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

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

Lessons From My Father

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

— Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930’s 1

Being a military fighter jet pilot has been such an integral part of my Dad’s life experience that it affects everything he does, did, or ever will do, including the way he parented. My father, Harry W. Roberts, Jr., was sent to Vietnam as the youngest pilot in the 136th Tactical Fighter Squadron just 10 days before I was born, and I didn’t meet him until I was a year old. Dad’s homecoming from the war was something of an adjustment for all of us. Mom jokes that he had no experience with babies or small children, and somehow expected us, his daughters, aged 1 and 2, to shake his hand gravely and say, “How do you do, Father, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”  As an Air Force veteran, Dad was all about order and discipline. My bed had to be made with the sheets pulled so smoothly that one could bounce a quarter off of it.  I was often told to “shape up or ship out,” and “straighten up and fly right” because “prior planning prevents poor performance.” Hard work, competence, and results were valued and expected.  Dad had little patience with people who “didn’t have their s–t together.”

Although I always knew that Dad loved me, he was never comfortable with verbal or physical displays of affection. In all my years of childhood, I can think of maybe two occassions when he kissed me on the forehead after tucking me into bed at night. And my mother tells the story of a time when when my sister and I were about 3 and 4, and she was waiting with us in a checkout line at the grocery store. The gentleman next to her commented on what cute little girls we were, dressed in our matching outfits. He then turned to us and said, “I’ll bet your Daddy calls you his little princesses, doesn’t he?” We smiled and replied happily, “No, he calls us maggots!”  Although I don’t remember that particular incident, I do know that it was some time before I realized that “maggot” was not generally accepted as a term of endearment. It seemed affectionate to me, because Daddy always had a hint of a smile when he told us to, “Line up, maggots!”

Dad used to explain that in the Air Force they insisted on discipline because it could save one’s life. In an emergency, there often wasn’t time to think or reason. One had to rely on practiced behaviors and memorized protocols in order to survive. A prime example of this was the time when the engine seized on Dad’s F-100 Super Sabre and Dad had to bail out over the South China Sea. Although I’d heard the story many times when I was growing up, I had a chance to sit down with Dad this past weekend and take notes while he told it again. He also allowed me to scan the transcript of the radio conversation that occurred between him, the control tower, and his flight lead, Lt. Col. Sydney Johnson. (Thanks, Dad!)

The clarity with which Dad remembers that day never ceases to amaze me. It was December 18, 1968. He and 3 other pilots were headed north from their base in Tuy Hoa on a mission to bomb strategic enemy military targets. Shortly after he took off, he noticed an odd smell inside the cockpit. That in and of itself wasn’t grounds to abort the mission, because sometimes that would happen when the mechanics would change the jet engine oil. However, it was enough to prompt Dad to pay close attention to all the gauges from that time on. The flight continued, and they refueled mid-air without incident, but Dad’s sense that something wasn’t quite right persisted. When they were about 10 minutes from the target, Dad decided to light the afterburner, reasoning that if something bad were about to happen, he’d rather not have it occur when they were right above the target.

Hitting the afterburner is like stepping on the accelerator on a car, and as soon as Dad did that, the plane’s oil pressure plummeted. Dad radioed the rest of the flight and informed them of the situation. Lt. Col. Johnson maneuvered his plane underneath Dad’s and visually inspected the underside of Dad’s F-100. What he saw wasn’t good — bullet holes, with oil pouring out of them. It was later surmised that some Viet Cong sitting offshore in a fishing boat got in a lucky hit with an automatic machine gun as Dad was taking off that morning, causing damage minor enough to be overlooked immediately, but ultimately significant enough to endanger Dad’s life. Lt. Col. Johnson and Dad pulled away from the other two aircraft in the mission at that point. The plan was for the other two pilots to continue to the target while Lt. Col. Johnson escorted Dad back south, where Dad would attempt to land at the base in Da Nang.

There were a couple problems with this plan. First, time was not on their side. The flight manual, which Dad had to memorize as part of his pilot training, stated that once oil pressure is lost, the pilot has between 6-22 minutes before the engine seizes. There was a good chance that they would not make it back to Da Nang. I personally would have been freaking out at this point, but this is where Dad’s military training kicked in and he was able to perform mechanically and methodically all the necessary procedures that would maximize his chances of landing the plane successfully. The first step was to set the power at 89%, which was the optimized power level that had been determined for that aircraft under these circumstances. Next, he jettisoned all his ordnance and external fuel tanks to make the plane as light as possible, minimize drag, and maximize flying time. Unfortunately, when he hit the “jettison all” button, the left drop fuel tank didn’t disengage completely, and was swaying precariously under the wing. Dad knew that would cause some problems on landing, but there wasn’t much he could do about it at that point.

