Ancestry’s New ThruLines Utility Needs More Work

Last week, AncestryDNA® unveiled a new utility called ThruLines.™ You can read more about getting and using ThruLines™ from Ancestry’s article, here. Like many of you, I was anxious to play with it and see what, if anything, it did for me. I must say, I’m underwhelmed. Granted, the tool is still in Beta testing, so hopefully improvements will be made to the accuracy of the matching algorithm as time goes by. But as it is now, my concern is that ThruLines™ will only add to the existing confusion and misunderstanding of fledgling genealogists. Let’s walk through this utility to see what it offers and where the problems lie.

This shows my new Ancestry DNA home screen. I can access ThruLines™ on the right, and there’s a link at the bottom to click if I choose to continue using DNA Circles.

ThruLines first screen

The second screen gives me a portal to each of my ancestors to explore.

ThruLines second screen

When I first scrolled down on this screen, before I began to write this article, Ancestry highlighted a Potential Ancestor named Marianna Kozłowska, and informed me that she was my great-great-grandmother. Intrigued, I clicked on this person to examine the evidence for this assertion. On the next screen, Ancestry informed me that Marianna Kozłowska was the mother of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, and that she was mentioned in the family tree of a particular Ancestry member. If we take the information in the family tree at face value, Marianna Kozłowska was the daughter of Antoni Kozłowski and Tekla Stępkowska, born 1863 in Nowy Garwarz, Mazowieckie, Poland, near Glinojeck. (Antoni and Tekla were also reported to be my potential ancestors.) Marianna was married to Stanisław Zieliński, who was born 1863 in Wkra (also near Glinojeck). That fact is apparently the basis on which Ancestry’s algorithm determined that Marianna Kozłowska was my ancestor. I, too, have a great-great-grandfather named Stanisław Zieliński, who was born in 1863 and was married to a woman named Marianna.

The problem is, I have good documentary and DNA evidence that proves that my great-great-grandfather Stanisław Zieliński was born in Mistrzewice, Mazowieckie, Poland, not Wkra, and was married to Marianna Kalota, not Marianna Kozłowska.1 Moreover, my Marianna Kalota was the daughter of Roch Kalota and Agata Kurowska of Budy Stare, Mazowieckie, she was not the daughter of Antoni Kozłowski and Tekla Stępkowska. Marianna Kalota’s parents’ names and grandparents’ names are stated in my online tree, so it’s not as if there’s anything to suggest to Ancestry’s algorithms that I’m uncertain about the identifies of those ancestors. Closer examination of the tree which mentioned “my” ancestor, Marianna Kozłowska Zielińska revealed that the tree owner really has no good evidence for her claims about Marianna Kozłowska’s place of birth. For example, the passenger manifest that was supposed to document Marianna Kozłowska’s emigration to the U.S. was for a woman whose husband’s and children’s names did not match the data in the tree. Furthermore, the Marianna in the manifest was from Eckardtsfelde, Prussia, which is some 230 km west of Glinojeck.

There’s no shame in being confused about the origins of one’s ancestor, and everyone makes mistakes when they’re starting out in genealogy, so I’m not using this example merely to criticize the research of the woman who posted this tree. But I thought that surely there must have been some other basis for Ancestry’s conclusion that Marianna Kozłowska was my ancestor. Since this tree owner was clearly confused about where her Marianna Kozłowska was born, was it possible that she’s nonetheless a distant cousin of mine who simply made a few wrong turns while tracing her tree?

I checked out the profile of the woman who posted the family tree in question. If you’ve never done this before, you can access the profile of any Ancestry member with an online tree by clicking on the username found at the top left corner of the screen showing their tree. That will bring you to the screen shown below.

Ancestry Member Profile page

If that person is a match to you, or if any of the kits that (s)he manages are a match to you, it will be noted here. Additionally, if you manage other DNA results besides your own, you can use the drop-down menu, “Select DNA Test,” circled here in red, to compare this particular Ancestry user with any of the kits you manage.

To my surprise, she was not a DNA match at all. Not only did she not match me, she did not match my mother, the great-granddaughter of Stanisław and Marianna Zieliński. At this point it was pretty clear that the only basis for the assignment of Marianna Kozłowska Zielińska as my ancestor was her marriage to a man with the same name and year of birth as my great-great-grandfather. Never mind that Zieliński is the 8th-most popular surname in Poland, so there were undoubtedly quite a few Polish men named Stanisław Zieliński who were born in 1863. Sigh.

There is a bright side to this story, however. Ancestry requested feedback on my experience with ThruLines,™ via a little popup window, so I gratefully obliged them and expressed my concerns about their algorithm. Ancestry responded with lightning speed, such that when I returned to the site a few hours later to grab some screen shots for this blog post, there was no longer any mention of Marianna Kozłowska or her parents among my Potential Ancestors. Whew! Kudos to Ancestry for taking such prompt action in response to critical feedback. If nothing else, it underscores their desire to do the right thing by their customers.

Let’s examine another Potential Ancestor and see how that one shapes up. To quickly find these, I sorted my results according to this “Potential Ancestors” option using the drop-down “Filter by” menu at the top left. Once filtered, the results are shown below.

Potential Ancestors

Mary Cebulska intrigued me because there is a Maria Cebulska in my family tree, although she’s on my husband’s side. I also have Cybulskis in my tree since they married into the Zieliński family in Poland. However, examination of the family tree from whence this data came reveals that this is a reference to a fictitious Mary Cebulska who was purportedly married to my great-great-grandfather, Józef Grzesiak. This case was a bit trickier, since there was actual documentary evidence from a U.S. marriage record which stated that Józef’s wife’s name was Mary Cebulski. It turns out to be incorrect, and I wrote about this evidence previously. However, it was at least an honest mistake that any researcher might make if they were to base their case only on U.S. records instead of examining the evidence from Polish records. I won’t fault Ancestry for that one.

Next up, we have Walburga Meinzinger. I was a little surprised to find her in the list of “potential” ancestors because she’s an actual ancestor identified in my family tree on Ancestry. When I click on her name in this list, I arrive at a screen that tells me a little more about the connection.

Thrulines Walburga Meinzinge3r

Ancestry’s proposal of Walburga Meinzinger as my 4x-great-grandmother is based on her appearance in a tree posted by my paternal aunt, with whom I collaborate. Clicking on the “10 DNA Matches” brings me to a screen which may be the best part of the ThruLines™ utility, thanks to the clear graphic depiction of the relationships between me and my DNA matches who are also descendants of my great-great-grandparents, Wenzeslaus Meier and Anna Goetz.

Meinzinger tree

Is this new information for me? No, I had already discovered my connection to these folks by clicking on “shared matches” and either examining their online trees (where available) or writing to them. And the information about number of shared DNA segments and centimorgans of shared DNA is no more useful now than it was previously, in the absence of a chromosome browser which would allow me to paint these shared segments onto my chromosome map. Moreover, it’s misleading for Ancestry to highlight Walburga Meinzinger as the common link between me and all of these matches, since the most recent common ancestral couple isn’t Walburga and her husband, Christoph Meier, but rather Walburga’s grandson, Wenzeslaus Meier and his wife, Anna Goetz. At this point we have no evidence that Walburga is necessarily the ancestor “thru” whom I’m related to these 10 DNA matches, since it’s entirely possible that none of the DNA that we share came from her, but instead came from (for example) the Goetz side.

Finally, let’s take a look at Ancestry’s suggestion of Elisabeth “Lizette” Christina Gross as another one of my potential ancestors. This time, Ancestry informs me that Elisabeth was the mother of my 3x-great-grandfather, Carl Goetz. According to the tree which was supposed to be the source of the information, Elisabeth was born 2 February 1833 in Heilbronn, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. She married Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Goetz, and they were the parents of one Carl Wilhelm Christian Goetz who was born 5 October 1853 in Bavaria (Bayern), Germany and died 19 March 1933 in Buffalo, New York. 

