Strong Woman

Small, but mighty!

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You already met Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan briefly in Valentine. She was born 10 June, 1891, in Smiths Creek, Michigan (west of Port Huron). She was one of 10 children born to Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham–sandwiched right in the middle. I met her at age 88, and knew her only 8 short years. She was the only “grandma” I could lay claim to, since mine died before or just after I was born.

Elizabeth was an itty-bitty thing, Irish through and through, and from what I could tell from the little bit of time I spent with her, pretty feisty. At that time she was living alone in the house at 809 Pingree, in Detroit (it’s still there–Google Map it!), until the dementia that developed in the last few years of her life required her moving to a nursing home, where she could reside safely.

Elizabeth finished the 10th grade. Her father died in 1904, and her mother in 1907. That may have been the event to end her education and propel her to Detroit, working as a governess from 1907-1919. The 1910 census shows her oldest sister, Mary, as the head of household¹ back at the farm, with five of the younger siblings residing with her. I don’t know if Elizabeth sent money back to help with farm expenses, but it’s possible. Living in Detroit no doubt provided the opportunity for her to meet her husband-to-be, Frank, but I don’t know how or where.

He was NOT Irish–rather, Bohemian (a nice catch-all that could include Hungary, Czechoslovakia, that whole region) and some iteration of Germanic (his mother’s maiden name was Schmitt–definitely not Irish!). According to Mike’s mom and aunts, Frank’s parents (Frank and Magdalena) were not particularly happy he was marrying an Irish girl. Consequently their kids did not see much of that side of the family. But when his parents celebrated their 50th anniversary with a big party, the family attended, and Elizabeth made sure the kids all had new outfits (a rarity) for the event. Sue the youngest) had a pink, lacy dress. The occurrence was unusual enough to still be a vivid memory for the girls 60 years later!

Elizabeth had seven children in eleven years; 5 girls and 2 boys. Feeding and clothing that many, especially through the Depression, can’t have been easy. Nevertheless, she managed the children and household, doing the best she could. All the stories I’ve heard of her painted a portrait of a very resourceful woman.

While 1967 may have been “the summer of love” in San Francisco, it wasn’t quite like that in Detroit. Riots were taking place about a mile from the house on Pingree. Elizabeth’s concerned adult children encouraged their parents to pack a couple of bags and come out to one of their houses until the situation settled down. They refused, making for very unhappy children! But they, and their house, survived the unrest.

For all the hard work in her life, she nevertheless knew how to have a good time. Her living room and basement were the site of numerous family gatherings, as evidenced below. I don’t know what holiday this was, in the 1940s or 1950s, but she was certainly living it up! That didn’t really diminish as she aged. The colorful blur in the lower photo (not taken by me!) is her at age 88, dancing the night away with two of her grandsons-in-law–barely keeping up with her.

1950 KUKLER Elizabeth party

Undetermined party–maybe on a New Year’s Eve?1979 08 Denise wedding

August 1979, Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan Kukler (age 88),  dancing at a granddaughter’s wedding with grandsons-in-law!Living 6 1/2 hours away, my opportunities to get to know her very well were limited. But never was there any question in my mind of her strength–not necessarily physical (especially in her late 80s and 90s)–but certainly of spirit. Hopefully some of that has passed down to my daughter and granddaughter (her great- and great-great-granddaughters)!

#52Ancestors


¹1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township, e.d. 125; sheet 10B; dwelling number 226; family number 229; line 74; Mary NOLAN household; accessed 5 March 2018. Mary NOLAN, age 25; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 673; digital image, Ancestry.com.

Reflection

Time to take stock . . .

BONUS POST! Brought to you at no extra charge . . .

Well, here we are, two months and ten posts into this adventure! It seems like a good time to pause for a moment and reflect. Amazingly, I’ve managed to keep up with the topics so far. I’m not sure how well that will work when we are traveling, so that worries me a bit.

Overall, I find myself enjoying this process–perhaps more than I expected. It’s interesting to see how some of the posts evolve–almost taking on a life of their own. Sometimes I see the prompt (which is always the title–in case you haven’t deduced that already) and my mind jumps immediately to an idea. I may stick with that, but often my mind migrates to another ancestor with a different story . . . and then another . . . and another. Eventually I land on one and stay there, but it can be a convoluted thought process.

Other prompts leave me scratching my head and wondering what in the world I will write about! Fortunately, long walks through the neighborhood provide an opportunity to work that out; a much better method than sitting in front of a computer screen, banging my head on the keyboard.

