“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” –Three Dog Night

When I saw the prompt this week, I immediately thought of my mom’s highschool friend, Eleanor Wold. She became a professional opera singer in New York, and undoubtedly had solos in her career.

But Mike says she isn’t family, so doesn’t count. Maybe some other prompt.

So I switched gears and zeroed in on Sylvester Hartmann. I introduced him I Conflict. He emigrated by himself in 1895. Being a priest kept him solo (no wife or kids) in life. Still, he deserves to be remembered.

I first knew of him as a cousin of the Schweigers, who provided us with the family tree going back to the early 1600s. His exact relationship was (and still is) a mystery. My 2nd great grandmother was Marianne Hartmann, born in 1823. Sylvester Hartmann’s birth in 1877 eliminated him being Marianne’s younger brother, though nephew might be possible. That would make him a 1st cousin, 3 times removed to me (only twice removed to my dad, or once removed to my granduncle, Sylvester Schweiger, with whom Fr. Hartmann visited & corresponded).

If he descended from an older brother of Marianne, then there’s probably another generation in between, making him a second cousin, twice removed to me, once removed to my dad, and a full second cousin to Uncle Syl. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any documentation for Sylvester listing his parents’ names, and I have no siblings for Marianne. Family Search has microfilmed the church records from his birth town (Altdorf, in Bavaria), but haven’t digitized the records for 1877. For now, I’m stymied.

Shortly before I started college, I realized Fr. Hartmann had taught at the college I was about to enter. When I arrived on campus, I asked each of the priests I met (who were all old enough to have had Fr. Hartmann for class) what, if anything, they remembered. Every one of them remembered him, having had him for Logic, Greek, or Latin.

I had the good fortune to have Fr. Dominic Gerlach teach my German I class. As the college historian, he had access to all sorts of school records. He typed up a page and a half of notes from school information, and photocopied two more pages, plus Fr. Hartmann’s obituary from the religious order’s monthly publication.

I learned Fr. Hartmann was born 31 December 1877 in Altdorf, Bavaria. He entered the Missionaries of the Precious Blood on 12 November 1895, in Burkettsville, Ohio. He may have spent some time at the Society’s motherhouse (yes, even though it’s priests and brothers, it’s a “motherhouse”!)—maybe to learn English? From 1896-1902, he attended classes at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. According to Fr. Gerlach, Sylvester:

  • sang 2nd bass in the college choir.
  • played alto in band.
  • performed in several productions from the Columbian Literary Society (CLS), including Dorner, a knight, in “William Tell”.
  • worked as librarian in the CLS. With no central library, CLS membership provided the only access to the school’s main collection of books.
22 February 1900. “William Tell,” a tragedy in 5 acts by Very Rev. J. H. Oechtering. According to Fr. Gerlach, Sylvester played Dorner, a knight. Fr. Gerlach also mentioned, “Photo is in Bookstore window, very likely he is the third figure from the right.” This image is from Saint Joseph’s College, Rensselear, Indiana: A Centennial Pictorial History From Its Beginnings to 1990, p. 47.¹ This is likely to be the same photo mentioned in the notes to me.

Sylvester received a BA degree at the end of the 1902 school year. Fr. Gerlach commented that it was only the equivalent of Junior College (2 years), but that the curriculum was more rigorous than the then-current (1970s) course of study. Sylvester professed (intent to join the priesthood) 5 June 1903, and was ordained 4 years later, 11 June 1907.

He spent the remainder of that year in three different parishes in Ohio and Illinois, returning to Saint Joe in January 1908. He taught there through the summer of 1916. He spent the next year at Catholic University, in Washington, DC, pursuing a Master’s Degree. The Catholic University Bulletin² confirmed the completion of his degree (with its dissertation title!). He spent the summer in a parish in New York before returning to campus.

With the exception of a medical leave from December 1923 to July 1924 (reason unknown), and another summer in a parish, Sylvester returned to Saint Joe, mostly for good. Part of that time he served as vice president to the college. In 1935 he became Spiritual Director for the students. He also wrote two textbooks on Logic:

  • A Textbook of Logic: A Normative Analysis of Thought. New York; American Book Co., 1936.
  • Fundamentals of Logic. St. Louis, MO; B. Herder Book Co., 1949.

I’ve acquired the first book (A Textbook of Logic). Now I just need to find time to read it! And look for the other one.

His life was not all work; he visited his Schweiger cousins in the Chicago area. He traveled a bit (more about that, later). When the 1949 school started, he retired to being a Professor Emeritus, relocating to Brunnerdale Seminary (Canton, Ohio) in January 1950. He moved to the motherhouse in Carthagena, Ohio, February 1953, and died 23 July. He was buried four days later, presumably in St. Charles Cemetery, though he has no Find A Grave photos or memorial.

The information I received from Fr. Gerlach listed a nephew, brother, and sister, all living in Bavaria. A Joseph M. Hartmann had an address in Chicago, and Sylvester’s obituary mentioned him having another brother and sister in Germany, and a niece in Washington, DC. Of course, addresses over 60 years old aren’t likely to be too helpful . . .

Fr. Gerlach had actually given me quite a bit of information! It included details I probably wouldn’t have had access to, but it was all secondary evidence. Could I find anything to document the dates, places, and activities?

I found Fr. Hartmann in Indiana during each census, 1900-1930. He seemed to be missing from 1940, but there was a Sylvester “Eastman” born in Germany, right age, who seemed possible. I didn’t recall seeing an Eastman on campus in any previous census. Or maybe Sylvester Eastman was someone different, and they simply missed Fr. Hartmann? The 1930 census did confirm the vice president story.

His 31 December 1877 birthdate was well-documented by his:

  • Passport Application (1922)
  • census records (1900 with month and year)
  • WWII draft registration (1942)

His Passport Application provided the date, ship, and departure port for his original trip to the USA: 7 November 1895, on the SS Kensington, from Antwerp, Belgium. It was a great help in finding the right ship. It had him traveling to Carthagena, Ohio, so I’m confident it’s him.

The Passport Application claimed he was going to England and France to study and travel, then to Germany to visit relatives, with more travel in Holland, Switzerland, and Belgium. He had a busy summer planned!

An incoming UK ships’ list showed him getting off the SS Celtic 11 June 1922 in Queenstown, Ireland (planning to stay in Dublin). On 29 August 1922 he boarded the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, returning from Rotterdam to New York.

1934 faculty photo. Fr. Sylvester Hartmann is in the front row, 3rd from the right. This image is from Saint Joseph’s College, Rensselear, Indiana: A Centennial Pictorial History From Its Beginnings to 1990, p. 56.¹

He sailed back to the USA again, 1 September 1932 (with a different passport number, since it needed renewing) from Bremen, Germany. Presumably he visited relatives that time, too. Fr. Gerlach’s notes said Sylvester was abroad again during the summer of 1949 (just as he was retiring), but I haven’t found that ship’s list, yet.

The death date is corroborated by the obituaries I’ve located, but I’ve still found nothing telling me his parents’ names. Ancestry didn’t have his death certificate, although Family Search did. Unfortunately, both parents had the same names—unknown! Since their names didn’t show up on the school’s records, I didn’t figure I’d luck out on the death certificate.

But really, he was a 17 ½ year old, coming to a foreign country by himself in 1895. They didn’t get parents’ names? What if he’d gotten sick and died? Surely they would have notified them? Or maybe they had the names at one time, but they died in the meantime, being replaced with the siblings’ names? I don’t know. It’s frustrating.

In April, 1999, I emailed the motherhouse at Carthagena, inquiring about any personal effects from Sylvester Hartman. I was hoping perhaps his genealogy papers might have been kept. Presumably he had more information on the Hartmann family that he hadn’t passed along to the Schweigers. It was a Hail Mary pass.

My email was forwarded to Fr. Ballor, archivist at the time. He was a student in 1953, and remembered Fr. Hartman, but relayed the sad news that any personal effects were disposed of after his death. That was the policy at the time—one he changed upon becoming archivist. He tries to retain items that provide insight about the individual, but he had nothing more for me than the information Fr. Gerlach had already provided.

At this point, I can try to track down some of the relatives (more likely, their descendants!) listed in the school records. Maybe I’ll get lucky? I can also pray the Altdorf records get digitized quickly, to try and find his birth record (and maybe parents’ names?). Or I get to plan a road trip to Salt Lake City, where I can crank through the microfilm reels, looking for that record. That might be a better plan, because who knows when the records I need will be digitized.

