that a narrower range from 1800–1816 was more likely. I guessed that she was also probably living in Detroit by 1857 when Maria Magdalena was married, so I set up parallel searches with either Buffalo or Detroit specified as her place of residence. I tired varying the specificity of the search, leaving out some information, such as approximate year of birth, and I also tried making the search more restrictive by specifying “exact search” for some parameters, such as her place of birth in France. I used wild card characters to try to circumvent problems with variant spellings in the surname, and I performed all these same searches at FamilySearch, since they offer a different assortment of indexed databases. Despite all that, no promising candidates emerged for further research until DNA matches permitted me to focus on particular family trees.
Why might this be? Good question. One thing I did not do was try drilling down to the Public Member Trees database, specifically. It’s standard research practice among experienced researchers to drill down to a particular database where the research target is expected to be found, e.g. “1870 United States Federal Census,” or “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” especially when the desired results don’t turn up readily in broader searches of all the databases, or within a sub-category of databases, like “Immigration & Emigration” or “Census & Voter Lists.” So, although I searched for “Maria Anna Hensy,” in specific historical records databases (e.g. 1840 census, 1850 census, etc.), my research log indicates that I never drilled down to the Public Member Trees to look for clues. I suspect this reflects some unconscious bias on my part—mea culpa! I’m so accustomed to frustration over all the inaccuracies that I find in so many online trees, that I failed to give these trees the consideration they deserved in generating good leads. When I repeat those searches for Maria Anna Hensy in the Public Member Trees database, the correct Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentzy Schneider shows up in the first page of search results.
3. Analyze the Surname Hints from DNAGedcom
Had I also dug deeper into Aunt Betty’s DNA matches using some of analytical tools out there, I might have found my Cossins sooner. Several weeks ago, I ran a Collins-Leeds analysis at DNAGedcom on all of Aunt Betty’s matches at Ancestry that were within the 20–300 centiMorgan (cM) range, and the results included an enormous cluster with 36 members, whom I realize now are all related through the Hensy line (Figure 1). I’ve written a little previously about DNAGedcom, and more information can be found on their website. However, the purpose of autocluster analysis tools like this is to sort your autosomal DNA match list into clusters of people who are related to each other through a common line of descent.
The really cool thing about DNAGedcom for these analyses is the amount of information that is provided—assuming you take the time to dig into it, which I had not done previously. For that cluster shown in Figure 1, you’ll notice that some of the pink squares are marked with a green leaf. Those leaves mark the intersections of two DNA testers who have family trees linked to their DNA tests, and hovering the cursor over those squares will reveal the names of individuals found in both trees. You can even go one better and tap on any colored square (marked with a leaf or not) to see the option to “View Cluster,” or “View Chromo[some] Browser,” as shown in Figure 2.
The data used for this autocluster analysis came from Ancestry, and much to the dismay of pretty much everyone interested in genetic genealogy, Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or any sort of segment data. So, the “View Chromo Browser” option will not work here, although it would work if these data were gathered from another source like 23&Me. However, clicking on “View Cluster” brings up the chart shown in Figure 3. Names of testers have been redacted for privacy.
Clicking on the name of anyone in that list will take you to the DNA match page for that person at Ancestry. Tree icons on the left indicate those matches with linked family trees. Nice information, but if you keep scrolling down, it gets even better. After identifying the individuals with whom DNA is shared in each cluster, DNAGedcom goes one step further, identifying individual ancestors who appear in the family trees linked to those matches (Figure 4).
The names of the DNA matches who own each family tree are listed in the column on the far right, and have been redacted for privacy, but the chart indicates that Nicolaus, Johann Anton, and Servatius Thelen all appear in 4 different family trees of individual members of Cluster 7, as do Anna Maria and Andrew Schneider and Peter Simon. As it happens, the most recent common ancestral couple between Aunt Betty and these matches—Dionisy Hentzy and Agnes Antony— is not mentioned in this top part of the list. However, if we were to scroll down a bit, we would find them (Figure 5).
Admittedly, this is still a “Some Assembly Required” type of tool. The ancestor list for a given cluster identified by DNAGedcom does not immediately identify the most recent common ancestral couple. However, in conjunction with a list of ancestral FANs, and with guidance from the public member trees, which explain the relationships between individuals mentioned in the list, this is a powerful tool, indeed.