My Carl (or Charles, in English) “coincidentally” also died on 19 March 1933 in Buffalo, New York,2 and equally “coincidentally,” was born on 5 October 1853 in Leuchtenberg, Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Bayern, Germany.3 However, he was the son of Ulrich Goetz and Josephine Zenger, as evidenced by his death certificate (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Death certificate of Charles Goetz (Carl Götz), 19 March 1933, with parents’ names underlined in red.2Charles Goetz death 1933 marked

Moreover, there’s no evidence that my Carl ever used the middle names Wilhelm and Christian. While the birth dates quoted by this tree owner for her Carl Wilhelm Christian Goetz are a match for the documented birth and death dates of my Carl Goetz, the parents’ names and place of birth are clearly not a match. So this tree owner is erroneously conflating my Carl Goetz with her Carl, who may or may not have been the son of parents named Elisabeth “Lizette” Christina Gross and Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Goetz. It’s not clear to me precisely how she came to the conclusion that my Carl belonged in her family tree, beyond indiscriminate borrowing from online trees, but it’s very clear that he does not. Once again, I thought perhaps there was DNA evidence linking me to this tree owner through some other line, that might have been the basis for Ancestry’s identification of Elisabeth “Lizette” Christina Gross as my Potential Ancestor. Once again, I was disappointed. This tree owner isn’t a match to me, or to my father (Carl Goetz’s great-great-grandson).

The point here isn’t that there are inaccurate family trees online; we all know that already. But I think Ancestry’s ThruLines™ tool exacerbates the problem. Since ThruLines™ are accessed through the “DNA” tab and not the “Search” tab, it suggests that the highlighted “Potential Ancestors” are proposed on the basis of DNA matching rather than being based solely on the existence of trees containing individuals with the same names as one’s own ancestors. Unfortunately, in all the cases I examined, the DNA matches were too far “downstream” for them to be useful in drawing any conclusions about my potential relationship to more distant ancestors. The fact that I share DNA segments with my mother, my sister, and my four children cannot be used as evidence of our common descent from someone purported to be my great-great-grandmother. So if these “Potential Ancestors” are being identified solely on the basis of online family trees, then it would be more honest to have them suggested under the “Search” tab rather than the “DNA” tab.

If beginning genealogists are going to use these ThruLines,™ they need to understand that the the “Potential Ancestor” designations are no more reliable than the record hints or “shaky leaf” hints which Ancestry provides. While I love Ancestry for the convenience it offers in allowing me to locate and download documents pertaining to my family online, in the comfort of my home, at 2 am, I do wish they would leave well enough alone. I think it would be much better to put the records online, put the family trees online, and put the DNA data online, and then leave it to genealogists to connect the dots between those data sets themselves.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to hope that, in time, the usefulness of tools like ThruLines™ will increase. There seem to be plenty of people who are raving about this tool in the various Facebook genealogy forums, but so far, my personal experience with it has not been positive. As Blaine Bettinger wrote in the “Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques” Facebook group, “As a community, we need to decide whether we want automated tools that will unavoidably perpetuate mistakes, or whether we want NO automation. Those are the only two options.” Call me a Luddite, but I don’t think automation like this is doing us any favors. I look forward to the day when Ancestry proves me wrong.

Sources:

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1885, marriages, #21, record for Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota, 15 November 1885.

2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1933, no. 1688, certificate for Charles Goetz, died 19 March 1933.

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Margaret’s parish (Leuchtenberg, Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Bayern, Germany), Band 6, Taufen 1848 – 1869, p. 26, no. 38, birth record for Karl Götz, Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv Regensburg, St.Petersweg 11-13, D-93047 Regensburg, Germany.

4 Blaine Bettinger, “Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques” Facebook group, post on 27 February 2019, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/geneticgenealogytipsandtechniques/permalink/594183891045315/ : 3 March 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz  2019

Where Were Your Ancestors in 1857?

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.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,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 marriage 18 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!

Selected Sources:

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mistrzewicach, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl, 1875, Małżeństwa, #2, record for Zofia Zielińska and Piotr Malinowski, accessed on 10 November 2017.

2 Akta 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.

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.

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.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1850, #48, baptismal record for Maryanna Zarzycka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1853, #60, baptismal record for Paulina Zarzycka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, 1855-1862, 1856, #48, baptismal record for Tomasz Zarzecki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1828, #34, baptismal record for Ignacy Zarzycki.

Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. słupecki), 1832, marriages, #14, record for Stanisław Grzesiak and Jadwiga Dąbrowska, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/, accessed 17 November 2017.

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.

14 1860 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, p. 142, Michael Roberts and Frank Roberts households, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

15 Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940, database, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org), database with images, 1855, #11, record for Henry Wagner and Catherine Dellinger, accessed 17 November 2017.

16 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Henry, Cath., August, Johnny, Gertrude, and Marianne WagnerS.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.

17 Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940,  (images and transcriptions), Wayne County, marriage certificates, 1842-1848, v. B, #1733, marriage record for Victor Dellinger and Catherine Grenzinger, 3 February 1846,  FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org, 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.  

19 Census 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.

23 1860 United States Federal Census (population schedule), 7th Ward Buffalo, Erie, New York, p. 77, Jacob Barringer household, http://familysearch.org, accessed 17 November 2017.

24 1860 United States Federal Census (population schedule), 7th Ward Buffalo, Erie, New York, p. 73, Joseph Murri household, http://familysearch.org, 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.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

The Meier Family of Obertrübenbach, Bavaria and Buffalo, New York

Recently, I wrote about my first attempt at translating a German marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Johann Meier and Anna Maria Urban. I was getting a little ahead of myself there, since I never really explained my connection to that couple, so I’d like to take this opportunity to remedy that.

Anna (née Meier) Boehringer (or “Nana,” as she was known by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren) was my father’s maternal grandmother, and one of the three great-grandparents whom I distinctly remember from my childhood. All three of them — Nana; her husband, “Grandpa John” Boehringer; and “Big Grandpa” (Joseph Zielinski) appear in this photograph from a family party in 1969. Although I was too young to remember this particular moment, but I love this photo nonetheless because they’re all in it.

My Three Great Grandparents 1969Anna (née Meier) Boehringer, John Boehringer, and Joseph Zielinski, June 1969, Grand Island, New York.

Anna Julia Meier was born 25 April 1895 in Buffalo, New York; the oldest of the 13 children of Wenzeslaus (“Wenzel”) and Anna (née Goetz or Götz) Meier. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a three-generation portrait of Anna with her parents, grandparents, and some of her siblings, taken circa 1903. This version of the photo was retouched by Leslie Utley of the Genealogists Photo Restoration group on Facebook to remove some scratches and flaws. In the front row, left to right, there is my great-great-great-grandmother, Julianna (née Bäumler) Götz (1838-1905). Next to her are her grandchildren, Anna Meier, Julia Meier, Marie Meier, and Frances Meier, followed by my 3x-great-grandfather, Carl Götz (1853-1933). In the back row are Wenzeslaus Meier (1871-1942) and Anna (née Götz) Meier (1877-1949), holding baby Margaret Meier.

Meier 3 generation portrait retouched

One of my most cherished family heirlooms is Nana’s First Communion prayer book, written in German, with her name inscribed in it.

 

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Here’s one more great photo of Nana, at the age of 17 in 1912, retouched to remove creases and colorized by Lisa Binion of the Genealogists Photo Restoration group on Facebook. I love the confidence on her face here, and the hint of a smile around the corners of her mouth.Anna Meier at 17, retouched and colorized by Lisa Binion

As mentioned, Anna’s father was Wenzel Meier, a German immigrant born in Bavaria. Wenzel is on the left in this photo taken circa 1939, presumably at his home in Buffalo, New York.Wenzel Meier on left with neighbor circa 1939According to the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, he was born 27 March 1871 in Roding, Federal Republic of Germany.1 He came to the U.S. in 1890, on board the S.S. Fulda, which departed from Bremen and Southhampton and arrived in the port of New York on 8 August.2 The passenger manifest states that his last residence was “Obertrubenbach” (Figures 1a and b).

Figure 1a: Extract from passenger manifest for Wenzeslaus Meier, S.S. Fulda, 8 August 1890, far left side of the page.2Wenzel Meier Manifest left crop

Figure 1b: Extract from passenger manifest for Wenzeslaus Meier, S.S. Fulda, 8 August 1890, far right side of the page.2Wenzel Meier Manifest right crop

These two pieces of information, Roding and Obertrubenbach, were consistent with the location of Obertrübenbach, which is a village in Cham county, Regierungsbezirk Oberpfalz, in the easternmost part of Bavaria, roughly 20 miles from the present-day border between Germany and the Czech Republic, as shown on the map. (A Regierungsbezirk is an administrative division that’s intermediate between a county and a state.) Obertrübenbach has had a Catholic church, Sts. Peter and Paul, since the second half of the 12th century, but this church has been a filial church of the church in Roding since at least 1391.3 Although the entry for Obertrübenbach in the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire) does not specify the relationship between the churches, only mentioning that a Catholic church did exist in Obertrübenbach, the online version of the gazetteer confirms that the village belonged to the parish in Roding (claiming FamilySearch as the source for this information). The church of St. Pancras in Roding is indeed where Wenzel Meier was baptized in 1871, and his baptismal record is shown here (Figure 2).The priest who recorded Wenzel’s baptism really loved abbreviations, so a complete transcription and translation of this record was a joint effort by several contributors in the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook, including William F. Hoffman, Mente Pongratz, Gerardo Cacciari, and Jadwiga Berntsson.