In his 40+ years of teaching, he influenced a lot of young men. I’m glad I was able to track down a little more about Fr. Hartman’s life.


¹Dominic B. Gerlach, Centennial Celebration Committee, Saint Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, Indiana: A Centennial Pictorial History From Its Beginnings to 1990 (Rensselaer, Indiana: The College, 1990), p. 47, 56.  

²Catholic University of America, “Commenceent Exercises: School of Letters”. The Catholic University Bulletin. vol. 23, no, 6 (June 1917); online archives, Google Books (, p. 87; Master of Arts; Rev. Sylvester Joseph Hartman, C.PP.S., Collegeville, Ind. Dissertation: “Greek Types of Character in Plautus”.



I can look through my file and find all sorts of “middle children” to write about. Famlies with an even number of kids makes it a little awkward, but it’s still doable.

I’d gotten into my head that I wanted to write about my Bruder line—in particular, Mathias Bruder, younger brother of my great-grandmother, Anna Bruder Haws, making him my great-granduncle. He had an unusual story, and I wanted to look into it further.

It turned out he fell into the “middle 4” of 8 children of John M. Bruder and Elizabeth Jost. I considered that as “middle enough” and decided to plunge forward.

First, I needed to look at what I already had on him. The original information I’d received in 1975 from my dad’s cousin, Lorraine (my grandaunt, Teresa’s, daughter), consisted of:

  • Lorraine’s list of 7 Bruder children, with Mathias as 2nd oldest, but no birth or death dates for him. She wrote a note: “He just disappeared and no one ever heard from him. At one time he was in St. Louis, Mo.”
  • photocopied newspaper clippings of obituaries:
    • John M. Bruder, Mathias’s father, 1915, “Matthias of St. Louis
    • Nicholas Bruder, Mathias’s brother, 1934, no mention of Mathias

It wasn’t much. Somehow, St. Louis seemed to be the city our family “disappeared to” (Uncle Leo Schweiger was reported to have gone there, too!). I’m not sure why, nor am I sure it was accurate, but that was generally how the stories went.

As I cranked through census microfilm in 1975, I found the Bruder family in 1880¹, with Mathias, age 9. That bumped him farther down the child list, younger than Anna and Katy (Katherine), and placed his birth year around 1871. When I found the family in 1870, I didn’t expect to see Mathias, though there was a 3-month-old “Martin”—a name I didn’t recognize.

That was as much of a trail that I could find. His presence in the 1915 obituary (and absence in the 1934) didn’t really provide any solid evidence that Mathias was still alive (and in St. Louis) in 1915. He could have already died, without anyone knowing. The family may have simply been optimistic. Nor can we assume he had died by 1934. The family may have given upon him by then, so left him off the list of survivors.

So I left Mathias alone for 4+ decades, while I searched other family lines. But I feel bad ignoring people on my tree, and this seemed like a good time to revisit his information, to see if I could find anything new.

An Ancestry search found the 1880 census, but then suggested the Wisconsin, Births and Christenings Index, 1801-1928.³ Twice, actually, from two different Family History Library microfilm reels. Two records for him must have been microfilmed from different sources.

Those indexed records had a couple issues. The birth date was 25 August 1869—two years earlier than the birth year calculated from the 1880 census. While the parents’ names were correctly “John” and “Elizabeth,” the surname for all three of them was “Breider.” Sigh.

Unfortunately, because these were simply indexes, I had no images. I checked at FamilySearch, in case they had the images on their site, but no luck. I’ve seen enough poor handwriting and poor transcription/indexing examples to realize that the “ei” in Breider, could easily be a sloppy “u.” Could I find anything else to bolster that hypothesis?

The 1870 census for my 2nd-great grandparents, John & Elizabeth Bruder. The child order and ages (at least, relative to each other) were correct, but the enumerator had some problems. “Michael” (line 12) should be Nicholas—or some variation of that. Some records had him as “Nickel,” so “Michael” isn’t that far off. Mathias, age 19, at the bottom, was actually John’s younger brother, Marcus, who was crippled from birth, and always lived with his brother’s family. John and Elizabeth were both born in Germany, so probably still had their German accents. See more in the 2nd paragraph below.

I looked back at the 1870 census—the one with 3-month-old Martin. For children born in the previous census year, there was a column for the specific month of birth. It was September. August 25th isn’t that far from September, so I’m willing to wager either the birth month, or the baby’s age, was mis-remembered, and everything else based on that information.

Another consideration is that the enumerators copied the original census sheets, submitting the copies to Washington. That’s usually what was microfilmed. If he did not record their names wrong on the original, it’s still possible he made an error in the copy. Either he didn’t notice he had flipped the names, or he did, but didn’t want to spoil his sheets with a cross out and correction. He may not have thought it critical that the correct names went with the correct ages, as long as each person was counted. To me, it seems likely the “Martin” in the census record is the same as the “Mathias” in the birth index, and later (with an incorrect age) in the 1880 census.

1880 census for John & Elizabeth Bruder —this time the head of household, John, is listed by his middle name, Mathias! We see all the kids, except for Mary, who isn’t married, but must be working away from the farm. Teresia and John have been added to the family. Markus is still there, and Elizabeth’s father has moved in.

Can I prove that theory? Well, no, not the census inaccuracies part. If I could locate and view the original birth record, that might clarifiy whether the handwriting was misread.

Are there other possible explanations? Sure. The birth record could still be the one for Martin, but maybe Martin was a middle name that didn’t get on the birth record—even though that’s the name his parents used. And then Mathias was born in 1871 (as suggested by the 1880 census), but Martin died some time before 1880. Whew! That’s a lot going on. The misspellings, etc. suggested earlier are more likely (in my opinion) than the 2nd, more complicated scenario.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth died before the two enumerations where women were asked how many children they gave birth to, and how many were still living. That has often helped me find “missing” kids, but wasn’t available this time.

The information I received from Lorraine came from people who knew John & Elizabeth’s kids as their aunts & uncles. In 1975, they were all pretty sharp, despite their age. Other children who died young were remembered and included in what Lorraine sent. Even if their names weren’t always remembered, their existance was. Lorraine’s list did not have a Martin, or a child who died young.

To eliminate other possible explanations, I looked for the Breider surname in the 1870 census. Was there another family with a baby born in August? There were a couple families, but no John & Elizabeth, no new babies. I checked for more Breider children in the birth index, again, with very few, and none of the right parents. I also searched the index for:

  • first names only (Mathias, John, Elizabeth) in Manitowoc County for 1871–no other likely surname variations came up.
  • repeated, changing for each of John & Elizabeth’s other children’s first name and birth year. None of them showed up in the index.

It doesn’t seem there was another similar, but different, family in the county that could have been confused with mine.

I searched for Mathias in 1900 and later census records. No luck. I unsuccessfully tried an Americanized “Matthew” variation. Without more details about where he might have been, when, I’m searching for a needle in a haystack! He could be anywhere during those years: Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, or even closer to home, like Green Bay or Sheboygan. Where would I even start?

Ancestry member trees (16 of them!) included him, but no one had information I didn’t already know. Some had information they took from my tree. (You’re welcome!). Everyone had the 1880 census, but no photos of him, or additional details. At least I felt a little less inept . . .

It’s been a frustrating weekend. At first glance, I didn’t seem to accomplish much. Other than the birth index information, I didn’t find anything new. On the other hand, I DID look more closely at the 1870 census, and its issues, developing a potential explanation resolving those issues. I also took time to clean up my citations for the 1870 and 1880 census, attaching them to the appropriate facts for each person. I also merged Martin with Mathias in my file. Even though some question marks remain, I think the two census records and the birth index all refer to the same child. I’ll make a note to remind myself, in case later information appears, proving that not to be correct.

Reviewing my old correspondence didn’t turn up anything unexpected, but it could have. My brain doesn’t always fully process information that doesn’t fit with prior knowledge. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle piece floating in an empty space—I can’t attach it anywhere, because I have no idea which way it should be oriented. With more information acquired over time (more puzzle pieces), it suddenly fits somewhere—but only if I remember it! It’s hard to make time to review old documents with fresh eyes, but it can pay off, sometimes. Just not this time . . .