Regardless of how I end up at my topic, by the end of the piece I generally have a sense that it was the right ancestor and story. Luckily I’ve never gotten to the end and said, “Scratch this! I need to do someone else . . .” Whew! That would be extremely frustrating.

I frequently realize I need to reexamine my facts or look up something, because I have a gap that needs filling. Then, of course, there was Aunt Kate (Favorite Name). I realized there were many questions regarding her first husband needing resolution. When I couldn’t find what I needed, I sent a query to my extended cousins (as well as a quick call to Mom and an email to her brother), hoping someone heard/knew more than I did. While they did not have the answers I needed, most replied back to me, even if it was just, “Sorry!” Several contacted their parents or aunts–the older generation, who might have been more likely to remember her. Thanks, guys! One even made a request to IRAD (Illinois Regional Archives Depository) for a record she thought might help. Thanks, Ellen! Even though it came after my deadline, it did answer one of many questions, so I appreciate the effort. (George Warren was an iron worker in 1892.)

One of the biggest challenges has been to figure out how to tell each story in a non-confusing way. When you know the people and story so well, it’s easy to assume everyone else does, too. That’s not really the case, and some stories can get a little complicated. So I try to make sure pronouns aren’t ambiguous–antecedents are our friends! I also try to let the post sit for a while (over night?) before I go back to edit and proofread. It’s a habit I developed in high school, and I find the time away from my writing gives me fresher eyes. It’s easier for me to realize something isn’t clear and either simplify it, or provide more information. Sometimes, both!

The post that gave me the most trouble was Heirloom. As I was wrapping it up, I realized it was longer than I wanted. WordPress provides me with a word count, so it’s easy to see. I didn’t want to start over from scratch, but wasn’t quite sure how I could cut it down. I decided to duplicate it (again, easy to do) and make changes to the copy. If I didn’t like them, I could always revert back to the original. That plan worked well, and I lobbed off 200 words or so, even after adding others to finish it up.

By far, the best reward has been the positive response I’ve received from family! No one has yet said, “Shut up, Chris!” so that’s a relief. Thank you, everyone, for sticking with the blog and reading it! And thank you, Amy Johnson Crow, for providing the nudge to do this. It took me 4 years to take the plunge, but better late than never, right?

The photo above was taken 7 May 2009, in the Caribbean on board the Holiday–a now-retired Carnival ship. Even though I added a caption to it, I guess it won’t display that when it’s up as the “featured image.” Go figure.

Where There’s a Will

I really haven’t done much with wills. Well, I’ve written two (though the “sound mind” clause always makes me a little nervous!), but as part of my genealogy research, not so much. That’s due to a combination of reasons:

  • I didn’t have a specific research question that a will would have helped answer
  • I come from a long line of peasants–no money to speak of, so mostly no wills
  • Not living near the places where I would need to look up a will
  • Not having other family members particularly interested in genealogy and wanting to make a research trip with me
  • Having a limited budget (i.e.: fairly non-existent) for either the trip or hiring someone local to the will to look it up

In fact, I’ve come in contact with only two wills in all this time, both on Mike’s side. One was for a maternal great-grandfather, Patrick Nolan. The paperwork from his probate packet was microfilmed, but unfortunately, the microfilm printer at the courthouse was broken, so all I could do was read and take notes. It was before digital cameras, so that wasn’t an option either. It was interesting reading, but no amazing revelations, either.

The other will is a photocopy of the actual will for his father’s adoptive mother, Anna Carmody Bauman. It provides the only documentation of the in-the-family adoption that took place. I never met my father-in-law. He died while Mike was in college. Mike and I knew each other, but hadn’t started dating, yet. After Jerry died, his 2nd wife packed up his paperwork & memorabilia and gave them to Mike, as the oldest child. The 1940 will was included in that.

Jerry was the youngest child of John Joseph Carmody and Mildred B. Fitzgerald. It was a 2nd marriage for both. John’s first wife had died, and their 8 children were mostly grown, when he and Mildred married. Mildred was 29 years younger than he, and had two young children. I haven’t determined if her first husband, Gordon Marshall, had died, or if they had divorced. Regardless, John and Mildred went on to have a “2nd family” of three boys: Michael, Joseph, and Jerry. Even though Mildred was only 37, she somehow developed a lung infection in the weeks after Jerry’s birth. She was hospitalized and never recovered.