Figure 2: Baptismal record for Wenzeslaus Meier, 1871. Transcription (including full words where the priest abbreviated): “Die 27 Mart[ii] h[ora] 1 noct[is] nat[us] et eodem h[ora] 9na [?] a C. Piendl bapt[izatus] est Wenzeslaus fil[ius] leg[itimus] Joan[n]is Maier, aedic[ularii] in Obertruebenbach Nr. 5 et ux[oris] Mariae c[uius] p[ater] Math[aeus] Urban, aedic[ularius] in Kalsing, Lev[antes] Joseph Urban, aedic[ularii] fil[ius] [son of a Häusler] de Alzenzell c[uius] v[ices] g[erens] Math[aeus] Pongratz. Obst[etrix] Christoph”4
Wenzeslaus Meier 1871 crop

In translation, the record states, “On the 27th day of March at 1:00 at night was born, and on the same day at 9:00 in the morning by C. Piendl was baptized Wenzeslaus, legitimate son of Johann Maier, homeowner in Obertruebenbach [house] number 5, and his wife Maria, whose father is Matthias Urban, homeowner in Kalsing. The godfather was Joseph Urban, son of a homeowner, living in Atzenzell, and acting in his place [as proxy godfather] was Mathaeus Pongratz. The midwife was (Crescentia?) Christoph.”

I had originally read the abbreviation aedc as aedt, for aedituus, meaning “sacristan” or “sexton,” but Mente Pongratz set the record straight that it’s actually aedicularius meaning homeowner, equivalent to the term Häusler in German. Moreover, he added that the Latin term aedic. fil. is equivalent to the German word Häuslerssohn, which is the son of homeowner, as opposed to the idea that the priest was describing Joseph Urban as both as homeowner and a son. William F. Hoffman further clarified that the midwife’s given name was likely to be Crescentia, based on the previous entry on the page, which reads “Obst Cresc. Christoph.” In any case, the birth date on this record matches exactly with the date of birth reported by Wenzel Meier on U.S. records, and his parents’ names, which were recorded as John Meier and Mary Uhrman on U.S. documents, are also sufficiently similar that we can be sure this is a match. The variation in surname spelling, Maier rather than Meier, isn’t a big deal, despite the popularity of the surname.

It was Wenzel’s parents, then, whose marriage record from 27 October 1857 I translated in that previous blog post. And now you know a bit more of their story.

Sources:

1U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015), Record for Wenzel Meier, 27 March 1871, Social Security number 122106193, Ancestry.com, subscription database, https://www.ancestry.com/, accessed 20 October 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (images), (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010), record for Wenzeslaus Meier, S.S. Fulda, 8 August 1890, accessed 20 October 2017.

3 Obertrübenbach,” Wikipedia, https://de.wikipedia.org, accessed 20 October 2017.

4 BZAR, Roman Catholic Church, St. Pancrus parish (Roding, Cham, Oberpfalz, Germany), baptismal record for Wenzeslaus Maier, born 27 March 1871, vol. 6/213, p. 378, MF 273.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

The Final Clue: Tracing the Wagners Back to Germany

As dead people go, Joseph Riel wasn’t even all that interesting to me. He was just an in-law, the husband of my great-great-great-grandaunt, Gertrude Wagner Riel. He was not even a blood relative, much less a direct-line ancestor, and he and Gertrude died without issue, so I cannot hope to find Riel cousins among my DNA matches. And yet it was Joseph Riel’s grave marker that gave me the final clue to the German place of origin of my Wagner family. Before I explain what was on the grave marker and why it mattered, let me introduce you to my Wagners and summarize the evidence for their place of origin in Germany up to this point.

The Henry Wagner Family of Detroit, Michigan

My great-great-great-grandfather was Henry Wagner, born circa 15 December 1829 in Germany.1 According to the 1900 census, which was recorded when Henry was living as a widower in the household of his son of his son, John, Henry arrived in America in 1855 (Figure 1).2

Figure 1: Excerpt from the 1900 census for Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, showing Henry Wagner in the household of his son, John Wagner.2

Henry Wagner 1900 census crop

On that census, Henry reported his own date of birth as September 1827, and no baptismal record from Germany has yet been obtained to verify the correct date. Henry Wagner’s death certificate reveals that his father was also named Henry Wagner, and his mother was Mary Nau (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: Death certificate for Henry Wagner, 6 February 1907.3Henry Wagner death certificate

Further digging revealed that Henry (Jr.)’s parents, Henry and Mary (née Nau) Wagner also immigrated. The family can be seen in the 1860 census (Figure 3), living in Detroit.Henry himself was already married by that time and living separately.

Figure 3: Excerpt from the 1860 census showing the family of Henry (Sr.) and Mary Wagner with sons John and August, son-in-law Joseph Riehl (sic), and daughter Gertrude Riehl.4Henry Wagner family 1860 census Detroit

Henry Wagner (Sr.) is noted to be a “gentleman”, born circa 1810 in Hessia, whose personal estate was valued at approximately $5,000. Mary, his wife, was also born circa 1810, and their sons John and August were born circa 1832 and 1834, respectively, and were both employed as carpenters. Son-in-law Joseph Riehl was noted to be a blacksmith and he and his wife, Gertrude, were both born about 1835.

The passenger manifest for Henry Wagner (Sr.) and family does not reveal where they were from in Germany, unfortunately (Figure 4).5

Figure 4: Passenger manifest of the S.S. Erbpring Luidrich August, which arrived in New York 29 September 1853, showing the family of Henry Wagner (Sr.).5

Henry Wagner fam Passenger List

The manifest shows the family of Henry Wagner, a 50-year-old male farmer from Germany traveling to the U.S. Henry’s age suggests a birth year of 1803. The name of the passenger below him appears to be “Cath.;” however, the passenger is marked as a 24-year-old male. No trace has yet been discovered in U.S. records for a Catherine Wagner born circa 1829 who belongs to this family, and “Catherine’s” birth year is approximately correct for Henry Wagner (Jr.) who is missing from this manifest. This suggests one of two possibilities: either (a) Henry Wagner (Jr.) immigrated separately from his family, which would explain his absence from this manifest, and Catherine Wagner is a real sibling for whom evidence may yet turn up in U.S. records with further digging, or (b) the name “Cath.” was recorded in error, and the 24-year-old male passenger listed with the Wagner family was actually Henry (Jr.). The names of the other passengers listed below “Cath.” — August, Johnny and Gertrude — are consistent with the known children of Henry (Sr.) and Mary Wagner, although their ages appear to be 20, 22 and 28 (?), suggesting birth years of 1833, 1831, and 1825, which are a bit off from what was reported in the 1860 census. Interestingly, the family matriarch, Mary (née Nau) Wagner is not mentioned with the family group, although there is a good match for her at the bottom of the page — 50-year-old Marianne Wagner. Since she was separated from the family on the manifest, the possibility existed that perhaps Henry (Jr.) was similarly separated, perhaps on the next page after Marianne’s name. However, all pages of the manifest were checked and there was no match for a Henry Wagner of the appropriate age.

The Search for Henry’s Manifest

To examine the possibility that Henry Wagner (Jr.) traveled separately from his family, another search was made for a manifest for Henry Wagner, born circa 1827-1829 in Germany, arriving in the U.S. circa 1855. A possible match was discovered (Figure 5), which shows a single Henry Wagner who arrived on the S.S. General Jacobi on 3 May 1854.6

Figure 5: Excerpt from manifest for the S.S. General Jacobi, arrived in New York on 3 May 1854.6

Henry Wagner passenger record

According to this manifest, 27-year-old Henry Wagner was a German carpenter who was traveling to Buffalo, New York. His age suggests a birth year of 1827, and his occupation, carpenter, matches the occupation reported for John and August Wagner on the 1860 census. While I was excited to see his place of origin reported as “Fritzlar,” I recognized that this information would not help me unless I could be sure that the passenger described here is “my” Henry Wagner. And his destination, Buffalo, is somewhat problematic, since the Wagner family was not known to live in Buffalo. So although this could be the correct manifest, it’s also possible that this passenger was a different Henry Wagner, since the surname is so common.