4. Use All the Information in Each Historical Record
The mistake that galls me the most in all of this is that I failed to fully examine the death record for Mary M. Roberts until I sat down to write that first blog post about this discovery. (Actually, had I blogged about my “brick wall” with Maria Magdalena earlier, I might have found my answers faster, since writing about something always forces me to review, organize, and reanalyze my information.) When I looked at my evidence for her date of death, I noticed that I had her probate packet and cemetery records, but I was still citing the index entry for her Michigan death certificate, which I had obtained years ago, and not the original record, which is now readily available online. Duh! One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to always go to the original source, rather than trusting the information in an index, because so often there is additional information in the original, or there are transcription errors that are caught after viewing the original. Such was the case here, as well. The index entry, shown in Figure 6, only states that Mary M. Roberts was born “abt. 1833.”1
However, the entry from the death register contains more information than was indexed regarding her precise age at the time of death.2 The death register states that she was 61 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when she died, as shown in Figure 7.
When I ran this through a date calculator (such as this one), it points to a birth date of 17 August 1832. This is almost an exact match to the birth date of 14 August 1832 that was noted on the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ” from St. Louis Church in Buffalo.
Had I made this connection sooner, I would have been much more confident in accepting that baptismal record as the correct one for Mary Magdalene Causin/Casin/Curzon/Couzens. I guess this is why we have Genealogy Do-Overs. All of us start our research by making rookie errors, so at the very least, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the search to see what is really known, and to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. Better still, consider a full-blown, Thomas MacEntee-style Do Over, which I have never yet had the courage to do.
Not all breakthroughs are the result of elegant or sophisticated methodology. Sometimes, you just keep hacking away at a problem, and you get to the answer in the end, and that’s what happened here. While the origins of the Causin family could possibly have been discovered, in time, using thorough documentary research in church records from Detroit and Buffalo, the process was expedited when the focus switched from the Causin surname to the Hentzy surname of one of their FANs. With the addition of insight gained from examination of DNA matches, the process was expedited still further. The combination of cluster research, autosomal DNA matching, and standard documentary research, is so powerful that it can even overcome a flawed research process. So, while this may not have been a pretty victory, it was a victory nonetheless. I’ll take it.
1 “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1869-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894, citing Family History Library film no. 1377697.
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 Agatha (__), 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.
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.
Genealogists often think in terms of family timelines, tracing one particular family line through many generations. However, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to examine my family tree in cross section. That is, what was happening in each of my family lines in the year 1857? I chose that year because I wrote recently about my 3x-great-grandparents’s marriage in Roding, Bavaria in 1857, and that got me wondering what my other ancestors were doing in that same year, and where they were living around the world. It turns out this is a pretty useful (and fun!) exercise. I gained new insights into each family group, and it also served to point out deficiencies in my research, and families that I’ve neglected, that I should perhaps plan to spend more time on in 2018. Here, then, is a summary of my ancestral couples who were alive at that time. Although the map in the featured image is not “clickable,” you can use this link to explore that map in greater depth, if you’d like.
Maternal grandfather’s line
In 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents, Michał Zieliński and Antonia (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska, were living in the village of Mistrzewice in Sochaczew County in what was at that time the Królestwo Polskie or Kingdom of Poland, which officially had some autonomy, but was in reality a puppet state of the Russian Empire. They’d been married about four years, although I don’t know the precise date of their marriage because 19th century records for Mistrzewice prior to 1859 were largely destroyed. Michał and Antonina had one daughter, Zofia, who was about 2, and Michał supported his family as a gospodarz, a farmer who owned his own land.1
Meanwhile, in the nearby village of Budy Stare, Sochaczew County, my 3x-great-grandparents Roch Kalota and Agata (née Kurowska) Kalota welcomed their (probably) oldest daughter, my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Kalota, who was born circa 1857. Again, the destruction of records has been a problem for researching this line, but available records tell us that Roch Kalota, too, was a farmer.2
In the south of Poland in 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents on my Klaus line had not yet married. Jakub Klaus was the son of Wawrzyniec (Lawrence) Klaus and Anna Żala or Żola. He was a young man already 27 years of age, but he did not marry his wife, Franciszka, until 1860.3 Franciszka Liguz was the daughter of Wawrzyniec Liguz and Małgorzata Warzecha, age 21 in 1857. Both Franciszka and her husband-to-be, Jakub, lived in the village of Maniów in Dąbrowa County in the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire, and Jakub was described as a famulus, or servant.
Still further south in what is now Poland, my 3x-great-grandparents Jakub Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz were 4 years away from their eventual wedding date.4 In 1857, Jakub was a 22-year-old shoemaker from the village of Kołaczyce in Jasło County in the Austrian Empire, and Anna was the 23-year-old daughter of a shoemaker from the same village.
Maternal grandmother’s line
Heading further north again in Poland, back into Sochaczew County in Russian Poland, my 2x-great-grandparents Ignacy and Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycki were about 8 years into their marriage, raising their family in the village of Bronisławy. By 1857, they had three children for whom birth records have been discovered, Marianna,5 Paulina,6 and Tomasz.7 Ignacy was a land-owning farmer who was born in the nearby village of Szwarocin,8 but his wife Antonina’s place of birth remains a mystery.