That left John, age 66, with a 6-year old, a 3-year-old, and a newborn (plus two step-children)! I don’t think it was an era of a lot of hands-on parenting for men back then. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he hadn’t changed diapers or done 2 A.M. feedings–and probably didn’t want to start. In fact, by the 1930 census, John is living without any children, managing the Port Huron Lighthouse travel camp. I’m not sure where the others were living.

Jerry’s baby book was mostly empty, but had an entry in the “Baby’s First Outing” section:

“Baby went out for the first time on the 12th day of September 1928, with Mrs. Hart when Millie was taken sick and stayed there until after the Funeral of Millie the 16th of Sept. and then Nano took[e] him Home for always.”

I don’t know who Mrs. Hart was–my guess is a neighbor–and I assume “Nano” was a nickname for Anna. We have no adoption paperwork, but at least the entry corroborates what Mike had heard from his dad. The 1930 census also lists him as “adopted son” for Frank & Anna. I’m not sure how adoption by a family member would have been handled then in Michigan. My guess is that it would still be considered closed, with records unavailable.

1930 CARMODY John J Michael Jerry
John Joseph Carmody with sons Michael (left) and Jerry (right). Despite being raised by Anna & Frank, he apparently saw them on occasion. I estimate this to be in 1930 or 1931, based on Jerry (age 2 or 3?). This is the only photo we have of his dad.

Anna’s husband, Frank, died in 1936 from colon cancer. Anna died 4 years later, in 1940, with Jerry’s birth father, John Joseph Carmody, having died in January that same year. Fortunately, Anna’s will survived, giving confirmation that Jerry was born a Carmody:

” . . . I give, devise and bequeath all my estate, real, personal, or mixed wherever situated to my beloved son (adopted) Gerald Bauman (formerly Gerald Carmody) . . .”

I’m extremely grateful she made the effort to leave a clear trail to the Carmody surname. I’m not sure we would be able to find it out, otherwise.

#52Ancestors

Heirloom

One person’s junk is another’s heirloom? Or vice versa?

When does something cease being stuff, junk, or clutter, and graduate to “heirloom?” Is it age? Monetary value? Who owned it? How “cute” it is? Its genealogical value? While it’s a question I’ve dealt with these last 40+ years of doing genealogy, it’s really hit home since September, 2009, when my dad died and Mom moved out of her house and into independent living. Suddenly I became responsible for dealing with/disposing of the salt cellars, soup cups, teacups, candlesticks, Mottoware, Hummels, and other antiques she’d acquired over the years. She had boxes in the basement that hadn’t been opened since 1977. It all wouldn’t fit in her 3 room apartment.

As I catalogued and photographed the items, I’d ask Mom if anything was special: anything that belonged to her mother or grandmother? Items that were wedding presents? I needed information so people could prioritize which items to select.

She seemed a little peeved that I “didn’t want all her pretty things.” Yes, they were pretty, but at 51, I was downsizing my OWN things–ditto for my older siblings! We could not absorb it all. Plus, for her each item meant more. They held memories of antique shows with her friends, or trips to Galena, IL, with its abundance of antique shops and tea rooms. Cute or not, we don’t share those memories.

Then she’d remind me that, “People collect this.” Inquiries at nearby antique shops met with no interest. No shops were buying, because no customers were buying. The stock market kerfuffle the year before pushed discretionary spending way down. Antiques are not necessities! The boxes came to my family room (no basement), but the market in Indy was no better, and I really had no time to make the rounds, anyway. I sent the spreadsheet and photos to my siblings, asking them to claim whatever they wanted. The volume reduced a little, so I repacked the boxes and moved them into Mom’s storage space. I figured when she died, I’d take them to the funeral, let people take what they wanted, and dispose of the rest. I figured wrong.

She’s still here, turning 96 in April. In the fall of 2016, she moved to assisted living. Three rooms down to one, and no storage space. The boxes came back to my family room (photo below). Photos and spreadsheet were shared via Google Drive to siblings (again) and also to her grandchildren. More items claimed! Leftovers were shared with cousins. Some more distributed, but I still have a “wall” of boxes behind the living room couch to deal with. I’ve listed select items on eBay, but I don’t want the hassle and risk of shipping china and glassware, so am (unsuccessfully) looking for local options that don’t include Goodwill. Most “heirloom” items have found homes. I also sold some teacups and glass salad plates to the Sassafrass Tea Room, where they will be used and enjoyed.