At this point, we have two hypotheses to evaluate: (a) this is the manifest for “my” Henry Wagner, and he stopped in Buffalo briefly before moving on to Detroit, or (b) this manifest is for a different Henry Wagner who traveled to Buffalo and remained there. If (b) is correct, we should expect to find evidence of a German immigrant named Henry Wagner who matches this passenger, living in Buffalo or thereabouts. Accordingly, census records for Buffalo, New York and adjacent counties were checked, and there is evidence of a Henry Wagner, born in Germany circa 1830, who arrived in the U.S. circa 1852 and lived in Clarence, New York, which would at that time have been farm country on the outskirts of Buffalo. This suggests that perhaps the Henry Wagner who arrived on the General Jacobi is not my Henry after all. So perhaps my Henry really did arrive with his family on the Erbpring Luidrich August in 1853 and was misrecorded as “Cath.”? I think it’s possible, maybe even likely. But with such a common name, we may never know for certain.

Church Records to the Rescue

Since the Wagners’ place of origin in Germany could not be determined from the passenger manifest, other sources had to be checked. In this case, as it often happens, church records proved to be very helpful. As noted on his death record (Figure 2) Henry Wagner (Jr.) and his wife Catherine (née Grentzinger) had only two children, John and Mary (my great-great-grandmother). Both of them were baptized at Old St. Mary’s parish in Detroit, and their baptismal records revealed the place of origin of both their parents.  Shown here is Mary’s baptismal record (Figure 6).7

Figure 6: Extract from baptismal record for Maria Wagner, born 10 July 1860 in Detroit.7

Maria Wagner 1860 page 1 marked

All names in this record are written in Latin. Although the column headings are cut off in this image, the record indicates that Mary Wagner was born 10 July and baptized 15 July 1860, and that she was the daughter of Henry Wagner of “Roßen ChurHessen” and Catherine Granzinger of Oberelsau. Godparents were named as August Wagner and Maria Wagner, and they were probably the baby’s uncle and paternal grandmother.

The baptismal record for Henry and Catherine’s son John (Figure 7) indicates that he was baptized with the name August, although this is the only record discovered to date in which he was referred to that way.8

Figure 7: Extract from baptismal record for Augustinus Wagner, born 3 May 1856 in Detroit.8Augustinus Wagner 1856 p 1marked

The date of birth for “Augustinus” is approximately consistent with dates of birth reported for John Wagner, and since this was the only other birth record discovered for a child of this couple (and since they were known to have only two children), it’s reasonable to conclude that “Augustinus” is really John. It’s customary in parts of Germany to name a child after the same-sex godparent, and since August Wagner was named as this child’s godfather, that might explain the priest’s error in recording the child’s name, if perhaps the priest was from one of those regions. In any case, this record tells us that Henry Wagner was from “Roßdorf, Chur Hessen” and Catherine Grenzinger was from “Steinsolz, Alsatiae.”

“Chur Hessen” in both these records is a reference to Kurhessen, properly called Kurfürstentum Hessen, the Electorate of Hesse, a German state which existed from 1814-1866, at which time its territory was annexed by Prussia. The territory was also known as Hesse-Cassel or Hesse-Kassel. Although the Meyers gazetteer does not reveal any places called “Roßen” that were located in this area, “Roßdorf” turns out to be a better clue, since there were two places by that name that were in Hesse-Cassel. One of these was located in Hanau County, about 2 km north of Bruchköbel, while the other was located in Kirchhain County,  about 5 km southwest of Amöneburg. Based solely on this information, I had no way of knowing which Roßdorf was meant, so I put the Wagner research on the back burner.

The Final Clue

Fast-forward now to last weekend, when I had the opportunity to visit Detroit and present two lectures for the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan at their annual fall seminar. While in Detroit, I was able to visit Mt. Elliott Cemetery in person. This cemetery is the final resting place of all my immigrant Wagners, as well as some of their descendants, so I was eager to get some photographs. I was somewhat disappointed to find that only two monuments for this family are presently visible, although I was very pleased that one of these was for my great-great-great-grandparents, Henry and Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner (shown on the right in the featured image at the top of the page). The other monument is for Gertrude and Joseph Rhiel (sic). As I mentioned in the beginning, I was pleased to find this monument, but not overly excited about it, until I got home and took a closer look at the inscription on it. The inscription states that Joseph Rhiel was “geboren in Mardorf, Kurhessen.” A quick check in Meyers reveals the existence of a village called Mardorf that was located in Kirchhain County. This village is apparently too small to be shown on modern maps, but can be seen in relation to Roßdorf and Amöneburg on this old map of the Kassel region circa 1906 (Figure 8).9

Figure 8: Map showing relative locations of Roßdorf, Mardorf, Amöneburg, and Neustadt, Hesse-Kassel, circa 1906.9Map of Rossdorf and Mardorf

Of course, Meyer’s gazetteer identifies a second location called Mardorf that was in Kurhessen, in Homberg County. How can we be sure that Joseph Riel wasn’t from that Mardorf instead?

Cluster research in genealogy (also known as FAN research, research which focuses on our ancestors’ Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) is based on the principle that our ancestors did not live their lives in a vacuum. One person in a village would decide to move and settle in a new area, and he would be followed by others from the same village — a phenomenon known as chain migration. So it’s more logical to suppose that the Riel and Wagner families were from the same part of Germany, and continued that association in Detroit, rather than supposing that they came from villages that were relatively far apart.

While in Detroit, I also had the opportunity to attend Mass at Old St. Mary’s church — the parish to which my Wagner ancestors belonged. After Mass, I had the good fortune to chat with Randy Bowers, operations manager and archivist at the parish. He gave me a draft of a parish history by John D. Little which states, “In 1830 the first German immigrants — all Catholics and mostly farmers — arrived in Detroit from Neustadt, a small country town of about 2,100.”10 This statement offers further evidence that we’re on the right track in identifying the locations of Roßdorf and Mardorf, since the town of Neustadt can be seen on the map in Figure 8, about 22 km (13 miles) from Roßdorf.

Although the evidence looks pretty good at this point, the identification of the Wagners’  ancestral village must be considered tentative until we find mention of them in the church records for Roßdorf.  There is also a great deal more research that can be done to document the Wagners in Detroit, especially in church records. Unfortunately, I had no time during this visit to utilize the vast genealogical resources of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, so that research remains on my to-do list for the time being. However, I’m fairly confident that I’m on the right track, since all the clues regarding place of origin for the Wagners and their FANs are pointing to the same location. Joseph Riel may have been just an in-law to my family, and it’s true that he left no descendants. But in retrospect, it turns out that he was a pretty interesting guy after all.

Sources:

1 Mt. Elliott Cemetery (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Grave marker for Henry and Katherina Wagner, photographed 27 October 2017. Inscription: “Hier Ruht in Gott/Henry Wagner/Geboren/D. 15 Dez. 1829/Gestorben/D. 6 Feb. 1906/Katharina Wagner/Geborene/Graenzinger.”

2 1900 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, E.D. 23, sheet 24B, John Wagner household, http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 3 November 2017.

Death Records, 1897-1920, Michigan Historical Center, Seeking Michigan (http://seekingmichigan.org), 1907, #735, certificate for Henry Wagner, died 6 February 1907 in Detroit, Wayne, Michigan.

1860 U.S. census (population schedule), 3rd Ward Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, page 173, Henry Wagner household, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 3 November 2017.

New 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 3 November 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Henry Wagner, S.S. General Jacobi, arrived 3 May 1854 in New York, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 138; Line: 19; List Number: 406http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 3 November 2017.

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.”

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.”

Map, “Kassel” circa 1906 from 3rd Military Mapping Survey of Austria-Hungary, Elte Department of Cartography and Geoinformatics, http://lazarus.elte.hu, accessed 4 November 2017.

10 John D. Little, The History of Old St. Mary’s, p. 4; photocopy to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2017; original held by Randy Bowers, Detroit, Michigan.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Anatomy of a German Marriage Record

In my last post, I wrote about my excitement over my brand-new copy of Hoffman and Shea’s recently published German genealogical translation guide, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents: Volume IV: German. I decided to test-drive it using a marriage record from the Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv Regensburg that my friend Mente Pongratz obtained for me a while ago. While most of the documents he obtained were in Latin, there were a few that were in German, and I’ve been saving the German-language ones for this moment. These documents pertain to my Meier family from the village of Obertrübenbach, presently located in Cham County, Oberpfalz, Bayern (Bavaria),. I’ll have to introduce you to my Meiers in the next post, but right now, I want to focus on the process I use when I begin to learn to read genealogical records in an unfamiliar language.

