Like any genealogist, I have put in time at many libraries. As a fledgling genealogist in the mid-1970s, my first guide book (Searching for Your Ancestors by Gilbert H. Doane, if I remember correctly) would have come from our local library. I think it was the lone geneology title on the shelf! Everything I knew about researching came from that book, until I received a paperback copy of Finding Your Roots by Jeane Eddy Westin for Christmas in 1978 or later. That book still sits on my shelf, non-acid-free pages yellowed with age.
Flipping the pages was a stroll back in time. I saw the parts I underlined (who used highlighters back then?) and paused at the section talking about Chicago’s Newberry Library. I knew the “LDS Salt Lake City Library” (as Ms. Westin referred to what we now know as the Family History Library) was not in my future. I did not live where my ancestors had, so “local records” were not nearby. Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was far enough away (3 hours) that a trip wasn’t really feasible. But the Newberry Library was only a half hour away, and would have more resources than a local library or historical society.
So somehow I managed to
con persuade my dad to make a trip to the Newberry with me one Saturday. I knew my parents wouldn’t let me venture into the near north side of Chicago on my own! When we walked into the library, it was obvious that I was the youngest person in the building. My dad, in his early 50s, may have been the next youngest! I knew I had only a few hours there, so needed to make the most of it!
I do not have a research log from that visit. I was a teenager — I didn’t know any better. But I remember looking through the card catalog for anything about Manitowoc County. I’m pretty sure the stacks were closed, so I had to fill out a request slip and wait for them to retrieve the books for me.
While waiting, Dad and I went into the microfilm room to look for census records from Manitowoc County. With two of us there, we could cover twice the films, right? Of course, neither of us knew what we were doing! I found a couple reels for 1880 and we set to work looking for John Bruder¹ and family, and John Haase and family. You met some of them in The Old Homestead.
We knew they were in Manitowoc county, and knew some town names to start with, but it was still a page-by-page project. We learned the joys of cranking the microfilm handle, pausing to scan the page, then repeat. Luckily, neither of us experienced motion sickness, as some do!
I probably don’t still have the notes from that day, having transferred them to Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts. But the lessons learned that day have stuck with me. Things I had only read about, became glaringly obvious:
- Spelling is flexible. For Haase, I found:
- For Bruder, I found
- “Brother” (yes, “Bruder” translated to English!)
- “Rinder” in the 1870 Ancestry index (name misread by the indexer)
- First names were not exempt!
- Johann Mathias: Mathias, John, Johann, or John M.
- Elizabeth: Elisabeth, Elisbeth, or Lisabeth,
- Nicholas: Nicklas, Niclaus
- Catherine can be “C” or “K”, with or without the “e” in the middle, and even “Katy”
- Age is relative! As long as the gaps between children were consistent with what I expected, I learned to roll with it. And adults were given wide latitude with their ages, too.
I quickly realized I could not rely on reading last names, and needed to look at the entire family — parents and kids together! The kids’ names weren’t particularly unusual, but the odds were low that, even if the last name was wrong, there probably weren’t two families with Elizabeth, Dorothy, Frank, Bertha, John, and Henry (or whoever) in the right order, with the right age gaps. That probably was the beginning of my learning to “trust my gut” about whether the person or family is “right.” Sometimes the leeway or accommodations I allow are greater than others, and people whose names might seem very wrong, are very right, and people with the “right” name are so very, very wrong! It’s an art, not a science, and not infallible.
So after cranking through the 1880, 1870, and 1860 censuses, we returned to the reading room to see if the books I’d requested were waiting. That was when I learned my next lesson: Farmers are not written about in the county histories! To me, the mid-1800s seemed “early,” but when History of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin Volume I talked about the pioneers, it meant the early 1800s. I headed to the chapters for the towns the Haase, Bruder, Jost, and Nachtwey families lived in — no mention of any of them.
Another memory from that trip, was seeing my first plat maps. I’m not sure how I found them, but I remember seeing names I recognized. Those may have been in another book. One thing I did not come home with, was photocopies — of anything — not even the census pages. All that information was written down in old school notebooks! At the time, copies cost fifty cents a piece! College expenses were looming, and I did not have a “genealogy budget.”
As so often happens while writing a blog post, I learn something new. This time I discovered it can be harder to find census records online, than cranking through the physical microfilm! Looking for Bruders in 1870, I couldn’t find them. I knew they were there, and I could find the FamilySearch image, but not the Ancestry one. The two databases have different indexes, and Ancestry misread “Bruder” as “Rinder.”³ It took some creative searching to locate it, and then a helpful cousin with an Ancestry subscription (thanks, Barb!) to confirm it was the right page. Searching online databases is faster only when the names are indexed correctly!
As I verify information, I sometimes find gaps in it. I realized I’d never located the Haase family in 1880. I finally found great-great-grandma Elisabeth, misspelled Hasse, with the three youngest kids.² My great-grandfather, Frank (b. 1858) is not with them, however. I can’t find him anywhere. He doesn’t marry Anna Bruder until 1885. Presumably he’s nearby, working for someone else — though he could be in another county, too! It looks like I need to do a page-by-page search online for him.
So many dead people, so little time, and always more questions than answers . . .
¹1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth, e.d. 66; Page 12; dwelling number 104; family number 108; line 3; Mathias BRUDER household; accessed 3 February 2019. Mathias BRUDER, age 45; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1434; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
²1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, e.d. 78; Page 13; dwelling number 112; family number 112; line 25; Lisabeth HASSE [HAWS} household; accessed 3 February 2019. Lisabeth HASSE [HAWS], age 55, widowed; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1434; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
³1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers Town; Page 19; dwelling number 134; family number 139; line 10; John RINDER [BRUDER] household; accessed 2 February 2019. John RINDER [BRUDER], age 33; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).4
4 1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers Town; Page 15; dwelling number 108; family number 113; line 6; John HORS [HOSS] household; accessed 2 February 2019; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).