As the minutes ticked by, Dad disconnected his g-suit from the aircraft and tidied up the cockpit, stowing unnecessary gear. He didn’t want any loose objects to come flying out of the cockpit with him in case he had to eject, since they had the potential to hit him or damage his parachute.  However, he knew that luck would play a role as well. A member of his squadron, Capt. Joseph A. “Jake” L’Huillier, had lost his life just a few months earlier after his seat got tangled up with his parachute after ejection from his disabled aircrft.

Exactly 22 minutes after he lost his oil pressure, the jet’s engine started to seize, causing flames to erupt from the tail and nose of the aircraft. Shortly after that the engine stopped completely, while the plane continued to burn. At this point, Dad still had some control of the aircraft, thanks to the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), a device that pops up in the slipstream of the airplane and powers the hydraulics for the flight controls in an emergency, so he could still move the stick.  There was only small comfort in this, however.  The RAT utilizes ram pressure, caused by the speed of the aircraft, but once landing commences and the aircraft’s speed decreases, the RAT is no longer operative and the stick becomes frozen. Partly because of this factor, no one had ever landed an F-100 with a seized engine successfully. Between that, and the dangling fuel tank under the left wing, Dad realized that landing would have been extremely challenging. Under the circumstances, the growing realization that ejection was unavoidable came as something of a relief.

Established protocol for ejecting from the aircraft specifies that the plane should be at an elevation of approximately 10,000-14,000 feet at the time of ejection, and a speed of 250 knots.  Dad spotted two U.S. Navy ships in the distance, so he headed for them in the hope that one of them might pick him up. Immediately prior to ejection, Dad deployed the speed brakes so that the plane would go straight down and not hit anything.  When he reached the specified speed and altitude parameters, he ejected from the cockpit.

In the following transcript, Dad is Litter 54 (Lit 54), Lt. Col. Sydney Johnson is Litter 53 (Lit 53), LC is the Local Control tower in Da Nang, and Pedro is the search-and-rescue helicopter dispatched from the base in Da Nang.2harry-roberts-plane-crash-transcript-p-1

Dad recalled that the rationale for heading to the sea was that it was much easier for him to be found and rescued by friendly forces that way, rather than bailing out over the jungle and risking being found by the Viet Cong first.  At this point in the transcript, it’s clear that the intent was still for Dad to land the plane.  However, things changed very quickly.harry-roberts-plane-crash-transcript-p-2

Within that same minute, 7:48 am, as the cockpit filled up with smoke, the decision was made to forego the landing attempt and bail out. Note that there appear to be two errors in the second page of the transcript (above).  Dad’s final line is “And here goes.”  The two quotes after that, which are attributed to Dad, are clearly from Lt. Col. Johnson.  harry-roberts-plane-crash-transcript-p-3

In reading this, I never fail to be impressed by the calm, cool, professionalism of all the servicemen involved.  For my family, this was a day that could have meant disaster.  For the USAF Air Traffic Control staff in Da Nang, it was just another Wednesday in Vietnam. Notice how they’re anxious for the rescue helicopter, Pedro, and Lt. Col. Johnson to find some other channel for communication, so they don’t tie up the current radio frequency?  Although the transcript mentions that “The pickup was made approximately 0830 GMT on 282.8,” it neglects to explain that Dad wasn’t out of the woods once he’d bailed out of his plane. There were still some remaining hazards to negotiate.

Things got off to a good start with the ejection. The seat of the aircraft was designed with a “seat-man separator” function which is intended to ensure that the pilot is clear of the seat before his chute opens. There is a manual override that can be utilized in case this function fails, but by the time Dad had the presence of mind to assess the need for it, he was already separated  from the seat and his parachute was successfully deployed. Although Dad was relieved to discover this, he had some new concerns to address. His parachute was equipped with a quick release system underneath a durable cover.  The cover was intended to prevent unintentional triggering of the quick release, and Dad realized that the cover on the left side had blown off during the ejection, exposing the mechanism.  As a precaution, Dad grabbed onto the left side riser lines of the parachute to be sure that they were secure, and gripped them tightly for the duration of his fall.

The next problem was that the parachute’s design was trapping air, causing him to oscillate back and forth under the chute rather violently, like the clapper in a bell.  To remedy this, there were four lines that were identified with red tape that could be cut to stop the oscillation by opening up two panels in the parachute canopy.  Dad’s G-suit was equipped with a switchblade knife with a special hook on the end designed for cutting these cords. Needless to say, cutting cords on the parachute which was the only thing standing between him and death took some resolve, and he checked several times to be sure he was cutting the right cords. However, the nauseating effect of the oscillation was enough to persuade him of the necessity of doing it.