IMG_20170313_071926.jpg
“Antiques” collection from 1 year ago. This is REDUCED from the original volume in 2009! And it doesn’t count the books . . . or photos . . .

One result of this whole process is the renewed vigor Mike has for reducing our possessions. He looks at our Christmas tree and asks, “Can we get rid of any of these?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” I really don’t buy ornaments, except one for each new cruise ship, so most of ours have a history. The kids’ ornaments have already been kicked off the tree, so there’s been reduction from that, but most of the ornaments have a story behind them.

IMG_20180217_0001
Our tree in 1998. Still all the kids’ ornaments on it!

My mom started buying me one ornament a year after my sister got married. Young newlyweds, and in graduate school, after buying the tree, tree stand, and lights, they really couldn’t afford ornaments! Mom decided one a year would be a good start for me. I made “glass icicles” when I was in high school mimicking the ones hung on our tree and made by my grandmother, Victoria Schweiger Haws. I DO have her originals boxed in the attic, but they are very fragile, and since the tree is full enough, I figure they will survive better, handled less. Later, we acquired the ornaments from Mike’s grandmother, Elizabeth Nolan Kukler. And some actually ARE his: two ornaments from the ones he & his roommate bought to decorate a tree at college, as well as Jeannie and her bottle, and his Raiders helmet. As Mom has downsized–and finally eliminated–her tree, I’ve taken in a few favorite ornaments from my childhood. Plus there are handmade ornaments from my niece, Julie: crocheted and starched snowflakes, or crocheted ice skates with paper clips for blades. She manages to find cute and clever designs.

Does our tree look like a magazine photo? No way! It’s very eclectic. There’s no theme. People who see it for the first time are surprised? awed? I’m not quite sure of the right word, but it usually involves a lot of looking, pointing, and realizing that there are ornaments way inside the tree, not just at the ends of the branches. Our tree has short needles. If not, there’d be no room for ornaments! I don’t know how people with long-needled trees do it.

(Mike just started an Amazon search for “artificial tree long needles . . .”)

You might say some ornaments could be gotten rid of. They are probably past their prime, but they are also among the very few items we own from those people. The color has faded, and they’ve acquired a bit of tarnish and corrosion; none of us are as bright and shiny as we used to be! I carefully tuck them inside the tree–not out of sight, but placed where they reflect the lights, illuminating the interior, while minimizing their flaws. You hardly notice the scratch on the finish or that the glass actually has a hole in it (it’s little, on the bottom!), or the splotch of the spray-on “snow” that was so popular in the 1960s.

I can tell you about every ornament on the tree. My kids know some, but not all, and have undoubtedly forgotten many. Realizing this, in 2017, while dismantling the tree, I photographed each ornament. The plan is to create a spreadsheet where I can list them, link the photo, and document the provenance for each. (Yes, I watch Antiques Roadshow!) At least they will have enough information to decide what they want to do with them, when the time comes. If they decide to drop them off at Goodwill, at least they made an informed decision–I will come back to haunt them, though . . .

So, back to the original question: what what makes an heirloom? I think it’s mostly the meaning we attach to it. So we have 2 challenges. One is to “thin the herd,” so the volume isn’t overwhelming (no, you’re not touching my ornaments!). The other is to make sure those who have to deal with our goodies, know why something was important to us. That just might make it important to them, too. Otherwise, it’s just “stuff.”

#52Ancestors

Valentine

Roses are red . . .

While I know three individuals with Valentine’s Day birthdays, my family tree doesn’t really have a lot of traffic on February 14th. Between births, deaths, and marriages for 5500+ people (granted, not everyone has dates for all 3, and some have none!), you would think there would be, but there’s only:

  • one birth–a married-in from Mike’s side
  • two deaths on my Meintzer side–a 2nd cousin, Arline Ehrhardt Jenkins Axtell, and Hans Adam Ensminger, a 1st cousin 8x removed (nephew of my 7th great-grandmother) and
  • 1 marriage–a 2nd cousin on my dad’s side, Allan Heerey and his wife Mary

I don’t really have particularly good stories for any of them, and don’t know of any romantic proposals taking place on Valentine’s Day. So I started thinking about aggregate data again, and wondered how many couples in my tree were married for 50 years or more.