I may never learn anything more about Mathias Bruder, but I moved him a little closer to the middle, and feel better for having looked for new information about him.


¹1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth, e.d. 66; Page 12; dwelling number 104; family number 108; line 8; Mathias BRUDER household; accessed 3 February 2019. Mathias BRUDER, age 9; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1434; digital image, ( 

²1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Town of Two Rivers; Page 19; dwelling number 134; family number 139; line 16; John RINDER [BRUDER] household; accessed 2 February 2019. Martin BRUDER, age 9/12, born in September; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, (

³”Wisconsin, Births and Christenings Index, 1801-1928″, database, (, accessed 28 June 2020, citing “Wisconsin Births and Christenings.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake CIty, Utah, USA, 2009, 2010. FHL microfilm 1,305,081. Mathias BREIDER [BRUDER], Mischicott, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin; parents John BREIDER [BRUDER], Elisabeth BREIDER [BRUDER].


“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern Intellect.”–Oscar Wilde

By now we all know DNA can produce unexpected results. We’ve seen the human interest segments on the news, or watched the 20/20 or Dateline episodes featuring stories about unknown children, unexpected parents, and everything inbetween.

I was not so naive as to think our DNA would be exempt. Many of our matches have names that mean nothing to me—even though I can frequently link them to a particular family line, based on shared matches I do recognize. They are people on a descendant line I simply have not followed up on.

Nevertheless, it was still a bit unexpected when Mike’s brother emailed me about having been contacted by some guy who was a DNA match. I was puzzled about why we hadn’t been contacted, but realized I had a public tree (where this guy could see his connection to Mike), while Mike’s brother did not. I explained to Mike’s brother how they were related, and told him I’d take care of answering the guy.

It turned out he was a half first cousin to Mike & his brother. His mother, Marjorie, was an older half sister to Mike’s dad, Jerry. Marjorie and her brother, Fred, were children from their mom’s first marriage. The chart below may help:

Mildred Belle Fitzgerald is in the top row, center, with her first husband, Gordon Marshall, to the right. Marjorie is below and just to the right of her mom, in a pink-ish box. Her 3 husbands are to her right, with her brother, Fred, following, and a sister who died young. Mildred and Gordon eventually divorced, and he remarried. To Mildred’s left is her 2nd husband, Mike’s grandfather, John Joseph Carmody. Below him are their children, Michael, Joseph, and Jerry (in blue). The two sets of kids are half-siblings, sharing Mildred’s DNA, with all of their children (not shown) being half first cousins.

Marjorie was 19 when Jerry was born (and her mother died) in 1928. If she wasn’t already out on her own, her mother’s death possibly sealed the deal. By the 1930 census, John Joseph had no children living with him; they’d all been farmed out to other relatives.

I didn’t know much about Marjorie, but finding a half cousin prodded me to make an effort to flesh out her family line. She had a somewhat complicated story. Since many of the descendants are living, I did not include them in the chart above, and will not be using those names in the narrative.

I’ve still not found Marjorie in the 1930 census, but found the record for her 30 August 1930 marriage¹ to Roy L. Dale, which took place in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The marriage license said she worked as a housekeeper, and provided an address—the same as Roy’s address. I located that street and house number in the 1930 census (taken in April), but neither one was living there. It seems they weren’t living in Indiana during the census—at least not at that address.

Roy was a widower, so I tracked down his first marriage. That took place in Port Huron, Michigan, where he married² Thelma L. English, 15 July 1922. Thelma died 23 March 1930, shortly before census day, explaining Roy not being in Indiana!

Thelma’s surname raised a red flag. Marjorie’s maternal grandmother was Eliza Jane English. Were Marjorie and Thelma related? It turned out, yes! Thelma’s father, Frederick, was Eliza Jane’s brother, making Roy Dale’s first and second wives first cousins, once removed. That was unexpected!

I’ve been unable to determine if Roy and Marjorie had any children, or how their marriage ended. Some online trees suggest Roy died in 1999, but have no sources to substantiate that. There’s more than one Roy Dale out there! I also found a Ray Dale with an identical birth date, and the same parents. Was Roy playing fast and loose with his name? When I tracked down the birth register, I saw Ray and Roy were twins. That was another unexpected twist, though it didn’t fill in the gaps in Roy’s history.

Presumably Roy either died or they divorced prior to 16 February 1938 . . . at which time Marjorie married³ Roy Dunn, in Wood County, Ohio. The marriage license is extremely curious. She was living in Bowling Green, Ohio, but Roy was living in Sarnia, Ontario (across from Port Huron). Marjorie also presented herself as not previously married. She was “Miss” and using her maiden name of Marshall. Yes, she is the right woman in both documents, and both licenses (rather than registers, which sometimes have less information) have details like birth date and place, parents’ names, that are consistent.

I don’t know if Roy Dunn didn’t know she’d been married before, or she and Roy Dale simply split up (or he deserted her) and she never went through the effort to secure a divorce. I’m sure there’s a story there . . .

As with the first Roy, I don’t know what happened to Roy Dunn. Some online trees suggest he and Marjorie had 2 children, but their names are privatized. I presume Roy and Marjorie returned to Canada after the wedding, since he lived there. I didn’t find them in the 1940 US census, and there is no comparable census for Canada. It’s just a mystery.

At some point, Roy was out of the picture, and Marjorie married Jean-Marc Bedard. The two of them appear in voters’ lists in British Columbia as early as 1958. I haven’t found a marriage date, nor births for the 4 children who show up, privatized, in online trees. I found Jean-Marc’s 2007 Find A Grave memorial in Quebec (where he had been born). One tree suggests Marjorie was also buried near there, though I can’t find an entry for her, nor a death certificate.

As a result of that unexpected contact, I’ve acquired a number of details for Marjorie, though, as usual, new questions pop up as quickly as old ones are answered. I guess that’s to be expected!


¹”Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007″, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Record Search (, Roy DALE (35) and Marjorie MARSHALL (21) accessed 2 July 2019, 30 August 2019; citing Allen County, Indiana, Marriage Registration, Indiana Commission on Public Records, Indianapolis; reference vol. 74, p. 393, image 197 of 303; citing FHL microfilm 4165102.

²”Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952″, database, (, accessed 21 June 2020, citing Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Port Huron, 1922 Muskegon-1922 Wayne, film number 164, record # 17294. Roy L. DALE (26) and Thelma L. ENGLISH (18).

³Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013, index and images, accessed 2 July 2019, citing Marriage, Wood County, Franklin County Genealogical & Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio, FHL microfilm 4,260,731, image # 52 of 332. Roy DUNN (24) and Marjorie MARSHALL (29); FamilySearch.

Handed Down

Many things get handed down in families. It would be easy enough to pick one and write about that, but I’m taking a different tack, reflecting my life’s current state of affairs. An early blog dealt with heirlooms, but compared to now, that was bush league.

I’m currently working my way through everything that came out of my mom’s room in assisted living, after she died in November. It was a studio apartment—think “dorm room” without a roommate. How much could it hold?

You’d be surprised!

We’d found a home for most of the furniture (donated the rest), but furniture had to be emptied in order to be moved. Everything inside landed at my house. The result looked (partially) like this:

The financial records had already relocated to my house, so didn’t even figure into this. My sister-in-law helped me process all the clothes that Monday night—a huge help! A few we kept, some were donated, most were just worn out, and not appropriate to donate. Hint: when the waistband elastic crackles, do not donate!

That left two days to quickly triage the remaining chaos. Bankers boxes from Mom’s 4-drawer file cabinet and desk? Stacked, untouched, in a spare bedroom. Office and desk supplies? Consolidated into fewer boxes and stacked. Items I didn’t need/want and neither would my kids? Boxed for donating, and out of the house Wednesday afternoon. Things my kids might be able to use? Stacked in a corner for them to look through on Thanksgiving. The leftovers? Piled into the spare bedroom with everything else, and the door closed! The house was relatively toddler-safe.

After the holidays, it was time to start in on the “elephant.” This spring I worked my way through boxes, one at at time, mucking out the spare room. Already in there were odds and ends Mom handed down to me over the last few years, now needing a final decision.

Many folders were easy to deal with, quickly recycled or put in the shredding pile. Others might have genealogical information I didn’t have, so were moved to my genealogy stash, to look through later. Office supplies were donated to school. Lots of boxes emptied out, and I started to see the floor.