The marriage record in question is for Johann Meier/Maier and his bride, Anna Maria Urban, who were my great-great-great-grandparents, and it comes from the Catholic Church in Roding, Bavaria. Let’s start by looking at the entire document (Figure 1a and b).

Figure 1a: Left page of marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857.1 The entry pertaining to them is the second one from the bottom.

Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 1.jpg

Figure 1b: Right page of marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857.1 The entry pertaining to them is the second one from the bottom.

Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 2

Remember that I’m starting from the same place as many of you. I have no prior experience with reading, speaking, or writing German, and I’ve never made any serious attempt to decipher records in that language until now. I do have some prior knowledge about the names of my ancestors, and I’m going to leverage that advantage as far as possible. As I looked at this for the first time, my first thought was that learning the cursive letter forms is going to be almost as bad as learning Cyrillic. The letter forms used are an old German cursive script called Kurrent which is sufficiently different from our cursive script that it’s not just a matter of reading bad handwriting. The printed text at the top is in a typeface called Fraktur, which is sufficiently similar to our “Old English” Gothic typefaces that it shouldn’t pose too many problems. That said, one of the first things I should have done when I obtained this document as a hard copy from the archive was was to scan it immediately and open it up on my computer, in order to zoom in on the text, rather than trying to work from the hard copy. Since I didn’t do that, I struggled for a bit with the fact that the Fraktur 𝕭 (B) is almost identical to the Fraktur 𝖁 (V), especially when viewed at a small size. This made it difficult to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

Take It From the Top

Let’s start with looking at the column headings on the left page:Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 1 top crop

The first thing I did was to check Hoffman and Shea’s section entitled, “Marriage Entries and Certificates: Columnar-Form Original Entries in Registers” to see if this exact form was reproduced. Unfortunately, it was not. However, this section provided a good starting point for me to decipher many of the words found in the column headings without having to resort to the glossary in the back every time. The first column reads Trauung-Tag, or wedding date. The second column is Bräutigame Tauf- und Zuname, Bridegroom, given- and surname. Easy enough so far. In the third column, you’ll notice that the Fraktur 𝕾 looks rather different from our S, and the final 𝖉 in the first word looks almost like a 𝖇, and I found myself referring frequently to Hoffman and Shea’s handy German alphabet chart on page 1, where they show Fraktur, Cursive, and Roman letters all side by side for comparison. However, it’s clear from the examples in the book that the first word in the third column is Stand. and then Religion is easy to read.

The glossary at the back of Hoffman and Shea’s book defines “Stand” as “position, class; (marital) status; occupation; state,” making it clear that the word could have multiple meanings. Moreover, there’s a period after Stand. in this document, so I briefly entertained the idea that perhaps this was intended to be an abbreviation for Standesamt, which is the civil registry office. Now, as it turns out, Hoffman and Shea spell it out on page 232 that, “What we see under Stand will usually be occupation.” However, since I was skipping around in the book, I managed to miss that part initially, so I had to prove this for myself. To rule out the possibility that maybe Stand. meant Standesamt, I checked the Meyers gazetteer for Obertrübenbach, which reported that the Standesamt was in Obertrübenbach itself.  I knew I should be able to locate this word in this document, since I knew that Wenzel Meier’s family came from Obertrübenbach. Sure enough, in the entry for the marriage of Johann Maier and Anna Maria Urban (second from the bottom), “Obertrübenbach” appears in the 4th column on the left page. Since the writing in the 3rd column is completely dissimilar, we know that Stand can’t mean Standesamt in this context. 

Further examination of the entries in this third column reveals that only one word was recorded in most cases (sometimes hyphenated), and the word katholisch does not appear to be written in any of the columns. This makes sense; in a register from a Catholic parish, presumably all or most of the brides and grooms would be Catholic, so perhaps religion was recorded only in cases where one party was of a different faith.  I spent a few minutes wondering whether any of the entries in this column could possibly be ledig (single, unmarried), but then I skipped ahead to the column heading a few columns over, and realized that it reads, Ledig oder Wittwer, dessen gestorbenes (geschieden) Weib, or “single, or widower whose wife is deceased (or separated).Although the glossary defines geschieden as “separated,” in this context I think we can understand it to mean “divorced.” This column heading is interesting in light of the fact that this is a Catholic parish register and the Catholic church does not permit remarriage after divorce. Taken together with the previous column heading that mentioned stating the religion of the bridegroom, I wondered if this might imply that this form was created for use by a variety of religions in Germany, in an era when church records were recognized as legal documents, and I made a mental note to look up the date when civil vital registration (independent from church registration) began in Bavaria.

Since marital status was covered in Column 6, I finally arrived at the conclusion that “Stand” in column 3 must refer to the bridegroom’s occupation. After much back-and-forth between the alphabet chart showing the letter formations in Kurrent, and comparison of all the other entries, I concluded that Johann Maier must be a Häusler, which Hoffman and Shea define as, “cottager, peasant with a small house and garden and a livestock (e.g., a goat), but not enough to support a family.”

The next column heading is Landgericht, Aufenthalts-Ort, meaning, “District Court, place of residence.” This is where the word Obertrübenbach was recorded, which helped me determine the context for Stand in the previous column heading. Next comes Eltern. Bei der Mutter auch der Geschlechts-Name. This is translated to mean, “Parents. With the mother, also the Family Name.” So what we should see in this column are the names of the groom’s parents, with his mother’s maiden name specified. I was able to make out Johann’s father’s name, Christoph, and his mother’s name, Walburga gb. (geboren, i.e. née) Meinzinger. Did it help that I already knew what these names should be? Absolutely. But when you’re just starting out, using every scrap of information available to you is fair game.

The next column heading was also discussed previously, as it’s the one that reads, Ledig oder Wittwer, dessen gestorbenes (geschieden) Weib. In this case, Johann Maier was recorded as ledig, single. After that, the column heading is Geboren wann? wo?, which we understand to mean, “Born when? Where?” Apparently the priest saw no need to record any of the wheres, but he did record Johann’s birthdate for us, 27 July 1827.

Here Comes the Bride

The next columns pertain to the bride, starting with the column that reads, Der Braut Vor – und Geschlechts-Name, which is, “The Bride, given and family-name.” In the relevant entry, the bride’s name is recorded as Anna M. Urban, but her Stand doesn’t make sense to me. The first part of the word looks exactly like Häusler as it’s written in the groom’s column, but it looks like it ends in “𝖘𝖙,” i.e., “Häuslerst.” This isn’t possible. Häuslerin would be a female Häusler, but those final two letters clearly aren’t “𝖎𝖓.” I left this alone for a while and moved on, but after further consideration, I’m wondering if perhaps those final letters really are “𝖘𝖙,” and this was intended to be an abbreviation for Häuslerstochter, “daughter of a Häusler.”

Having completed the first page, I anticipated that the second page would be a little easier since many of the column headings are the same for the bride as they were for the groom. The first column on the right page is Landgericht Aufenthalts-Ort, although this time the word bisheriger, meaning “previous” or “up until now” is inserted after Landgericht. Anna Maria’s residence prior to her marriage was noted to be Kalsing. Her parents, described in the next column (identical column headings to corresponding column on groom’s side), were Johann and A. Maria gb. Ederer.  The next column, which reports whether she was single or a widow, states, led. — possibly abbreviated because by now, the priest’s hand was no doubt cramped from the effort of writing such tiny letters with any degree of precision. Anna Maria Urban was noted to have been born on 11 October 1832 in Kalsing.

We’re in the home stretch, with just four columns to go. The next one up has the heading, Pfarrer Stellvertreter, “Parish Representative,” implying that this column should name the priest who performed the marriage (who might not be the pastor himself). At this point, I had no more lifelines, in that I didn’t know in advance what the name should be here. My best guess was that the first letter is a P, and the last two letters are “-it” or possibly “-is.” Poppit? Poppis? The middle two letters that seem to be repeated contain a downward stroke that suggests either the letter p, g, or z; it doesn’t look like y, f, or h. I tried playing with versions of this surname on a German-language surname distribution site, and even on Google. My new best guess was that the surname might be Kappis, but the fact that this surname does not exist in Cham County today doesn’t bode well for that hypothesis. There’s also the fact that the capital “K” in “Kalsing” and in Klessing (3rd entry from the top in the first column on the second page) is formed quite differently from the first letter in the priest’s name. At this point, I decided to move on again and maybe come back to this name.