The time between ejection and touching down in the South China Sea was perhaps the longest 15 minutes of Dad’s life.  It seemed to take forever to fall to earth, to the point that Dad wondered if he were caught in some kind of updraft. He was concerned about disconnecting his parachute as he hit the water. This was necessary to ensure that it didn’t drag him down, or act as a sail, catching the breeze and carrying him over the water at whatever rate the wind was blowing.  However, he obviously didn’t want to release the parachute prematurely. After falling for what seemed like a long time, he decided to drop his oxygen mask as a test, and was astonished when he couldn’t even see it hit the water. He was still far too high up. A few more minutes passed and he decided to try again, this time dropping his clipboard. Again, Dad couldn’t even see the splash it made. He resolved to look straight ahead and not think too much about the seemingly slow pace of his descent. He decided that he would release his parachute only when he felt his feet hit the water.

During all this time, Dad’s flight lead, Sydney Johnson, was continuing to monitor his descent. Dad knew Sydney pretty well, and knew that he was an avid videographer. Dad correctly guessed that Sydney was filming the whole episode, flying with the stick between his knees so his hands were free to hold the video camera. Unfortunately, each time Sydney flew past at 500 knots, Dad’s fragile parachute would shudder, threatening collapse. Although Dad smiles when he tells the story now, it’s easy to see how alarming that would have been at the time.

As Dad continued to fall, he prepared for his eventual landing in the water. His survival kit, which was attached to his parachute, contained a raft on a 20-foot lanyard. He inflated the raft, along with his LPUs (Life Preservers Underarm). When Dad’s feet finally made contact with the ocean, he released his parachute which immediately blew away. Still attached to his raft by the lanyard, he swam over to it, climbed inside, and waited for rescue. Overhead he could see the Search-and-Rescue helicopter Pedro, an Army UH-1 helicopter, and the forward air controllor‘s plane, along with Sydney Johnson in his F-100, still filming. (When asked why there were so many aircraft, Dad quipped, “It was a slow day for the war.”) He knew he wouldn’t be in the water long, but while he was waiting, Dad began to rummage through his survival kit to see what was in there.  He found a saw, which he discarded, and then found some shark repellent tablets, which had already gotten wet and were getting dye everywhere. In those days, shark repellent consisted mainly of a potent dye that turned the water so inky black that the sharks became confused. Dad threw that into the water as well. Finally he found what appeared to be a cellophane-wrapped Rice Krispy bar left over from World War II. He took one bite, but then Pedro began lowering a rescue strop (also known as a “horse collar”) to get Dad out of the water.

During Sea Survival School, Dad had been taught how to be rescued by a helicopter. It wasn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Helicopters can generate a static charge of up to 25,000 volts while flying, which could be transmitted to the rescuee via the horse collar. Therefore it was important to be ground the horse collar by alllowing it to contact the water first before touching it, to prevent the delivery of a nasty electric shock. Dad had also been instructed to keep his flight helmet on in case of water rescue. This particular instruction didn’t make sense to Dad until he hit his head on the underside of the helicopter as they attempted to reel him in. When he was finally on board the helicopter, the chief master sargeant took a long look at Dad’s lips and fingers, which were stained blue from handling first the shark repellent and then the Rice Krispy bar. Eventually he asked, “If you don’t mind my asking, Lieutenant, how cold was that water?  We’ve picked up guys out of the Arctic who looked better than you!”

One might think that Dad would have earned a little downtime after all of this. However, he was back in the cockpit of a new plane the next day, and Dad would remind us of this fact whenever we were tempted to dwell on some small failure or tragedy. In addition to learning to get back up into that cockpit, Dad learned to be cool under pressure, and to keep his wits about him in a crisis.  Although it wasn’t his choice to go to Vietnam, he opted to make the best of a bad situation, turning what would have been a compulsory draft into the Army into an opportunity to learn to fly with the Air National Guard. He sacrificed his own needs and desires and served his country with honor and integrity, working hard amid stress and danger to earn his paycheck to support his family back home. He also managed to keep his sharp sense of humor through it all. Perhaps his military experience made him a sterner, less effusive father than he might otherwise have been. It’s impossible to know what might have been, but I’m proud to be his daughter. I love you, “Daddy Ramjet.”

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Sources:

1 English, Dave, Great Aviation Quotes: Safety, Dave English: Aviation Nerd Bon Vivant, http://www.daveenglish.com, accessed 8 February 2017.

V.F. Gardner, Major, USAF, Chief, Flight Facilities, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, USA to Lt. Harry W. Roberts, Jr., Tape Transcript, Litter 54, 18 Dec 1968, Vietnam Memorabilia; privately held by Harry W. Roberts, Jr.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017