A new dilemma surfaced—what to do with some of the items not (yet) disposed of. As a family historian, I rotated between,

  • “Isn’t this cool!”
  • “Where/How am I going to store this?” and,
  • “Who’s going to want this/Where’s it going to go when I die?”

It created lots of internal conflict, not easy to resolve. What items caused this internal debate?

  • Mom’s Piano Certificate—a scroll tied with a ribbon, with ribbons inserted and an embossed gold foil seal pasted on top.
  • Mom’s American Legion medalion, pin, and certificate. When did she win it? No date on it. What for? No idea. She probably could have told me, but I’d never seen it until now, so didn’t know to ask. Too late for answers. Would the school have a record of recipients? Maybe. It’s probably worth an email or phone call.
  • Her father’s U.B.C.W. (United Brick and Clay Workers, post-1923), and I. B. T. & T. C. W. A. (International Brick, Tile & Terre Cotta Workers Alliance, pre-1923) ribbon badges. They’re 5-6″ long, 2-3″ wide, fringed, pretty impressive.  The ribbon slips off a pin to reverse to a black, “mourning” side. Were these “regular” union pins, or something worn to a convention?
  • Mom’s extremely fragile grass skirt, in the same dry cleaning bag it’s been in since I was a kid.
  • Her mom’s funeral book, with signatures of friends & family. Many of the names I recognize, but will my kids? Or my cousins’ kids? And do they care?
  • The lists of wedding and wedding shower gifts Mom received. There’s a box of wedding and shower cards, too. For some of these women, it’s the only evidence of their handwriting or signature. The cards are cute and quaint, but does that make them worth keeping?
  • The statement from the savings and loan showing the total they’d saved for a downpayment on their first house, as well as the loan papers, and the loan book, showing their payments, with “Cancelled” punched through all the pages when it was paid off. Growing up, we kids heard stories about saving for the house and paying it off. My kids probably remember what the inside of a bank looks like, but passbooks were a thing of the past by then. How does one even explain it, without one to see? Keep it? Or not?
  • Cumulative earnings statements from Social Security. How did they ever raise five kids on that income??

None of those items have any particular genealogical value, but they provide glimpses into each person’s life. They season the soup, if you will. Of course, the granddaddy of all these goodies is the oval convex portrait of my mom taken at about 9 months old. The frame measures 23.5″ x 16.5″. The convex glass was gone long before my time. This picture lived on the top shelf of the upstairs hall closet, along with the boxes of old photos and the grass skirt. The photo itself has a dent in it, having no glass to protect it.

It lived on that top shelf at least 10 years, more likely 15-25. When Mom & Dad moved to the “new” house, its status upgraded to being hung on the wall . . . in the basement. Better than a closet shelf, I guess. It lived there for 32 years, when it moved to Indiana (back in the closet), and eventually to my house. For the last five years or so, I’ve debated what to do with it.

This framing style was popular for a time, and the nostalgic look appeals to me. Bubble glass replacements are available, but it needs more than new glass. The photo needs to be popped out, which, from what I’ve read, is tricky and should be done by a professional. The photo surface has at least 60 years of accumulated dust, dirt, and grime (plus a water spot or two). New glass on a dirty photo seems pointless.

The backing is thin plywood, so dealing with that is a little trickier, and the wood frame (with painted flower garlands) could use a good cleaning, too. This really is a restoration project—one requiring more expertise than I have. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, but is it worth it to me? I’m not sure. Several years ago I asked my kids if any of them would want this picture down the road. They deftly dodged the question by turning it around and saying I should definitely repair it, if I wanted to do it. It seemed like a polite way of saying, “No, we really don’t want it, but don’t let that stop you.” It didn’t really help.

I still can’t muster a compelling reason to restore the picture, or even to feel guilty about not doing it. My mom had plenty of time to have something done about her baby picture—maybe not while she had five kids at home, with three in college—but she had an empty nest for 3+ decades! If it wasn’t important enough for her to take care of, I’m not sure why it falls to me. So maybe I don’t need to stress about guilt.

As far as the rest, I could keep everything, and let someone else worry about it after I die. It would be an easy decision; not necessarily the best one. So I need to curate these items and decide what to do with them. The long-term goal with my genealogy is to digitize as much as possible, making it more portable. As I age and need to downsize, a smaller physical footprint for my genealogy is necessary. One option I’m considering is to digitize the items, and write a narrative to accompany the image. Without the story, the bank statement for the house downpayment means nothing. It’s just a number. But these scraps can fill in details for the stories I wouldn’t have, otherwise.

Throughout this process, I realized I’m the only child looking at these documents and artifacts. I doubt my brothers particularly want them, but geography prevents them from being here while I’m sorting. Would they (or grandkids?) want to see some of these things before I possibly get rid of them?  Maybe. So I’ve boxed up interesting items to travel to my mom’s burial next month. Not everyone will be there, but it will be more people than at my house. Perhaps people’s reactions will provide clarity about what to do with this ephemera.

While I don’t have a total solution for all the goodies handed down to me, I’m at least attempting a plan, instead of just stuffing it all in closets or the attic, and foisting it on my kids. Hopefully I’ll hang onto (and hand down) the right things.



My maternal grandfather, Christoph Jacob Meintzer, was born in Illinois, in 1888, the youngest child of Christian Meintzer and Sophia Gartner. When Christian and Sophia emigrated from Alsace in 1881, they arrived with five daughters, aged 9 to 17:

  • Elizabeth (Lizzy)—17
  • Catharine (Kate)—16
  • Sophie—13
  • Louisa—11
  • Caroline (Carrie)—9

You’ve met most of them in other blog posts. One thing that surprised me, was the very low-keyed weddings these girls had. The three oldest girls married in Chicago—not in Lake County, or the far reaches of Cook County, near their father’s farm in the Riverwoods. Carrie followed her married sister (and her sister’s new brother-in-law!) to Iowa, and got married there. Louisa’s marriage remained a mystery until a new database appeared in 2018, at Ancestry.

Unfortunately, this family emigrated at the absolutely worst time for finding information. They missed the 1880 census. Illinois stopped their state census after the 1865 enumeration. As women, the girls didn’t show up on voters’ lists. City directories were spotty in that time frame, and I’ve had little success finding listings for them. I believe Lizzy and Kate worked in Chicago, since their husbands grew up in the city, but can’t corroborate that.

As difficult as the other girls were to track, Louisa posed even bigger roadblocks. For some reason, she seemed to disconnect from the rest of the family at some point after her marriage. My mom didn’t recall ever meeting her, and Louisa did not attend the 1930 reunion—at least, she wasn’t in the photo. Mom DID recall her mother (a non-Meintzer) commenting at one family gathering, “Well, I see Louisa didn’t make it again.” Louisa not being there was the rule, not the exception.

We had no photos of Louisa until a more recent (1990s) reunion, when we’d caught up with a great-grandson. His wife sent prints of the two photos, below.

“To Sophia Kranz from her Sister Louisa Meintzer.” Chicago, 14 August [18]90. Photo received from a great-grandson. Louisa would have been 4 months shy of her 21st birthday, possibly living and working in Chicago . . . but where?

Back to Louisa’s wedding. She didn’t show up in Cook County or Illinois marriage indexes/databases. Granted, her surname could have been misspelled any number of ways (her sisters’ were!), but no amount of creative searching unearthed a date. I knew she married; I knew her husband’s name (Peter Frank Reynolds), and that she had three children.

Census records teased me with hints:

  • 1900 said she’d been married 8 years (1892?)
  • 1910 said she’d been married 18 years (ditto?)
  • 1930 required math. She was listed as age 60, and was married at age 21. So, 60 minus 21 is 39 years, then subtract that from 1930. 1891? Plus or minus, depending on whether her birthday fell before or after the unknown wedding day.

My mom’s search for Louisa’s descendants for the modern reunions produced a letter from a grandson’s wife. The undated letter said:

“I have Louisa’s wedding band. The name Louisa is engraved on the top of the ring and the date July 4, 1892 engraved on the inside.”

undated letter to Ardyth Meintzer Haws from a granddaughter-in-law, written between 1983 and November 1986

Obtaining a date was wonderful . . . except I still couldn’t find the marriage! Eventually the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marriages, 1838-1911 database came online, with Peter and Louisa’s marriage included.¹ Better, still, the database included images, which provided more details (though no ages) for them, confirming it was the right couple.