The next column is for the witnesses, with given name, surname, occupation, and place of residence. Again, I was without a safety net. The first witness was easy, Georg Maier, but the next line was not so easy: F???? m. (?) and then a word that looked like it might be “Obertrübenbach,” but with half the letters randomly omitted from the middle. Sigh. My guess was that the word beginning with F was an occupation, and maybe what looks like “m.” was actually im (in), so this phrase might describe Georg, rather than indicating the name of a different person. The third line in this column appears to be “Math. Pongratz,” and as this realization dawned on me, I realized that the first letter in that priest’s name really must be P, although I still can’t find a valid German surname that seems to fit that pattern.

The next column, Weltliche Heiraths-Lizenz, refers to a secular marriage license. I had no idea what the initials here are supposed to indicate; they seemed to be “L.R.” in most cases. It would be interesting to know if a secular marriage license could be obtained for further documentation of this marriage. I made a mental note to ask one of my friends who is an expert in German genealogy for more information on the entries in this column and their implications for further research.

The final column, Getraut mit oder ohne Dispens in den Graden, mit oder ohne Denunziationen, seemed to translate as, “Married with or without dispensation in degrees, with or without denunciation,” and some Roman Catholic canonical context is needed to understand this. My sense is that it relates to the need, or lack thereof, for a dispensation for the marriage due to consanguinity, since this need is determined by the degrees of separation in the relationship between the bride and groom. Denunciation in this context seems to refer to the reporting of known impediments to the marriage to the priest beforehand, in response to the announcement of the marriage banns (see “Denunciation of impediments,” here.) So in the case of most of the marriages recorded on these pages, there were no impediments to the marriage that were reported, and therefore there was no need for any dispensations. The one exception to this is the 8th marriage record down from the top (immediately above the record for Johann Maier and Anna Maria Urban), for Wolfgang Niklas and Elisabeth Niklas. Given their shared surname, they were probably relatives by blood or marriage, whose marriage would necessitate a dispensation. I considered trying to decipher the script pertaining to the dispensations, but I felt that I’d banged my head on a wall long enough for one day.

That’s a Wrap

So after all this, my best (first) attempt at translation can be summarized as follows:

  • Wedding date:  27 October 1857
  • Groom’s Name:  Johann Maier
  • Occupation:  Häusler (cottager)
  • Place of Residence:  Obertrübenbach
  • Parents’ Names:  Christoph and Walburga née Meinzinger
  • Marital Status:  single
  • Date of Birth:  27 July 1827
  • Bride’s Name:  Anna M. Urban
  • Occupation:  Häuslerstochter (daughter of a Häusler)
  • Place of Residence:  Kalsing
  • Parents’ Names:  Johann and A. Maria née Ederer
  • Marital Status:  single
  • Date and Place of Birth:  11 October 1832 in Kalsing
  • Parish Representative:  Pa??il or Pa??it (?)
  • Witnesses:  Georg Maier, ?? in Obertr???h, Math. Pongratz.
  • Secular Marriage License:  LR (whatever that means)
  • Marriage dispensation with or without denunciation:  Not applicable

I never did come to any resolution with bits of it, but I can always ask a German friend, or post the record in the Genealogy Translations Facebook group to get help with those little bits, and to have them correct my translation. Even without those options, it’s okay to have small bits remain unresolved. I used to do this all the time when I was translating Russian records, before I discovered Facebook genealogy groups. Now, with a few more years of experience in reading Russian records, I sometimes come across those early translations in my research notes and fill in the little bits that I couldn’t decipher the first time around. Now that I have my first German translation behind me, I know that it can only get easier from here!

If I Can Do This, So Can You!

So what are some general tips to keep in mind when learning to translate documents in a foreign language? Here are seven pointers:

Always look at the entire page, not just a single record.

I think this one ought to be obvious, but it’s really critical to familiarize oneself with all the examples of handwriting on the page.

Use the familiar to decode the unfamiliar.

Find something you recognize on the page — any words that you can recognize or predict based on your prior knowledge, or about what you’ve been told the document says (for example, from an indexed entry) — and use these words as your Rosetta Stone to understand the nuances of the handwriting of this particular writer. Since there are multiple forms of the letter “s” that are possible in Kurrent, for example, does the writer consistently use the same form? Or does he use them all interchangeably?

Use maps and gazetteers to help understand the places mentioned.

A good exercise for me will be to go through the list of places of residence mentioned in this document and see if I can translate them based on the names of villages close to Roding.

Formulate hypotheses and test them.

When you think you’ve deciphered a surname found in a record, test your theory by plugging it into a German language surname distribution database. If the surname exists in Germany today, you may be on the right track, and you score bonus points if the surname is also found in your county of interest. Similarly, if you think you’ve deciphered the priest’s name, try Googling the history of the parish to see if this particular priest was mentioned. Note that Google.de will provide different (and more appropriate) results than English-language Google, and for Polish records, Google.pl is the preferred search engine. You may need to translate your search terms first using Google Translate, which is an approach that is always fraught with peril when working with inflected languages, so keep your searches simple.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The more you work with foreign-language records, the more things will start to make sense to you. Especially with different letter forms like Cyrillic and Kurrent, it seems like a certain amount of time has to be spent in the beginning in staring at alphabet charts, committing the letter forms to memory and learning the sounds that each letter makes.  Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there.

Get help when you need it.

Learning to translation foreign-language records is an investment in yourself, but you don’t have to go it alone. The global genealogical community is a very generous one, and there are people who are willing to help you along the way. If you get stuck, you can always post the record and your translation attempt in the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook. Volunteers in that group, or in one of the groups targeted to your ethnic group of interest (German Genealogy, Polish Genealogy, etc.), can usually provide insight into archaic terms and offer historical context to help you understand the record, in addition to merely offering a translation.

Have fun!

Deciphering genealogical records can be quite an enjoyable puzzle, and you’ll gain a useful skill that will help you in your research. I’m really excited to continue my practice with German records, now that Hoffman and Shea’s German genealogical translation guide is here. While you won’t see me offering assistance to others with German translations any time soon, I’m confident that regular practice, the day will come when I can pick up a German document written in Kurrent and read it without having to look up any words in the book. And if I can do that, you can, too!

Note: The first round of edits is in! Apparently I was systematically misreading 𝖇 and 𝖉 in this document, too. I’ve made those changes in the text above. Thank you, Mente. Every correction is a learning opportunity.

Sources:

1 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, pg. 3, MF 573.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

Why My Name Wasn’t Changed at Ellis Island (And Neither Was Yours)

One of the most persistent myths in American culture is that our family surnames were changed at Ellis Island.  Just how ingrained is this myth?  Well, when my younger two children were in 5th grade, their school included an Ellis Island simulation as part of a learning module on immigration.  After learning about the “great American melting pot,” the economic and social factors that prompted immigration, and some of the contributions and impact that immigrants had on American society, the students capped off the unit with an Ellis Island Day immigration simulation. Prior to the simulation, students were assigned names and identities (hypothetical, not historical) of various”immigrants” from the late 19th century. They created costumes that would have been typical for their assigned immigrants and when Ellis Island Day came, these “immigrants” were “processed” by teachers and parent volunteers posing as immigration officials.  Processing stations included mock health inspections and checking of documents, and at one station, parent volunteers were instructed to inform some of the “immigrants” that their names were “too foreign-sounding” so, “we’ll call you Mary Smith from now on.”

Although I applaud the idea of an immigration learning module and think that the Ellis Island Day simulation is a fun way for the kids to experience what the process might have been like, I found this particular element of the simulation to be appalling since it reinforces the very myth that so many of us genealogists have tried to dispel. When I attempted to explain this to the teacher, and then to the school administration, I was told, “You’re arguing with History.”

Really?

One of my favorite articles that debunks the Ellis Island Name Change myth is this one,1 and one of my favorite passages from that article is this:

The idea that names were changed at Ellis Island raises lots of questions. For instance, if names were changed, what happened to the paperwork? And if inspectors were charged with changing names, why are there no records of this? Where are the lists of approved names? Where are the first hand accounts, of inspectors and immigrants? If immigrants had name changes forced upon them, why did they not simply change their name back when they entered the country? Or, if they could not, where is paperwork describing the roles of Federal officials charged with making sure that names were not changed back?