Moving west now, in 1857 my 3x-great-grandparents Stanisław and Jadwiga (née Dąbrowska) Grzesiak were living in Kowalewo Opactwo, a village that was located in Słupca County at the far western edge of the Russian Empire, within walking distance of the border with Prussia. Ages 51 and 41, respectively, they were already parents to 12 of their 13 children. Stanisław was usually described as a shepherd or a tenant farmer.9
In the nearby town of Zagórów, my 3x-great-grandmother, Wiktoria (née Dębowska) Krawczyńska was living as a 53-year-old widow, having lost her husband Antoni Krawczyński 10 years earlier.10 Antoni had been a shoemaker, and he and Wiktoria were the parents of 8 children, of whom 4 died in infancy. By 1857, the surviving children ranged in age from 27 to 14 — the youngest being my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Krawczyńska.
Paternal grandfather’s line
Meanwhile, in Detroit, Michigan, my 3x-great-grandparents Michael Ruppert and Maria Magdalena Causin were newlyweds in 1857, having married on 12 May of that year.11 Michael had immigrated to the U.S. just four years earlier, at the age of 19, with his parents and siblings.12 The Rupperts were from the village of Heßloch in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, or what is now Alzey-Worms district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.13 Michael was a carpenter, and he and his family had already begun to use the surname Roberts.14 His wife Maria Magdalena Causin/Casin/Curzon is a bit of a mystery, and will likely be the subject of future blog post, because she doesn’t show up in the records until her marriage in 1857, and her parents’ names are not on her marriage or death records.
In 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents Henry and Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner and were also living in Detroit, had been married for 2 years and were parents to their first child, John Wagner.15 Henry was a teamster who had arrived in Detroit about 3 years previously along with his parents and siblings, all immigrants from the village of Roßdorf in the Electorate of Hesse, a state within the German Confederation.16 This was a first marriage for Henry, but a second marriage for Catherine, since she was a young widow after the death of her first husband, Victor Dellinger or Dalmgher.17 In addition to burying her husband some time between 1850-1855, it appears that both of Catherine’s children from that first marriage18 also died young, since they were not mentioned in the 1860 census in the household of Henry and Catherine Wagner. Catherine herself was an immigrant from Steinsoultz, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, who came to Detroit with her parents and siblings some time between 1830 and 1834.
Across the border and some 225 miles to the east, my 3x-great-grandparents Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh made their home in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. In 1857, Elizabeth Walsh was a 39-year-old mother of 5, pregnant with her 6th child, Ellen, who was born in December of that year.19 Elizabeth was the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of United Empire Loyalists, so her family were among the first settlers in St. Catharines. Her husband, Robert Walsh, was a 49-year-old tailor from Ireland whose family origins have proven to be more elusive than his wife’s.
Also living in St. Catharines were my 3x-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds. In 1857, Robert was a 40-year-old immigrant from England, usually described as a laborer or farm laborer. Nothing is known about Robert’s family of origin. He married his wife, Catherine, circa 1840, and by 1857 they were the parents of three daughters and three sons.20 Catherine’s origins, and even her maiden name, are unclear. There is evidence that she was born circa 1818 in Martintown, Glengarry, Ontario to parents who were Scottish immigrants or of Scottish extraction, but no birth record or marriage record has yet been discovered for her.
Paternal grandmother’s line
Jacob and Catherine (née Rogg or Rock) Böhringer, my 3x-great-grandparents, were German immigrants from the Black Forest, having lived in the village of Gündelwangen in the Grand Duchy of Baden21 prior to their migration to Buffalo, New York in 1848.22 By 1857, Catherine and Jacob had already buried three of their seven children, including oldest daughter Maria Bertha, who was born in Germany and apparently died on the voyage to America. Jacob was a joiner or a cabinet maker.23
In 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents Joseph Murre and Walburga Maurer were still about 5 years away from their eventual wedding date. They were born and married in Bavaria, Germany, although I have yet to discover their specific place of origin. I don’t know the names of the parents of either Joseph or Walburga. Joseph was a woodworker who was employed in a planing mill in Buffalo, New York in 1870 24 and was later listed as a carpenter in the Buffalo city directory in 1890. He and Walburga arrived in New York on 3 April 1869 with their children Maria, Anna and Johann.25
In October 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents Johann Meier and Anna Maria Urban were married in the parish church in Roding, Bavaria.26 Their first child, Johann Evangelista Meier, was born out of wedlock two years previously although the father was named on the baptismal record with a note that the child was subsequently legitimized. Johann and Anna Maria would go on to have a total of 10 children, 3 of whom migrated to Buffalo, New York.