Once again, a Meintzer girl ran off to get married out of town! I don’t know if Peter had a car and they drove, or if they rode the train. Train travel between Chicago and Milwaukee was fairly common. It doesn’t really matter, the puzzle of where they married has been solved, corroborating the when we learned from the letter.

Why did she not stay in contact with her siblings? I have idea. Her husband died in 1935, so if it was because he didn’t like the family, she had sixteen unencumbered years after his death, before her death in 1951. I’ll probably never be able to answer that question.

For now, I’ll take the small win of the wedding details!

Louisa Meintzer Reynolds, 14 December 1941. Photo received from a great-grandson. She had been widowd for 6 years at that time.


¹”Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marriages, 1838-1911″, database, (, accessed 6 June 2020, citing Milwaukee Vital Records, Call Number: 929.3, certificate number 1598. Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Peter REYNOLDS (n.g.) and Louisa MEINTZER (n.g).—


“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce

In genealogy/family history, we discover a lot of details about a lot of people—more for some than for others. Some lines have all the census records found, we know where they lived, we have photos, letters, stories passed down, church records, civil records; and we know where the bodies are buried. Their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Life is good.

Then there are the families where the facts are sketchy, at best. We have bare-bones information based on Aunt Millie’s memories of who was who, when they were born, where they lived, and so on. There’s a great deal of uncertainty associated with that data, but it provides a starting point for our research. We search for census records; birth, marriage, and death records; directories; whatever we can find to corroborate or refute our information. We are bloodhounds, hot on the scent of our prey.

So what happens when new information pops up on one of the established, documented lines? When a gap suddenly appears in the foundation of the family?

And NO, this has nothing to do with DNA. Not all genealogy surprises come from spitting in a tube!

Plot marker, Saint Anne Cemetery, Francis Creek, Wisconsin. Photos by author.
“FATHER: Frank Haws, 1958-1933” “MOTHER: Anna Haws 1865-1952”

Anyway, my foundations were shaken in mid-March. I had gone to the Find A Grave memorial for my great grandpa, Frank Haws. I must have been working on the Popular blog, focusing on his wife, Anna Bruder Haws. I have my own photos of Frank’s and Anna’s tombstones, so I don’t know if I’d ever looked for them on Find A Grave—possibly not. Imagine my surprise to find an unknown son and another spouse connected to Frank!

I nearly fell out of my chair.

My immediate reaction was, “Well, that’s just wrong!” Frank and Anna had 6 children, I knew who they all were, with two of them (John and Teresa) connected to Frank’s Find A Grave memorial. It couldn’t possibly be right. Finally, my brain kicked in and I looked more closely at my “new” grand uncle, “Joe.”

SPOILER ALERT! Bottom line, “Joe” was not a child of my Frank, and Joe’s mother, “Susie” was not Frank’s wife, partner, or anything else. It took some work to reach that conclusion. Since these people are not related to me, I’m not using their real names. The “Frank” who was Joe’s father will be “Frank2” to distinguish him from my great grandfather. Using names will make the explanation easier to follow, though. The only actual names are the two Franks.

Back to my dilemma. I was staring at my screen, mouth open, shaking my head, and sputtering under my breath. I looked at Joe’s memorial. I looked at Susie’s. She had remarried later, having more children with that husband. Who were these people, and did they belong in my tree? I was still bewildered.

Joe was born in 1882 in Minnesota, three years before Frank and Anna got married. We still have not found Frank in the 1880 census. Could he have gone to Minnesota, sown some wild oats, and fathered a child there? Then come back to Wisconsin and start up a new family? It wasn’t a particularly attractive scenario, but I couldn’t dismiss the possibility.

Birth and death years for both Franks were slightly off:

  • Frank, 1858 to 1933
  • Frank2, 1860 to 1929

I was confident about my great grandfather’s dates, but without sources for Frank2, I had no idea if those were accurate or not. The date discrepancy didn’t provide conclusive evidence, for me, that the two men were different.

Proving that Frank wasn’t the father of Joe might not be possible. The 15-year gap in his timeline was problematic. The surname spelling variations proved nothing—I’ve found at least five versions of Frank’s surname on different documents. But could I prove Frank2 was elsewhere while Frank was farming in Wisconsin and raising his kids? Maybe.

I contacted my cousin, Barb, to see if she had seen or knew anything about this. She is the only other person researching this family line, and is my go-to person for weird finds. She was equally puzzled.

Lacking time right then to sort out everything, I left open all the tabs of what I’d found, to come back to. It took nearly a month—April 15th—before I forced myself to deal with it. I’d gotten tired of looking at the tabs, and realized the quandry wouldn’t go away by itself.

I started with Joe, trying to nail down his details. I found an Ancestry tree with Joe, Susie, Susie’s 2nd husband, and Joe’s father, Frank Haas (Frank2). Some facts there seemed to line up with what I saw on Find A Grave; others gave me the willies. In addition to the memorial for Joe in a California cemetery (near where he died), the tree also attached a memorial using his stepfather’s surname, in Indiana. It’s difficult (though not impossible!) to be in two cemeteries at once, but with two different names? I’m pretty sure the Indiana memorial was a different man.

Nevertheless, the profile for Frank2 listed facts similar to, but not quite matched to Frank’s details:

  • parentsJohn and Elizabethbut not the Nachtwey surname of my 2nd great grandmother
  • birthplaceWisconsin. Frank2 was born in Sheboygan, nearby, but certainly not Manitowoc.
  • 1860 census listed his age at 6 months. Census records have notoriously inaccurate ages, but no enumerator would confuse a 2-year-old and a 6-month old! This census listed also him as “Joseph”his middle name in the birth record (next list).
  • By 1880, Frank2’s father had died, and several children had moved out of the house, but Frank2 was in the county where his marriage occurred and Joe was born
  • The 1883 marriage certificate image for Frank2 and Susie, in Clay County, 17 months after Joe’s birth. That marriage was short-lived, and no divorce record found yet. Susie’s second marriage took place around 1885, but that record is still missing.

The marriage record image for Frank2 and Susie included in that tree was extremely important. It was a record not available at Ancestry, so must have been acquired from the county or state. While it proved Susie married a Frank Haas, it didn’t disprove my Frank. Parents’ names weren’t provided, neither were age or birth year. I set about looking for missing records to fill the gaps for Frank2 and found:

  • Wisconsin, Births and Christenings Index, 1801-1928 documented his 15 January 1860 birth (with parents, including mother’s maiden name, listed), name: Francis Josephus Haass (providing the “Joseph” recorded in the census).
  • 1870 census placed the family (surname misspelled) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with Frank2’s 3 older brothers and 4 younger siblings
  • 1875 Minnesota census seemed to have the family in Clay County (their location in 1880), despite some variations in first names. The kids’ ages lined upquite a feat with 9 kids!so the couple red herrings among the names could be explained by middle and nicknames common in German families.
  • 192o census placed Frank2 where he should be, in Minnesota.
  • 1929, the county death register was viewable at FamilySearch. Same location as 1920 census.

While there were still some gaps in Frank2’s timeline, I felt I had amassed enough information to plead my case that Frank should not be attached as Joe’s father. I created an account at Find A Grave (one is needed to send messages), suggested the disconnect of Joe and Frank, and typed my explanation. It was a text box contained on the website, and you know how those sometimes have a character limit. I didn’t know if that was the case, so I was trying to write a Cliff Notes version of the explanation, hoping not to run out of room.

It all fit, and I sent it off. A reply came back fairly quickly from the manager of Joe’s memorial. She had forwarded my message to someone else in the family, and copied that reply. It was clear the other person misunderstood some of my explanation, though they DID confirm the 1920 census and death register were the correct ones for Frank2. Bottom line, they thought I was all wet.

I still thought I was right, but realized the first message was a bit muddled. I’d give it one more try. My reply was very polite, but this time I put more emphasis on the idea that if Frank2 was in Minnesota at the same time Frank was farming in Wisconsin, they had to be two different people. If Frank2 was Joe’s father, then Frank couldn’t be. The memorial was not under my controlI could suggest edits, but control of it ultimately was theirs. My concern was inaccurate information that would send their (or my) family members down the wrong research path, if it was left uncorrected. But it was their call.

I received a reply conceding Frank and Frank2 were different, so she would remove Joe’s connection to Frank, and do further research into where Frank2 was buried.