It underscores the lack of thought that goes into the knee-jerk assertion about those name changes.  The myth of Ellis Island is so easily accepted that most people don’t bother to consider the implications, but if one takes a moment to do that, the myth quickly falls apart.

So what really happened?  How did we end up with so many distorted, truncated, or translated versions of our immigrant ancestors’ surnames?  Here’s one example from my own family history.

My maiden name, Roberts, was originally Ruppert.  My immigrant ancestors were the family of Franz and Catherina Elisabeth (née Schulmerich) Ruppert, who were married in the little village of Heßloch in 1830, in what was at the time the Grand Duchy of Hesse, colloquially known as Hesse-Darmstadt (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Marriage record from the Roman Catholic parish in Heßloch for Franciscus Ruppert and Catharina Elisabetha Schulmerich, 15 January 1830.2  Translation: “On the 15th day of January is married Franz Ruppert, young man, legitimate son of the late spouses Franz Ruppert and Margaretha née Kron — with the young woman Catharina Elisabeth Schulmerich of Hillesheim, legitimate daughter of Georg Schulmerich and the late Anna Margaretha née Appelmann, in the presence of witnesses Gerhard Kron and Sebastian Eckert, blessed by Fr. [illegible]”franz-ruppert-catharina-e-schulmerich-1830

The Ruppert family included their three sons, Johann Georg, Michael, and Arnold, as well as daughter Catherina Susannah.  Michael was my great-great-great-grandfather.  In 1851, Georg traveled to the U.S.,3 followed by the rest of the family in 1853.4 Their passenger manifest is shown below (Figures 2a and 2b).

Figure 2a:  Passenger manifest from the William Tell, arriving on 4 March 1853, showing parents Franz and Catherine and son Michael Ruppert.ruppert-manifest-crop-and-marked-first-page

Figure 2b:  Passenger manifest from the William Tell, arriving on 4 March 1853, showing Franz and Catherine Ruppert’s children, Arnold and Catherine Ruppert.second-page-of-ruppert-manifest-marked-cropped

 

To me, the name looks like it’s written as “Rupert,” although the transcriber at Ancestry indexed it as “Rupard.”  The ages of the family members agree well with their ages based on their baptismal records from Germany.  The manifest is not especially informative, which is typical for earlier manifests like this, mentioning only that their place of origin was Württemberg, their destination was the United States, and Franz’s occupation was a brewer.

One might argue that my family surname clearly wasn’t changed at Ellis Island because in the case of my Rupperts, they didn’t enter the U.S. through Ellis Island at all. The Ellis Island inspection station didn’t open until 1892, and its predecessor, Castle Garden, did not open until 1855. In the first half of the 19th century, when the Rupperts came over, immigrants merely landed at docks around South Street in Manhattan. However, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people who purport that their family names were changed at “Ellis Island” probably have no idea at which port or on what date their immigrant ancestors actually arrived in the U.S. When it comes to the myth, the main idea seems to be that the name change resulted from something the immigrants were told by someone in an official capacity when they entered the U.S.

So, my ancestors were Ruppert in Germany, and a reasonable misspelling thereof was recorded on their passenger manifest.  What happened in the U.S.?

By 1860, the family had settled in Detroit, Michigan and had already begun using the name Roberts, as evident from the 1860 U.S. Census (Figure 3).5

Figure 3: Excerpt from the 1860 U.S. Census for Detroit, Michigan, showing the Michael Roberts and Frank Roberts households.roberts-fam-1860-census

The first part of the Roberts family is the family of Michael and Mary (also known as Maria Magdalena) Roberts, with their children Michael and Catherine.  Below them are the elder Michael’s parents, Frank and Catherine. The younger Michael, also known as Michael Frank, also known as Frank Michael, was my great-great-grandfather.

As anyone who has ever done genealogy for more than five minutes can tell you, names were pretty fluid up until, say, the 1930s. So in 1870, the family surname was recorded as Robert (Figure 4).6

Figure 4: Excerpt from the 1870 U.S. Census for Detroit, Michigan, showing the Michael Robert and Franz Robert households.roberts-fams-1870-census

In this census, we see that Michael “Robert” was still employed as a carpenter and that two more children had been born to the family, daughters Paulina and Anna and a son, Heinrich. Michael’s wife Mary’s name appears here as Magdalena. Michael’s parents, Frank and Catherine Robert were still living nearby, and the fact that their name was also recorded as “Robert” and not “Roberts” suggests that this was a version of the surname that the family was collectively trying out at that time, rather than simply a recording error on the part of the census-taker. Frank was also recorded as Franz once again.

By 1880, Franz and Catherine were living on Prospect Street and were continuing to use the surname Robert, although Franz was recorded as Frank once again, as shown in Figure 5.7

Figure 5: Excerpt from the 1880 U.S. Census for Detroit, Michigan, showing Frank Robert family.1880-u-s-census-frank-roberts-household-crop

Frank, God bless him, was still a laborer at age 72, while Catherine continued to keep house. The 1890 census cannot be consulted to see what name they were using at that time, since most of the returns were destroyed in a fire.  Catherine passed away in 1892 at the age of 84, and her funeral card was preserved in the family (Figure 6).8 At that time she was “Roberts” again.

Figure 6:  Funeral prayer card for Catharine (née Schulmerich) Roberts.death-card-for-catherine-schulmerich-roberts-001

As for her widower husband, Frank, by the 1900 census, enumerated a year before his death, he had come full circle and was listed under the name Fran(t)z Ruppert once again (Figure 7).9 At that time he was living with his daughter, Mary, and her husband, Robert Standfield. This final use of the Ruppert surname doesn’t reflect a lasting change, however, as subsequent generations of the family have continued to use Roberts.

Figure 7:  Excerpt from the 1900 U.S. Census for Detroit, Michigan, showing Frantz Ruppert in the Robert Standfield household.1901-census-crop

One might ask why the Ruppert family felt compelled to change their surname upon immigration to the U.S.? The answer might lie in the political situation at that time.  During the mid 1850s in the U.S., precisely when Franz and Catherine brought their family to America, the American Party, also known as the “Know Nothing movement” was gaining in popularity on the U.S. political scene.  This movement arose as reaction against immigrants, mostly Irish and German Catholics, such as Franz and Catherine Ruppert’s family.  Know Nothings believed that these immigrants would subvert traditional American values and ultimately make the U.S. subservient to the Pope.10

Of course, one could also just ask Aunt Mary Roberts Standfield for her version of the story, recorded in a letter to my great-grandfather (Figure 8).11

Figure 8:  Letter from Mary Roberts Standfield to J. Frank Roberts, unknown date.letter-from-mary-roberts-standfield-to-john-frank-roberts

So there you have it. It was the immigrants themselves, or their descendants, who initiated these name changes. Those poor, maligned Ellis Island officials were almost always blameless. Misspellings may have occurred on passenger manifests, but they were nothing more significant than that. So if you have a story in your family about your name being changed at Ellis Island, dig a little deeper and see what you find.

Sources:

Sutton, Philip,”Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island (and One That Was),” New York Public Library Blogs, 2 July 2013, accessed February 18, 2017.

Roman Catholic Church (Heßloch {Kr. Worms}, Hesse, Germany), Kirchenbuch, 1715-1876, marriage record for Franciscus Ruppert and Cath. Elisabetha Schulmerich, 15 January 1830, Family History Library microfilm # 948719.

3 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Geo Rupert, S.S. Vancluse, 30 May 1851, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (images), Franz Rupert family, S.S. William Tell, 4 March 1853, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

5 1860 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, p. 142, Michael Roberts and Frank Roberts households,  http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

6 1870 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, p. 126, Michael Robert and Franz Robert households,  http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

7 1880 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, E.D. 306, Sheet B, Frank Robert household,  http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

Carol Roberts Fischer funeral home prayer card for Catharine Roberts, 1892; privately held by Carol Roberts Fischer, Hamburg, New York, USA, 2017

9 1900 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, E.D 126, Sheet 16B, Robert Standfield household, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed February 2017.

10 “Know Nothing,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org, accessed February 2017.