In 1857, my 4x-great-grandparents, Ulrich Götz or Goetz and Josephine Zinger, were living somewhere in Bavaria and raising their 4-year-old son, Carl Götz, who was my 3x-great-grandfather. Almost nothing is known of this family, including where they lived in Bavaria or the names of Carl’s siblings. Carl grew up to be the second husband of a much older wife, Julia Anna Bäumler, who was already 19 in 1857. Julia had at least one child from a previous relationship, a son, John George Bäumler, who was born in 1858. Julia and Carl married in Bavaria circa 1875, a development which may or may not have influenced John Bäumler’s decision to emigrate from Bavaria to Buffalo, New York in 1876.28 Julia gave birth to her only child with Carl, Anna Götz (my great-great-grandmother), in 1877, and the Götz family eventually followed John Bäumler to Buffalo in 1883. Julia Götz’s death record states that she was born in “Schlattine, Bavaria,” which suggests the village of Schlattein in Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Bavaria, but further research is needed to confirm this location.
So there you have it: a summary of where my ancestors were in the world, and in their lives, in the year 1857. But what about your ancestors? Where were they living, and what were they doing? Is there a more interesting year for your family than 1857? Choose a different year, and tell me your ancestors’ stories!
2Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl, Księga zgonów 1889-1901, 1895, #59, death record for Wojciech Kalota, accessed on 10 November 2017.
3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary Magdalene parish (Szczucin, Dąbrowa, Małopolskie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1786-1988, Akta małżeństw 1786-1988, Maniów, 1860, 16 September, marriage record for Jacobus Klaus and Francisca Liguz, Family History Library film # 1958428 Items 7-8.
4 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anne’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), Śluby, 1826-1889, Stare Kopie, 1861, #11, marriage record for Jacobus Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz.
5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1850, #48, baptismal record for Maryanna Zarzycka.
6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1853, #60, baptismal record for Paulina Zarzycka.
7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, 1855-1862, 1856, #48, baptismal record for Tomasz Zarzecki.
8 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1828, #34, baptismal record for Ignacy Zarzycki.
10 Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, 1843, #137, death record for Antoni Krawczyński.; FHL film #2162134, Item 1, Akta zgonów 1844-1849.
11 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages”, 1857, #15, marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin.
12 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (index and image), record for Franz, Catherine, Michael, Arnold, and Catherine Rupard, S.S. William Tell, arrived 4 March 1853, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 123; Line: 51; List Number: 146, accessed 17 November 2017.
13 Roman Catholic Church (Heßloch (Kr. Worms), Hesse, Germany), Kirchenbuch, 1715-1876, 1834, baptismal record for Michael Ruppert, FHL film #948719.
16New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Henry, Cath., August, Johnny, Gertrude, and Marianne Wagner, S.S. Erbpring Luidrich August, arrived 29 September 1853 in New York, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 132; Line: 12; List Number: 1010, http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.
18 1850 U.S.Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, page 156B and 157, Victor Dalmgher household, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.
19Census of 1861, database, Library and Archives Canada, St. Catharines, Lincoln, Canada West (Ontario), Robert Walsh household, item number 2721097, accessed 17 November 2017.
20 Census of 1861, database, Library and Archives Canada, Grantham, Lincoln, Canada West (Ontario), Library and Archives Canada, Robert Dodds household, Item number 1884852, accessed 17 November 2017.
21 Roman Catholic Church, Gündelwangen parish (Gündelwangen, Waldshut, Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany), Kirchenbuchduplikat, 1810-1869, 1847, baptisms, #4, record for Maria Bertha Rogg, p. 165, with addendum on page 171, Family History Library film #1055226.
22 Passenger and Immigration Lists, 1820-1850, record for Jacob Behringer, Catherine, and Marie Behringer, S.S. Admiral, arrived 4 November 1848 in New York, http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.
25 Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Joseph, Walburga, Anna, Marie, and Johann Muri, S.S. Hansa, arrived 3 April 1869 in New York, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 308; Line: 38; List Number: 292. http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.
26 BZAR, Roman Catholic Church, St. Pancrus parish (Roding, Cham, Oberpfalz, Germany), Marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857, Vol. 27, page 3 MF 573.
271900 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Buffalo, Erie, New York, E.D. 107, Sheet 16B, Charles Goetz household, https://.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.
28 1900 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Gainesville, Wyoming, New York, E.D. 122, Sheet 9A, John Baumler household, https://.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.
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.3Note 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)
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.
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.
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, thisimage 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.
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 further 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 Gravein 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
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!
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.7
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.
1 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.
4 Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940, (images and transcriptions), record for Victor Dellinger and Catherine Grenzinger, http://familysearch.org, accessed February 2017.
5 Assumption Grotto Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Notes from telephone conversation, 15 January 2015.
6 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.