Being married for a long period of time is more than simply not getting divorced. Granted, that helps immeasurably, but you also have to keep BOTH people alive. That’s a little harder, and less in our control than the other.

Unfortunately, my Family Tree Maker software failed to help me. While it can generate a Marriage Report, I cannot make changes or additions to the information it provides. I get the bride and groom, a marriage date, and the current status of their marriage. Number of years isn’t an option. The Custom Report is no help, either, While “age at death” is a calculated value available for everyone, “number of years married” is not. It’s a little more complicated, since you have to look at the marriage date, see if someone has died, and if both, see who died first. Then you can do the math. Looks like I’m going to have to go about this old-school, relying on my memory. So cousins, if I’ve missed someone, please let me know! This is based on how I happen to remember, so not ordered by length of the marriage.

First up on the list are Robert & Ardyth Meintzer Haws (Dad & Mom), clocking in with 63 years. Mom’s brother, Gail, and his sweetheart, Neva, celebrated their 70th last year, and are still going strong. Dad’s oldest brother, Henry, and his bride, Mary, were going strong for 62 years. His other brother, George (who happened to get married the exact same day as Gail & Neva!), celebrated a 50th anniversary with his “better half”, Marge, before his too-early death at age 77.

My grandparents (Invite to Dinner), though, do not make the list. Victoria died in 1955, just before her 46th anniversary, and Minnie died in 1958, shortly before her 45th anniversary. Nor do great-grandparents Christian and Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (My Favorite Photo & In the Census), who were married only 47 years when she died in 1913. But since she was a 2nd wife, maybe they get bonus points?

Their oldest daughter, Sophie (married to Edward Kranz) was married for 54 years, and her daughter, Anna, was married to Walter Schultz just shy of 65 years. Anna was a huge help to me with family information and stories, and one of the times I visited her, she gave me a ceramic ornament given as a favor at their 60th Anniversary party. I think of her every Christmas, hanging it on the tree. Anna’s son, Walter, and his wife, Connie, were married at least 66 years when Connie died in 2014. That’s 3 generations! Many of Sophie & Ed’s other children also had long marriages:

  • son Emil and Evelyn: 51 years
  • daughter Lillie and Richard Jahn: 38 years
  • daughter Coila and Harry Frohn: 47+ years
  • daughter Mary Ella and Martin Reeg: almost 59 years
  • son Julius and Elsie: 57 years
  • daughter Louisa and Walter Ehrhardt: 60 years
  • daughter Minnie and Ed Ladendorf: 54 years
  • daughter Emma and Joe Poc: 41 years
  • daughter Martha and Louis Kanitsch: 39 years

Yes, some of them don’t quite make the 50 year cut-off, but it’s still a pretty impressive run for one family!

From my dad’s side, [Grand] Uncle Sylvester Schweiger and Aunt Stacia were married for 55 years, their daughter Marita married to Harry Nash for almost 60. And my dad’s cousin, Fred Schweiger and wife, Nancy just celebrated number 60.

Edward and Clara Duckart Goessl (Longevity) had another 2 years beyond the newspaper clipping in that post–with Clara spending another 25 years more, as a widow!

On the not-related-to-me side, Mike’s grandparents, Francis Charles Kukler and Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan, got married in 1919. They had 52 years together before Frank passed away. Not bad, given that they were 28 years old when they married!

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Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan and Francis Charles Kukler, 11 June 1919, the day after her 28th birthday. She had 7 children and lived to age 95!

And Mike’s Uncle Bob and Aunt Gloria are still going strong with 58 years under their belts.

So, is there a “long marriage gene”? Probably not, though looking at Aunt Sophie’s line, it almost makes you wonder! A lot of it is luck. Having good genes and a long life is a huge help. So is the ability to resist strangling your spouse–not always an easy urge to control! But it’s reassuring to know that sometimes we beat the odds on both of those.

#52Ancestors

Favorite Name

Sometimes a name surprises you . . .

You probably noticed from the favorite photo prompt that I have a problem picking a “favorite” of something. My brain doesn’t really think that way, and it drives Mike nuts. “What was your favorite part of the trip?” “I don’t know. I enjoyed everything.” Cake or pie? Well, it depends on what cake and what pie! Maybe neither. Well, that’s probably not going to happen, but you know what I mean.

Truth be told, my “favorite name” is probably any name that didn’t get misspelled in the records! But the name that always makes me smile belongs to my Grandpa Meintzer’s older half sister, Catherine.