11 Mary Roberts Standfield (Detroit, Michigan, USA) to “Frank” (Mary’s grand-nephew, John Frank Roberts), letter, unknown date; after 1901; privately held by Carol Roberts Fischer, Hamburg, New York, USA, 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Thank Goodness for Godparents! Researching my Ancestors’ FANS, Part II

In my last post, I wrote about using Elizabeth Shown Mills’ FAN principle with an emphasis on godparents, as a means to extend one’s family history research in the absence of direct evidence.  As Mills defines it, “FAN” is an acronym for Friends, Associates, and Neighbors, and godparents fall squarely into that category. Previously, I had analyzed data from the Polish vital records database Geneteka, and discovered a woman named Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska, who might have been a cousin or sister of my great-great-grandmother, Antonina Naciążek.  To gather additional evidence to substantiate this hypothesis, I examined the godparents of Antonina’s children to see if Marianna Kowalska was named among them.  Sure enough, one of the godmothers was a Marianna Kowalska, and even given the popularity of the Kowalski surname, it seems likely that she is the same as the woman I suspect to be my great-great-grandmother’s sister (or cousin, at least), under the circumstances.

This kind of analysis can also be used in reverse, to suggest a possible mother’s maiden name, which is what I’d like to illustrate today.  A few years ago I was working on my Schulmerich line which I had traced back to Hillesheim, Mainz-Bingen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.  Records are on microfilm from the LDS, but they’re also indexed and searchable online at Family Search.  I had worked my way back to my 5x-great-grandparents, Johann Georg Schulmerich and Anna Margaretha Appelmann, who were married in 1797 (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Marriage record from Hillesheim (kr. Oppenheim) for Johann Georg Schulmerich and Anna Margaretha Appelmann, 5 July 1797.1j-georg-schulmerich-am-appelmann-1797

In translation, this reads, “July.  On the 5th day of this [month] were married the honorable widower Georg Schulberich, townsman residing in Hillesheim, with the honorable, upright maiden Anna Margaretha Appelmaenn, surviving daughter of the late townsman Michael Appelmann. [The marriage was] blessed by the Most Reverend Pastor of the parish in Hilsheim before the congregation and in the presence of required witnesses.”

As you can see, the parents of Georg Schulmerich are not mentioned.  The record indicates that he was married previously, however, which is a valuable clue.  Perhaps his first marriage record contains his parents’ names?  A search of indexed records at Family Search suggests that Georg’s first wife was Apollonia Weber, as there are a number of birth records for children of Georg Schulmerich and Apollonia Weber that can be found in the parish records for Weinolsheim, just 5 km north of Hillesheim.  Unfortunately, no marriage record for Georg and Apollonia was found in any of the indexed records on Family Search, nor was I able to find one in the microfilmed records for Weinolsheim that the indexers might have missed.

Lacking a marriage record, we can still estimate that Georg Schulmerich married Apollonia Weber circa 1786-1787, since existing birth records suggest that their oldest child was their daughter Anna Maria, and Georg and Apollonia were already “conjuges legitimi” (lawfully married spouses) by the time she was born in October 1787 (Figure 2).2

Figure 2:  Baptismal record from Hillesheim for Anna Maria Schulmerich, born 4 (?) October 1787.2anna-maria-schulmerich-1787

Assuming that Georg was at least 18 when he married, and probably a few years old than that, this suggests a birth year between about 1761 and 1768.  Lo, and behold!  There’s a birth record that fits perfectly for Johann Georg Schulmerich in in the records of Hillesheim in 1766 (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Baptismal record for Johann Georg Schulmerich, baptized 21 December 1766 in Hillesheim.3johann-georg-schulmerich-1766

In translation, this record reads, “[On] 27th December in Hillesheim was baptized Johann Georg, [son of] the lawful spouses Philipp and Margaretha Schulmerich, [who was] lifted up by Johann Georg Lindhoff.”  The word “levabet” that appears in this record is presumably a misspelling of “levavit,” meaning, “lifted up.”  This is a reference to the child’s godfather, who lifts him out of the waters of the baptismal font during the sacrament of baptism.  The record even includes Johann Georg’s death date, 20 March 1836, in the marginal note.  This is another valuable clue because it suggests that the Johann Georg Schulmerich who was baptized here, remained in the parish until his death, which is consistent with what we know of “my” Johann Georg Schulmerich.

For those who might not be familiar with German genealogy, it’s worth mentioning that the difference in the names used on the marriage and baptismal records, “Georg” on the marriage vs. “Johann Georg” on the baptismal, is not cause for concern.  According to German tradition, it was common for all the boys in a family to be  baptized with the first name Johann, and then called by their middle name (see this article for more details).  So although the names on the records are not a problem, and the date of baptism fits with what we’d expect for “our” Johann Georg Schulmerich, there is still the problem of no maiden name for Margaretha Schulmerich.  Maybe it’s recorded on the birth record of one of their other children?

A search in the indexed records at Family Search for children of Philipp Schulmerich and Margaretha, no maiden name specified, results in four birth records, which are summarized in Figure 4.

Figure 4:  Summary of Information Recorded in Baptismal Records for Children of Philipp and Margaretha Schulmerich.

baptism-summary-table

From this, we can guess that Philipp and Margaretha Elisabeth were married circa 1765-1766, since Johann Georg appears to be their oldest child.  Although the spacing of births is typical, the relatively small number of children suggests that Margaretha died young, assuming that she was in her late teens or early 20s when she began having children.  Once again, a search of the indexed records for the Rhinehessen region on FamilySearch failed to produce Philipp and Margaretha’s marriage record or a death record for either of them, nor were these found in a subsequent search of microfilmed records. However, the fact that Johann Georg remained in the parish, as did his sister Anna Elisabeth, suggests an error or omission on the part of the priest keeping the records, rather than a migration out of the area.

So, is this the end of the line?  Can we learn anything more about this family? Of course we can! Note that two of the godmothers had the maiden name Hausmann, and one was a Schulmerich.  The godmother, Maria Magdalena Schulmerich, might have been either a sister or sister-in-law to Philipp, but the sparsely available records from this time period offer no insight there. However, a search for Anna Elisabeth Hausmann’s birth record turns up a promising candidate:  one Anna Elisabeth Hausmann, born in 1744 in Hillesheim (Figure 5).

Figure 5:  Baptismal record for Anna Elisabeth Hausmann, baptized 30 October 1744 in Hillesheim.7anna-elisabetha-hausmann-1744

In translation, this states, “On the 30th day of October in Hillesheim was baptized Anna Elisabeth, legitimate daughter of the spouses Nicolaus and Christina Haussmann, [she was] lifted up by Anna Elisabeth Schad.”

Nicolaus and Christina Hausmann!  Might there be more records for their children, and might these records include evidence for a daughter named Margaretha Elisabetha?  Since her oldest son, Johann Georg Schulmerich, was born in 1766, we can guess that Margaretha would have been born circa 1746.  And voilà!  The FamilySearch index shows nine births to Nicolaus and Christina Haussmann including the births of daughters Margaretha Elisabetha in 1743 (Figure 6) and Maria Charlotta, who was noted as the godmother of Maria Charlotta Schulmerich.

Figure 6:  Baptismal record for Margaretha Elisab. Haussmann, baptized 2 January 1743 in Hillesheim.8margaretha-elisabetha-hausmann-1743

 

In translation, this record reads, “On the 2nd day of January in Hillesheim was baptized Margaretha Elisab., legitimate daughter of the spouses Nicolaus and Christina Haussmann, [she was] lifted up by Margaretha Rudolf, single.”

Taken all together, this is pretty good indirect evidence that Margaretha Elisabeth Haussmann, daughter of Nicolaus and Christina, was the wife of Johann Georg Schulmerich.  Paying attention to the names of the godparents paid off, and I was able to push the family tree back one more generation.  It should be noted that this information is only available when one views the images of the parish register on microfilm — the FamilySearch index does not include godparents’ names.  This is one of many reasons why one should never rely solely on the information found in an online index, which is a common rookie mistake.  So the next time you think you’ve hit a brick wall with researching your Catholic ancestors, take a look at the list of people they asked to be godparents to their children.  You just might find some clues in there!

Sources:

Roman Catholic Church (Nieder Saulheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1756-1797,” 1797, Marriage record for Georgius Schulberich and Anna Margaretha Appelmaenn.; FHL Film #997333 Item 2.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” Baptisms, 1787, record for Anna Maria Schulmerich.; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1766, Baptisms, record for Johannes Georgius Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” Baptisms, 1768, record for Anna Elisabetha Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

5 Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1770, Baptisms, record for Maria Magdalena Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1773, Baptisms, record for Maria Charlotta Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1744, Baptisms, record for Anna Elisabetha Haussman; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1743, Baptisms, record for Margaretha Elisab. Haussmann; FHL Film #949088.

Featured Image:  Pietro Longhi, The Baptism, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, accessed on 11 January 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017