My Mom (Ardyth Meintzer Haws) and her cousin’s wife (Lois Palmer Meintzer) decided it was time to plan a Meintzer family reunion for 1983. The last one took place in 1930, so enough time had gone by! Instead of including the extended “Mentzers without the i” cousins, they limited it to descendants of Christian Meintzer. He had nine children surviving to adulthood, between his two wives.
The downside of having a large family, is that there are a lot of people to track down. The upside is having a lot of people to help with that task! While no one would know where everyone was (okay, Anna Kranz Schultz might have!), the hope was everyone had someone else who knew where they were. The phone calls and letters to the cousins began, starting with the oldest ones, who hopefully would know the most! The two-step process included:
- Identifying each descendant
- Finding an address for them
Both steps were equally important: you couldn’t find an address for someone you didn’t know about! Even cousins who couldn’t provide contact information usually knew names and general locations. Mom began to compile her “little black book” containing 4″x 6″ index cards and dividers.
Each child of Christian’s had a divider, with their kids, grandkids, etc., each having their own information card. Mom recorded the address, phone number, married-in spouse’s name, kids still at home. Sometimes birth or death dates were included. It was certainly a low-tech system, but it was easy to access, and kept everything together . . . for almost 40 years, it would seem.
Some sections were larger than others. Aunt Sophie (11 children) accounted for more than 1/3 of the cards! Then there was Aunt Emma’s section with only two cards. Emma was the first child of Christian Meintzer & Sophia Gaertner to be born in the USA, 18 April 1882. I knew she married Edward John Seiler, and they had one son, Elmer Kenneth. Elmer was six years older than my mom, so she remembered him. Her Aunt Emma died 8 July 1926, 44 years old. Elmer wasn’t yet 10. My mom was only 4, so her memories of her aunt were sketchy, at best, but her father had a couple photos of his sister:
Mom also had a school photo of Elmer—one of those small, 1″ x 2″ swap-with-your-friends photos:
Elmer’s father, Edward, died in 1931, only 6 years after Emma. Mom lost track of Elmer through the years, but located him in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1983. A lot of Seilers still lived in Deerfield, and Lois knew some of them. I think Lois found him that way. Mom’s notes listed a wife, Jeanette, but that she had died. She also wrote that he & Jeanette had 1 son.
We’ll come back to that, later.
Elmer attended that first reunion, though he didn’t come to any later ones. At that point, I was having kids, and was on my genealogy hiatus. When I resumed, I was busy converting from paper-based genealogy to computer files, and catching up the funeral cards, weddings, and new babies that arived in the 12 year break. I didn’t do much new research, certainly not on Elmer. I already knew his parents, after all!
Later reunion address lists moved him to Racine, Wisconsin, but then he fell off the grid. Mom figured he must have moved into a retirement center. As the new millenium started, my kids were older, so I had a little more time for genealogy. I decided to look for Elmer. Was he still alive? I did not find anything for him, so I decided to look for Jeanette, his wife. The only Jeanette Seiler I found was the wife of a Burney (Bernard) Seiler, with a son, Elmer.
What rabbit hole did I just fall into?
Remember, this was late 2000 or early 2001. Far fewer records were online. Ancestry, as a subscription site, was only 4-5 years old. Find a Grave was 2 years younger than that. Somehow I discovered Burney was buried in Green Ridge Cemetery, in Kenosha (he didn’t have a Find a Grave memorial yet). The cemetery offered an obituary lookup service, for a fee.
I must have mailed them a check with a request for Burney’s obituary, because I have a letter from Roxanne, postmarked 5 June 2001:
Enclosed are the obituaries-I enclosed the other two at no charge, As I feel they’ll be helpful in your research.Roxanne, Kenosha Cemetery Association: Green Ridge Cemetery, Kenosha, Wisconsin to Christine HAWS BAUMAN, letter, 5 June 2001, requested obituary (Burney SEILER) plus 2 additional (Jeanette Ann SEILER and Mrs. Bernadine SEILER), Bauman Correspondence Files; privately held by Christine HAWS BAUMAN, Greenwood, Indiana.
Burney’s 1967 obituary listed Elmer K. Seiler (of Kenosha) as his son, a grandson (who I’m leaving unnamed, because he’s still living), and Jeanette as his surviving widow. What about the other obituaries? Jeanette Ann Seiler’s 1982 obituary confirmed Elmer as a son, and the existance of a grandson. Bernadine Seiler’s obituary listed her husband, Elmer K. Seiler, as a survivor, along with her son (matching the name in Burney’s obituary). She and Elmer married in 1948. The clipping did not have a date on it, but later research determined she died in November, 1965.