Aunt Kate (yes, she’s a “C” for the Catherine and “K” for Kate!) was the youngest child of Christian Meintzer and his first wife, Maria Elisabeth Weidmann, and was born on 11 March 1865, in Dehlingen, Bas-Rhin, Alsace (France).¹ Her mother died 7 months later, and her father remarried about 7 months after that. He had young children at home, so frankly, he needed a wife to manage things.

In May, 1881, Catherine crossed the Atlantic with her family on the “Labrador.” She was 16 years old and was leaving behind the graves of her mother, 2 older brothers (Christian & Heinrich), and half-sister, Christina. The family settled in the Riverwoods area northwest of Chicago. Their farmhouse (in the background on the Favorite Photo post) is no longer there, but it was up the road from the Orphans of the Storm animal shelter, which still IS there.

Carrie Lizzie Sophie Kate 1930.jpg
From 1930 family reunion photo: Carrie (Meintzer) Kranz, Lizzie (Meintzer) Ahrens, Sophie (Meintzer) Kranz, Kate (Meintzer) Warren Smith. Carrie & Sophie are sisters who married brothers (Adam Henry and Edward, respectively). Lizzie & Kate are their half-sisters. This may be the only photo of Aunt Kate that I have. Her 2nd husband, Morton Smith had either just died, or would die shortly at the time of this photo.

In 1890, Catherine married George Warren. They had 2 children, Robert and Mabel. I haven’t quite determined what became of George–whether he died or they divorced. The 1900 census shows her as married, but the head of the household (no George present), with her 2 children, running a boarding house.² In 1904, she married her 2nd husband, Morton N. Smith in Berrien, Michigan. There were no children born in that marriage, and Morton died in 1930. Catherine spent 19 years as a widow before dying in 1949.

So, where does the “favorite name” come in? Every record for her I have ever found was either Catherine or Kate. Nothing to dislike, but not too exciting, either. But when I searched for her first marriage record at http://www.CyberdriveIllinois.com, I kept coming up dry. Her maiden name of MEINTZER could show up with a wide variety of misspellings:

  • drop the I
  • drop the E
  • drop the T
  • S or C instead of Z
  • combinations of the above!

That left a lot of potential permutations. I finally decided it might be more productive to search for the groom. His name was less prone to variant spellings. Limiting the search to Cook County, I had just 7 choices.³ There she was! Not the name I expected, but unmistakably her:

Menzer, Kittie

KITTIE!?!?! Seriously? It’s a good thing I decided to search for George, because never in a million years would I have put in anything other than Catherine or Kate to search for her. It’s a perfectly valid nickname for Catherine, though. I’m sure my jaw dropped at that sight, and I no doubt laughed. I still chuckle or smile every time I think of it, and it has been years. The novelty has certainly worn off, so it isn’t that. But the name conjures up an image of a young 25-year old girl excited to be getting married–not the image of the middle-aged woman in the photo above–so I always smile.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the photo above, it’s just that we tend to think of our older generation relatives as always being that age we saw them at (in person or in photos). We forget that they were once young, carefree, maybe spending the day (or evening!) at Riverview Park with friends or a sweetheart. Finding that unexpected “Kittie” in the records is a wonderful reminder to me of that, still.

#52Ancestors


¹http://archives.bas-rhin.fr/detail-document/ETAT-CIVIL-C88-P1-R18444#visio/page:ETAT-CIVIL-C88-P1-R18444-271043

²https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D1FS-W2W?i=19&wc=9BQR-VZG%3A1030552601%2C1031967101%2C1033794001%3Fcc%3D1325221&cc=1325221

³https://www.ilsos.gov/isavital/marriageSearch.do  Enter “warren, george” in the groom field, and select “cook” from the drop down list.

In the Census

If I had a nickel for every census page I’ve looked at, I could probably afford this obsession hobby. I have lots of interesting census stories involving:

  • butchered surnames (“House” for “Haas,” “Brothers” for “Bruder,” and “Gukler” for “Kukler” are just the tip of the iceberg)
  • butchered first names–and the people who alternate between first and middle name, throwing in a random nickname just to keep it interesting
  • illegible handwriting
  • faded ink
  • people who aged less–or more–than ten years between census enumerations
  • children suddenly missing in a later census–did they die? marry? move? hire out? alien abduction?
  • children who never make it on a census–they are born and then die between census years, so you don’t even know to look for them
  • the occasional person/family who manages to show up TWICE in the census!