My great grandfather’s memorial has been corrected; no extra grand uncle is lurking about. So why did I bother with this situation? I don’t manage any of the memorials for family members, nor do I have oodles of time to suggest edits to all of them. Frank and Anna still have only two of their six children connected to their memorial, so it’s certainly not “perfect.”

Find A Grave is secondary information, at best. Its accuracy is dependent on the research done by each manager. It can be a goldmine, with obituaries, photos, or death certificates included; or it can be bare-bones. Like online trees, it’s a source of hints, helping us find actual records to support the “facts” listed in the memorial.

Joe’s connection was simply wrong. If someone came to Frank’s memorial and saw Joe, and didn’t do any checking, they might add incorrect people to their tree, creating a mess. In my mind, wrong information on a site people use for research is far more dangerous than missing information. I felt it was worth the effort to try to clean up a mistake I was aware of. Keep in mind, when I started, I went in search of MY Frankto see if he could have possibly been the father. It wasn’t until I’d found enough records for Frank2, that I knew Frank was in the clear.

What about the two Ancestry trees I viewed? Both had some incorrect information, or at least wrongly attached sources. One had Frank2 buried in Dayton, Ohio! Maybe he was buried in a family plot back east? I researched the man from that Find A Grave memorial, too, and discovered his wife, children, and census records. He had never been in Minnesota; certainly didn’t die there. The tree owner had grabbed a same-name, similar death date memorial, and assumed it was correct. Oops.

But I am not the genealogy police. I can’t go around checking everyone’s tree. I occasionally make a change on the FamilySearch tree, but it’s a shared tree, not personal. Common knowledge and common sense tell us not to blindly accept everything we see on any tree. We read that in blogs and articles, and hear it in webinars. So I make use of the sources that are correct, and ignore the others. And I choose my battles carefully.

After all that research, I still have a gap for Frank between 1870 and 1885, but at least some of the uncertainty has been removed!



Tombstone photos show up regularly in my posts. For some people, it’s the only image representing them!

Early on I blogged about the Schweiger family plot in Sacred Heart Cemetery, in Northbrook, Illinois. Sacred Heart Parish (and its associated cemetery, five miles away) was a daughter parish to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wilmette. Sacred Heart was created in 1897, three miles north of St. Joseph, as the Catholic population grew in that area, and St. Joseph had become more crowded.

Ignatz and Dorothea Schweiger were among the founding families of Sacred Heart, but would have originally been members of St. Joseph. My grandmother, Victoria, was baptized there in 1894. Nevertheless, I don’t associate their family with this parish, probably because the more important, and more recent, events didn’t occur there.

We visited my parents in late October, 1996, piled them and our kids into our van, and trekked to the northern suburbs, cemetery-stomping. Our first stop was St. Joseph Cemetery, at Ridge Road & Forest Avenue. It was a “new” cemetery for me, a half block from the church, adjacent to the school property. The parish started in 1845, so it’s an old cemetery. We fanned out, looking for names we recognized, not knowing exactly who we might find. We found Aunt Rose Rau (Victoria’s sister), and her husband, Joe:

I didn’t realize it at the time, but a recent search at Find-A-Grave confirmed my suspicion that Uncle Joe’s sister, Mary, was also interred there with her husband. We had found their parents, Henry (16 January 1845-21 August 1920) and Elizabeth Rau (20 March 1844-1 April 1918), while we were there in 1996, sharing a headstone. A Joseph Rau (2 October 1837-12 November 1914) with wife, Marie (15 February 1844-23 December 1923), were also nearby. Based on his birth year, I suspect that Joseph Rau was an older brother to Henry. In other words, he was my Uncle Joe’s uncle.

The tombstone that really caught my eye, though, was this one for Joseph Levernier. I didn’t know who he was, but Victoria’s oldest sister, Elizabeth (Lizzy), had married Urban Levernier. We figured Joseph was related in some way, but didn’t know how.

Joseph Levernier died Dec. 8, 1899; aged 40 years. Personal photo, taken 27 October 1996

A precious one from us has gone

A voice we loved is stilled

A place is vacant in our home

Which never can be filled

Joseph Levernier headstone; St. Joseph’s Cemetery; Wilmette, Illinois

It’s an impressive stone, and someone obviously missed him! Other Leverniers were nearby:

  • William A. Leverier 1877-1961 OSSW Katherine ? Levernier 1884-1973
  • Honore J. Levernier 1911-1961

My granduncle, Urban, was buried in Sacred Heart, so who were these guys? I looked for Honore, and found him in the 1920 census:¹

  • Wm. Levernier (42)
  • Katherine Levernier (35)
  • Katherine B. Levernier (10)
  • Florence A. Levernier (9)
  • Honorius J. Levernier (8)
  • Leo E. Levernier (6)
  • Mary E. Levernier (5)
  • Rose A. Levernier (2 4/12)
  • Genevieve A. Levernier (1 2/12)

This William and Katherine seemed to be the couple sharing the tombstone, above, and Honore on the other tombstone was probably their son, age 8 in 1920 (bolded). Urban was born in 1887, and his parents were Honorius and Barbara. William is most likely Urban’s older brother, though more research is needed to prove that. I still hadn’t found Joseph, though. I checked Find-A-Grave to examine the information there, and look at those photos and memorials.

I believe two memorials have been created for Joseph, each with a different death year. One (with a photo matching mine) says the death year is 1858. That would place his birth around 1818. The other (with no photo) says the death year is 1899, placing his birth at 1859. The stone had a great deal of weathering, and with only a death date, one can’t use the age to double check against the non-existant birth year. The memorial without a photo has a spouse, parents, siblings, and children attached, but with no photo I can’t be certain it’s the same tombstone, or that those connections are correct.

The notes I wrote when I took my photo have 1899, matching the no-photo memorial. I cannot find any other records for Joseph—not even an entry in the Illinois Death Indexes. In addition, this family’s surname was misspelled (or mis-indexed) all sorts of ways in census records:

  • Levenier (1900)
  • Lervernas (1880)
  • Lovener (1870)
  • and the topper: Gusta (1860)! Yes, it’s really the right family . . . just spelled entirely wrong,

No doubt other records have the same spelling issues, making it hard to confirm that difficult-to-read year. The trees I found him in online do not have documentation for that date, so they don’t help. Fortunately, when I visit the office of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Catholic Cemeteries in July, to finalize my mom’s burial, I should be able to ask to see Joseph’s burial card and confirm 1899 is correct. I need to write a note to myself to remember to do that!

Why have I bothered researching this family? My Granduncle Urban, is the only Levernier related to me. Was this a BSO distracting me from other research? A rabbit-hole I dove down? Not really. Leverniers were an extensive family living near my Schweiger ancestors. They show up on the same (or adjacent) census pages as my great-grandparents. They belonged to the same parish. Eventually, a marriage linked the two families. Understanding more about the Leverniers might help me understand more about the Schweigers.

Besides, it was was cool tombstone . . .


¹1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 118; sheet 1B; dwelling number 13; family number 13; line 66; Wm. LEVERNIER household; accessed 24 May 2020. Honorius J. LEVERNIER, age 8; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 361; digital image, (


What a time for this prompt to pop up . . .

The first Meintzer Reunion occurred in 1930. To the best of my knowledge, the next one was in 1983. Fifty years is a big gap! Another one was held the following year, but it became obvious, with family spread out across the county, that yearly reunions would probably dilute attendance. The scheduling shifted to an every two years (sometimes 3) model. The last one occured in 2003.

Aside from the obvious benefits of everyone getting together, from a genealogist’s standpoint, reunions were a goldmine. Not only could I pick the brains of anyone attending, many times those not attending mailed updates back with their negative RSVP. Those updates usually found their way to my hands.

As mentioned other times, one disadvantage of information acquired that way, is that it tends to be piece-meal, and it relies solely on the remembrances of the person providing it. It comes with no documentation. It’s easy to take it at face value, though, and not spend time confiming what you think you know.

That was certainly the case with the branch starting from my grandfather’s oldest half-sister, Elizabeth Meintzer Ahrens. She and her husband lived in Chicago, and had two children older than her youngest brother (my grandfather). Most of Lizzie’s descendants stuck around the Chicago area, but her 3rd youngest (of 8, total), John Robert George Ahrens, uprooted his family mid-life, to travel to Michigan and restart there. A little lake between them and the rest of the family kept them somewhat distant, though his descendants caught up with us due to the reunions. I decided now was the time to confirm the information I had, and flesh out this line better.