At that point, I was thoroughly confused. The notes from my mom didn’t match anything I was turning up. Had Elmer married twice, by coincidence marrying a woman with his mom’s name? Or was this Elmer K. Seiler the wrong man, entirely, even though Kenosha, Wisconsin, matched what I knew? The parents listed for him meant nothing to me. I did the only thing a sensible genealogist could do.
I walked away from the problem.
That may seem like a cop-out, but since I was fairly sure my mom’s cousin Elmer was still alive, I wasn’t going to find any records pointing directly to him until he died. Plus, time ticking by would allow other records to find their way online. It wasn’t a bad strategy.
By the next time I looked for him, he had passed away. I found Elmer K. Seiler in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)¹ with a 20 November 1916 birth date, Social Security Number issued in Wisconsin, and dying 29 September 2006. That fit with what I already had. When I located his obituary, though, I ran into the same problem as before: the parents were Burney & Jeanette, and the wife was Bernadine. I decided I needed to track Elmer more thoroughly, and research the other names.
Edward’s WWI draft registration² listed Emma as his wife. The 1920 census³ showed Edward Seiler, wife, Emma, and 3½ year old Elmer farming in Vernon Township, Illinois, not far from Emma’s father’s farm. I acquired a copy of Emma’s death certificate, which confirmed her birth and death dates for her Find a Grave4 memorial. Her husband’s adjacent headstone confirmed the information I had for him.
The 1930 census5 showed a widowed Edward, with his son still living in Vernon township. Everything looked great, until I found Elmer in the U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. That database is related to the SSDI, but includes the names of the parents for the person applying. Emma and Edward were listed as his parents—great! Except that birth and death dates matched the ones in the obituary I found—the one that had Burney and Jeanette as parents.
I was back where I started. It was like being stuck in a really bad episode of My Two Dads. I decided to research Burney and Jeanette.
They were living in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the 1940 census, with a 20-year-old Elmer Seiler. Elmer’s age was off a bit, but he was born in Illinois, and had lived in the same house since at least 1935. It was consistent, but could I prove this Elmer and my Elmer were the same?
I could track Burney through all the census years:
- 1930: age 35; married to Jeanette, living in Kenosha.
- 1920: age 24; living with his parents, Henry & Christine.
- 1910: age 15; living with his parents, Henry & Christine.
- 1900; age 5; living with his parents Blassus (the 1880 census and his passport application listed him as Blasius) & Christine.
Edward (Emma’s husband) never appeared in any census record with his parents. He was living on his own and working for the 1900 and 1910 census enumerations, and then was married. But he was connected to Leo, Dora, and other siblings, who also appeared in that family, so Burney was just another younger brother. From Burney’s obituary, it was clear he and Jeanette had no other children. Whether they simply took in Elmer after Edward’s death, or if he was officially adopted, I don’t know.
My theory is that Elmer’s son (the person providing information for the death certificate and writing the obituary) never knew about any other parents than Burney & Jeanette. If he never heard about Emma and Edward, wouldn’t know to use those names, instead. Or maybe he did, but still felt the people who spent more years with Elmer deserved the recognition?
One sure-fire way to confirm the theory would be if Elmer’s son showed up as a DNA match to me and the other Meintzer cousins. He is a 2nd cousin to me, so the odds are astronomical that he would not share some DNA with me. Will I hunt him down and ask him to test? No. That would just be creepy.
In the meantime, I continued down the Ancestry hints for Elmer, and found his WWII draft registration. He listed “Mrs. Jeannette Seiler” as next of kin. Looking at the card image (not just the indexed information), in the relationship field, he wrote “foster mother.”
Bingo! The one detail I needed to explain “his two dads” and connect everyone together as they should be.
One mystery finally put to bed.
¹Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index”, database, Ancestry.com,(https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 16 June 2021, entry for Elmer K. SEILER, SS no. 390-03-7793.
²”United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918″, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.familysearch.org), Edward John SEILER, serial no. 6, order no. 3454, Draft Board 1, Lake County, Illinois; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: NARA microfilm publication M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library Roll No. 1,614,031; accessed 26 December 2015. Registered 12 September 1918.
³1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Lake, Vernon Township, e.d. 267; sheet 11B; dwelling number 253; family number 261; line 81; Edward J. SEILER household; accessed 25 December 2015. Elmer SEILER age 3 1/2; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 382; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
4Find a Grave, database, Find a Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 25 December 2015, memorial 148219739, Emma E. SEILER (1882-1926), Lakeside Cemetery, Libertyville, Lake, Illinois; photographs by Dorie. I’m not sure why the middle initial is “E”, unless sometimes her middle name of “Amelia” got misspelled/misheard as “Emelia”.
51930 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Lake, Vernon Township, e.d. 49-65; sheet 1A; dwelling number 1; family number 1; line 1; Edward J. SEILER household; accessed 26 December 2015. Edward J. SEILER, age 48; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 529; digital image, Ancestry,com (https://www.ancestry.com).