But the census with the most surprises and raising the most questions was a French census. Well, technically, three of them. It was fall of 2015, and my 2nd cousin once removed, Donna Bell, had contacted me to nail down some genealogy details as she was preparing to write her book of family stories. She had questions about our common ancestor, Sophia Gaertner, who you met in My Favorite Photo.

Sophia (my mom’s grandmother) was born out of wedlock. This wasn’t news, as my Mom’s parents had commented on it when she was younger, and we had birth records from Alsace documenting no father’s name. Sophia’s mother was Catharine (yes, with an “a”), but Donna wanted to find Catharine’s parents. Murphy’s Law, two Catharine Gaertners were born in Lorentzen, Bas-Rhin, within 4 months of each other! Generally, one sees the father’s name on the birth record, leading you to the marriage record for the couple, which will list the parents of the bride and groom. But . . . no father, no marriage, no parents, outta luck.

Enter the census records. The Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin has a wonderful site, where they have digitized many of the Civil Registrations, the Tables Décennales (10-year index to the registrations), and some of the parish register books. What I didn’t realize was they also had several years of census records (listes nominatives de population). Their census was taken every 5 years, not 10, though some of the years are AWOL for Lorentzen. Fortunately the 1836 census (before Sophia’s 1842 birth) was available, as well as 1851 and 1856.

Looking at 1836¹, I found 2 Gaertner families, Charles and Daniel (each married to a Catharine), but only Charles had a daughter Catharine (later determined not mine) residing there. Daniel had 2 sons: Jacques (18) and Pierre (12). Later research DID confirm Charles and Daniel were brothers, but that didn’t nail down which family MY Catharine belonged to.

Moving on to the 1851 census², there wasn’t a Catharine in either household, but I did find Sophia in the household of Daniel with a Pierre and a Jacques. But the ages for the two boys didn’t make sense. Pierre was 26, but Jacques was only 13! What?? That was younger than he was fifteen years prior. I was focused, however, on the Sophia/Catharine issue, so pushed that anomaly out of my mind. Eventually, though, it crept back in, so I searched for the birth records for the boys. The census had their age, so it was a pretty easy task. Sure enough, there they were. As expected, Pierre was Daniel & Catharine’s son, however Jacques was NOT Pierre’s brother, but his nephew. He had no father listed, and Catharine (the daughter) was his mother. The 1856 census is consistent with that conclusion³.

Of course, I could have saved myself some time if I’d only translated what was in the census to begin with! The 1851 and 1856 census pages had “petit fils” in the column for Jacques or Pierre (petite filles for Sophia). We all know petite means “small,” right? I assumed it had something to do with their ages. WRONG! That’s what I get for studying Spanish in high school and college. Uncle Google told me this morning, when I finally looked it up, it means grandson/granddaughter. Excuse me while I bang my head against the wall for a bit . . .

So did these census records actually “change” anything? Not really. Sophia is still fatherless, and it’s unlikely that will ever be resolved. On the other hand, they’ve changed so much because now:

  • Catharine’s brothers need research
  • Sophia’s brothers (half brothers?) also need research
  • some of the scenarios explaining the circumstances of Sophia’s birth probably no longer apply

Regardless of what century one is in, people behave pretty much the same, and there are a finite number of ways a young woman ends up pregnant without a husband. But three times? There must be more to that story, though I have no idea what it is. And I’m certainly not about to judge Catharine or her choices. One thing is certain; I am eternally grateful she chose to give birth to Sophia. I wouldn’t be here, otherwise, along with another 600+ people (conservatively)! That’s a lot of doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, engineers, computer programmers, business people, pilots, and service men and women the world would have done without. And if you start to consider the number of people each of those descendants has interacted with, the impact is staggering.

So, thank you, Catharine Gaertner, even though I’ve still never actually found you in the census!

#52Ancestors


¹http://archives.bas-rhin.fr/detail-document/REC-POP-C273-R4188#visio/page:REC-POP-C273-P1-R4188-37462  [you need to scroll down and hit “accepter” to accept the terms of service to see the census record(s)]

² http://archives.bas-rhin.fr/detail-document/REC-POP-C273-R4191#visio/page:REC-POP-C273-P1-R4191-37476

³http://archives.bas-rhin.fr/detail-document/REC-POP-C273-R4192#visio/page:REC-POP-C273-P1-R4192-37498