John Robert George Ahrens was born 27 September 1896, in Chicago, Illinois.¹ He showed up with his family in the 1900 and 1910² census records. He enlisted in the U. S. Army 5 December 1914 and served until 11 July 1919. Despite having served for 4+ years, he still needed to register³ for the “Old Man’s Draft” during WWII. He was younger than others who needed to register, but war has a way of requiring “all hands on deck,” or at least waiting in the wings, in case they were needed.

After the war, John Robert Ahrens lived at home with his mother in 1920; on his own, with older sister, Laura, and her children sharing his house in 1930; and married, with 3 kids in 1940. Despite having been told a 15 September 1934 marriage date for John and Jean in Chicago, I haven’t located a marriage record for them.

In the years after his military service, John:

  • was a machinist (1920)
  • owned a grocery store (1930)
  • owned a tavern (1940)
  • was employed by Finkl & Company (whoever they happened to be!) (1942)
  • started work with the Chicago and North Western Railroad (September, 1943)

Some time between September 1943 and 2 March 1946 (birth of youngest son, Thomas William (1946-1961)), John packed up and moved his family to Jackson, Michigan. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have records providing that information. We don’t have a lot of contact with that branch, so haven’t heard those stories. John lived until 1983, and Jean until 1996, both buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, in Napoleon, Michigan, sharing a headstone with their son, Thomas.

I have no photos of this family. That’s one of the unfortunate consequences when a branch travels to a different part of the country. And if efforts aren’t made by both sides (the ones who traveled, and the ones who stayed put) to travel to the others, it’s easy to lose the connections we have.

John and Jean’s two older children are still living, so I can’t say much about them. They showed up in school yearbooks on Ancestry, and they (and their descendants) continued to live in Michigan. I’m not sure if any of them have tested DNA, but since we’d be looking at a HALF 2nd cousin or more distant, the amount of DNA gets smaller and smaller, and it’s quite possible we might not share any.

In a bit of genealogy serendipity, as I was researching this family, one of my 2nd cousins sent an email inquiring whether we had family in Michigan. It seems her grandmother had traveled to visit these cousins, so she was trying to verify the information was at least feasible. I was able to confirm the possibility for her, though not the specific trip. It seemed so curious that she would happen to ask about that at a time I was researching that line.

The considerable amount of time needed to find this branch (and John’s siblings, who I didn’t write about) was worth it. Tracking down the census, birth & marriage records wasn’t always easy, but I’ve confirmed information and filled in many blanks. I’m glad I made that effort.


¹”Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922″, database, (, accessed 15 May 2020, entry for John Robert George AHRENS, 27 September 1896, citing “Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922,” certificate #133, FHL Film 1287998. Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records, Springfield.

²1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Chicago, Ward 27, e.d. 827; Page 18A; dwelling number 309; family number 325; line 41; John AHRENS household; accessed 19 February 2019. John AHRENS, age 3, Septembr 1896; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 278; digital image, (

1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Coo, Chicago, Ward 27, e.d. 1128; Page 8A; dwelling number 123; family number 150; line 24; John EHRENS [AHRENS] household; accessed 15 May 2020. John EHRENS [AHRENS], age 13; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 270; digital image, (

³”U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942″, database, (, John R. AHRENS, serial no. 1780, order no. not given, Draft Board 131, Cook County, Illinois; citing World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Illinois. State Headquarters ca. 1942. NARA Publication M2097, 326 rolls. NAI: 623284. The National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. U.S.A.; accessed 17 May 2020.


Previously I’ve written bits and pieces about my paternal grandmother’s mother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger. As the second-youngest of her siblings, most of the others were married and out of the house when she was coming of age. Dora, herself, relocated to Chicago to work as live-in household help.

Undated photograph of Dora. This is the only photo of her as a fairly young woman—all the others are of her age 60 or older. Some heavy-duty research might be able to narrow down a date based on hair style and clothing. I think I see a bobbed earring?

The story I heard was that she worked for a family in Skokie (Niles Center), and that their last name was Kirsch. I haven’t been able to locate that family in a census. I don’t know when Dora might have arrived in Chicago to look for work. She and Ignatz Schweiger married 14 April 1885, so she would have stopped work around then.

I have found a Dora Harry in the 1880 census, listed in the Charles Nussbaumer household as a servant.¹ She was born in Wisconsin, with parents born in Germany, so it seemed a good fit to my great-grandmother. Her age was listed as 24, rather than the 22 I expected, but it’s possible she overstated her age to appear more mature and employable. Or perhaps her employers simply didn’t remember or care, and just took an educated guess.

That job position was a logical one for her to take. While the children (oldest one age 10) had all been born in Illinois, the husband and wife both had been born in Germany. Dora was born in Wisconsin, but her parents and half of her older siblings had also been born in Germany.

Even though I’ve never heard any specific story about Dora speaking German, it seems likely German was spoken at home, as well as in the highly-German community she was a part of. When she and Ignatz married, he’d been in the country only three years, so it’s possible the two of them spoke Germanat least at the beginning of their courtshipthough she might also have helped him improve his English.

I’m grateful to have the family lore about her spending time in household service. And I’m delighted I found her 1880 census record. Unfortunately, a census is just a snapshot, and no one in the family took the time to ask Dora more questions (more importantly, to write down her answers) of her life during this time. There are so many questions we can’t answer:

  • How old was she when she started to hire out? She was 22 in 1880, but she could have been working in Chicago for 4 years, at that point, maybe longer.
  • Which families did she work for? Where did they live? That would have had a huge impact on her ability to meet Ignatz, when he finally immigrated.
  • How long did she work for each household?
  • What were her duties? Childcare? Cleaning? Cooking? All of the above?
  • How did Dora find the positions?
    • Did a group of families send a recruiter to Wisconsin to find girls that way?
    • Did they place ads in the Manitowoc paper? There was also a German-language paper in the area. Did they advertise in that?
    • Did they place ads in the Chicago papers, which found their way up to Wisconsin?
    • Some of her siblings moved to the Chicago area. Did they hear about jobs and let her know? Or other girls who had moved down there, earlier?

Any answers would be pure conjecture on my part. The last Illinois State Census was in 1865, so that’s of no help to me. City Directories might be useful, providing they listed household help. I’m not sure when Chicago started to publish directories. Those (if extant) might provide some informaton

I do have the Nussbaumers’s address in 1880: 59 North Clark Street, Chicago. That’s in Enumeration District 189. Where is that in relation to Glencoe, where Dora ends up when she marries Ignatz?

I looked it up on Google maps. Five blocks west of Millennium Park? Around the corner from the Picasso? That made no sense, until I remembered the great Chicago renumbering event of 1909. The 59 North Clark Street Dora knew is not the 59 North Clark of today.

To find that, one needs to find the book created in 1909 to do the address translation. Fortunately, one exists at the Chicago History Museum. Better still, it has been scanned and posted online. From that we learn the old 59 is now 430 North Clark.² That moves her at least north of the Chicago River, and puts her 5 blocks west of what will become the Wrigley Building. While it’s not a very residential area now, back then it’s more likely to have been.

Skokie (Niles Center), the location I’d heard about, is about 12 miles away from the supposed location of the Nussbaumer house. That’s a good ways away. Glencoe is even farther north. Another possibility is that their address was in a different “town” using a different numbering system. One of the reasons for the 1909 renumbering of the entire city was that by then, Chicago had absorbed a number of other towns, with duplicate street names, and conflicting numbering schemes. Addresses were a hot mess, so redoing the whole thing made sense.

However the census page DOES actually say “Chicago.” Not “Austin” or any of the other separate areas outside the city limits. So I tried to track down the description of the enumeration district boundaries, to be sure I was looking at the right area. It was way harder than I thought it would be! Finally on the Steve Morse site, I found it: “North by the south side of Illinois and Ohio sts, east by the west side of State st, south by the north side of River, west by the east side of Franklin st.”³ Yep, the green pin north of the river is right in the middle of that box, so it appears to be mapped correctly. (zoom in on the map above to see the Clark Street pins, better). The Nussbaumers were a long way from Skokie and Glencoe, so Dora must have changed employers after 1880, moving north, so she could eventually meet up with Ignatz.

Dora’s older brother, John, moved to the Glencoe area some time after November 1882 (youngest son’s birth in Wisconsin). That might have prompted her to relocate. Unfortunately, I find no entries for Dora, John, or Ignatz in the Chicago or Evanston city directories in the early 1880s. That search wasn’t exhaustive, but it certainly didn’t give me the information I hoped for!

A quick search for families name Kirsch in Niles Center, 1880, turned up some names, but mostly in Chicago. A couple were in Evanston, which would be nearby. Of course, since Dora was already in the Nussbaumer’s house that year, I won’t find her with the Kirsch family. It’s also possible that the Kirsch family hadn’t even arrived in the Chicago area by 1880. Or I could have an incorrect name.

This search for more information about Dora’s time in household service has been frustrating, and somewhat unsatisfying. I wish I could nail it down better, but lacking more details, I don’t see that happening. Still, I was able to track down a little bit more, have some thoughts for other resources to check, and a list of questions to ponder. One of them may spark another avenue of research.


¹1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Chicago, e.d. 189; Page 432D (printed), 28 (written) ; dwelling number 91; family number 155; line 12; Chs. NUSSBAUMER household; accessed 31 October 2019. Dora HARRY, age 24; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 199; digital image, (

²The Chicago Directory Company, Chicago History Museum: Building and House History: Address Conversion Guides (, Plan of Re-Numbering City of Chicago, PDF p. 29. 59 North Clark translates to 430 North Clark.

³Stephen P. Morse, One-Step Webpages: Unified 1880 Census ED Finder (, accessed 10 May 2020.

Where There’s a Will

Sometimes having “the will” is not enough . . .

I have seen wills or probate records for only two ancestors, both mentioned in the 2018 Where There’s a Will post. Today I’m taking the “find someone named William” approach for this prompt. My data file has 152 people with “Wiliam” somewhere in their name—first, middle, or last. I decided to focus on William Harry, a great-granduncle. He was the oldest brother of my great-grandmother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger.

Why this particular William? He made a brief appearance recently in Prosperity, with his other siblings, but was left out of the story about the family’s emigration. Apparently he was old enough at age 7 to keep up with Mom as they walked from town, without being kicked. Or maybe older sister, Mary (age 9), prodded him along? The collateral relatives information I have for the Harry line was acquired in 1980—and has not been updated, really. I have quite a few DNA matches from the descendants of Dorothea’s siblings, based on the surnames I recognize. Sometimes Ancestry’s ThruLines™ suggests how we connect, but that is dependent on the match and me both having fairly complete trees.

I don’t actually have any suggested connections through William, but maybe some will materialize if I flesh out his tree better.

William Harry was born in Überherrn, Saarlouis, 28 January 1847, according to Mr. Leslie Larson, who provided information to me in 1980. I decided I should corroborate those assertions. Nothing showed up at Ancestry, so I checked the catalog at Family Search to see if the Saarland church records had been filmed and digitized. Lo and behold, they had been! While there were images for Überherrn, they weren’t indexed. I looked for William and the other siblings, since I had actual dates for them, but nothing panned out. I returned to the list of films and tried Differten, another town I remember for this family.

Murphy’s Law, those were indexed, and William (as well as his other siblings except for Peter) were listed,¹ but images weren’t available for me here at home. His birthday was off by a day, and obviously the location is different, so I corrected that information in my file. Another huge difference is that the family was listed as HENRY. I’ve seen other trees using the Henry surname, but finding it recorded in an older source is helpful. It’ll take some time for me to get used to that change.

An unexpected discovery while looking though the catalog, was discovering a book² with 1100+ pages about the residents of Überherrn and Bisten. It’s available only at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and the Yale University library. I’m not headed either direction any time soon, and I’m loathe to buy the book if my family isn’t in it, especially since I’m now not so positive about their Überherrn connection. I will keep it in the back of my mind, and try to find a way to check its contents for usefulness.

I still can’t find this family in ship’s passenger lists. His father’s Declaration of Intent provided only the month and year and New York–no ship name, no departure port.

If you remember from Prosperity, the family was enumerated in 1860 with the last name of BURGER. William claimed to be 15, and was the man of the house. We next find him in 1870, four months into his marriage to Sophie Aleff. He was working at the tannery, and they were living with the Klive family. His age was a little high, but the people they were living with probably gave the information, so could easily be off.

At this point, the blog post totally derailed.

My plan was to track William through time, adding in the children, then their children. The research to trace this family forward took far longer than anticipated, and it became a hopeless tangle. Even I was getting confused! Worse, still, I found myself harvesting information without documenting it properly in my file. It’s a poor practice, and I try to avoid it. This time, I was failing, big time!

My [self-imposed] posting deadline came and went without a completed blog. At 1 AM I threw in the towel and went to bed. I was nowhere close to finished, but I needed a break. I spent today returning to the documents I found last night, creating and attaching citations to the information I found yesterday. And I realized I needed a different approach.

William & Sophia had eleven children I know of. Everyone mentioned here is deceased, as far as I can tell.

  1. Mary: born March 1871. She married Henry C. Mollenhauer and had:
    • Clara: born March 1889. She married, had 2 children:
      1. Clarice: born December 1908
      2. Harry: born 16 November 1912, died 1933
    • Hazel K: born September 1897. I haven’t tracked her past the 1900 census.
    • William De Lyle: born 1 February 1903. He and Virginia are twenty-somethings in their parents’ house for the 1930 census. Ancestry is giving me a lot of hint for a ROBERT D. Mollenhauer, but that’s quite a leap from William. I’ll have to take more time looking those over, before deciding if/how they fit in.
    • Virginia: born 6 January 1906. She is also in the 1940 census as a thirty-something, with her widowed mother . . . and a Robert D. Mollenhauer. That plot is thickening, a bit! One of the Social Security databases suggests she may have married a Mahaffey, but I haven’t been able to find anything to confirm that.
  2. Anna: born 19 January 1874. She died before 1880.
  3. Nicholas: born 10 November 1875. He also died before 1880.
  4. Charly: born 1876. I’m not sure what happened to him after 1880. There’s a WWI draft registration for a guy in Hancock County, Illinois, but I’m not sure it’s my Charlie. I need to be careful.
  5. Margaret: born 12 April 1878. She died before 1880.
  6. William (Willie) born 14 March 1880. He married Emily Radtke and had one son:
    • Lester William: born 1 July 1903. Emily apparently died in childbirth or shortly after. William headed west to Montana and Idaho, eventually marrying again, but having no other children I can find. Lester was raised in his grandfather’s home, in Wisconsin. He married and had one child.
  7. Andrew: born December 1880, died 14 June 1887.
  8. Lena: born 20 June 1884, died 26 July 1887.
  9. Joseph W.: born 22 March 1887. He married Bertha E. Fink, and had one child. I’m having difficulty finding more about him.
    • June Harriett: born 28 June 1916
  10. Emily: born 12 August 1889, died 6 December 1975. She married Ervin Gloe and had 2 daughters. At the time of Emily’s 1975 death, she had 3 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild.
    • Vivian
    • Evelyn
  11. Henry Andrew: born May 1891. He may have married Alma Agusta, but I can’t find confirmation of that. I have to be very careful researching him, because the name will be common

The plans I had to completely fill in this descending branch fell short of my goal. I underestimated the work of bringing the family towards the present day. It’s more difficult to be sure you’re getting the right person.

On the other hand, I’ve made headway with this project, and I’ve been able to document the information I received 40 years ago about this family on the Family Group Sheets. I feel much more confident in that information, now that I have birth registers, death certificates, etc., for many of those life events.


¹”Germany, Rhineland, Diocese of Trier, Catholic Church Records, 1704-1957″, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Record Search (, accessed 3 May 2020, Guilelus [William] HENRY, 29 January 1847; citing Birth, Differten, Saarlouis, Rhein, Preussen, Deutschland, Bistumarchiv [Diocese Archive], Trier, Germany; certificate #4, FHL Microfilm 8,138,606.

²Walter Oehling, Die Einwohner von Überherrn und Bisten vor 1900 [Residents of Überherrn and Bisten before 1900] (Saarlouis, Germany: Vereinigung für die Heimatkunde im Landkreis Saarlouis [Association for local history in the district of Saarlouis], 2006).