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

Advertisements

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!

scan0003
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

Invite to Dinner

Food–pulling family together

Who would I invite to dinner? That’s easy–everyone!! There’s a slew of people, dead and alive, I need to ask questions of: When is your birthday? When did you die? Where were you born? Who were your parents? Why can’t I find you in the census? And that’s just the short list.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s allowed. And it would end up being a really long blog. So I will pare (see what I did there?) it down to two. Yes, that’s still probably cheating (I seem to have a problem with that), but “my blog, my rules.”

I never knew either of my two grandmothers, so sitting down to eat a meal with them would be a wonderful treat for me. Maybe for them, too, as I was named for each of them. Grandma Meintzer was born Wilhelmina Carolina Christina Moeller in 1892, but everyone knew her as Minnie. That’s the name on every document I find for her, from

scan0005.jpg
Christoph Jacob Meintzer and Minnie Moeller wedding photo: 27 September 1913

the 1900 census, on. Even her Social Security card has her listed as Minnie–and her tombstone!

She spent much of her adult life cooking for a living. She worked at Bartelme’s Inn in Shermerville (now Northbrook), Illinois, I believe, until it closed. Then she was the cook in the dining room at Briargate Country Club, in Deerfield, while her husband was a grounds keeper and took care of the 19th Hole (bar, for you non-golfers). Even during the Depression, when Grandpa wasn’t always able to find work, she had employment. She was noted for her pies, and today it’s a perpetual hunt for “good” lard to make her crust with. And yes, we’ve smuggled it in from Illinois, when all I could find in Indiana came in a tub!

Minnie knew exactly how much apple to add in to her jelly or jam to have it gel properly (no Sure-Jell back then!). And within the family, her Ice Box Cake is legend. Most of you would call it Banana Pudding. NO! No bananas, and made in a spring form cake pan. No pudding mix, either–from-scratch egg custard (2 batches), which likes to be finicky and sometimes fail. It is the same custard she used for her banana cream pie. Those 2 recipes were (according to my dad) THE reason he married Mom. Perhaps there were other reasons, too, but those definitely sealed the deal. Ice Box Cake was the only kind of birthday cake my mom had growing up, and it was the only cake my dad ever had for his birthday after he got married.

Of course, the reason Ice Box Cake was the birthday cake in the family, was because Minnie couldn’t bake a cake to save her soul. Hard to imagine, right? I guess she could manage Angel Food, but a standard cake? No way. She was too much of  a “pinch of this, pinch of that” cook, and the chemistry needed for a pan or layer cake is not very tolerant of that.

Grandma Haws was born Victoria Barbara Schweiger. Unlike Minnie, she was NOT “Vicky” and would not answer to that name. She would correct you the first time you made that mistake, and that was it. She grew up in the restaurant business, and it was how she ended up meeting her husband, Edward M. Haws.

When Victoria’s father, Ignatz, arrived from Bavaria, he was leaving the family’s cheese-making business. In Glencoe, Illinois, he purchased the building at 375 Park Avenue (now a historic building) and opened a butcher shop. He sold that building after a couple years, and moved to the building on the corner–367 Park–and transformed it into a restaurant. As far as I know, most of the family worked there at one time or another, including my grandmother. When my grandfather moved down from Wisconsin to find carpentry work, he “boarded” with them. I’m not sure whether that meant he had a room there AND took his meals (in the 1900 census, they DID have lodgers living with with them), or if it simply meant he got his meals there–breakfast and dinner in the restaurant, and a lunch pail to go. Either way, love was in the air, and they married on 21 April 1914.

1914 04 21 HAWS Edward and SCHWEIGER Victoria sitting
Wedding photo of Victoria Barbara Schweiger and Edward Mathias Haws, 21 April 1914.

As far as I know, Victoria did not work after marriage, but she managed to feed her family through the Depression, stretching what little they had the best she could. She disguised the meager amount of meat available by mincing it small and mixing through a big bowl of mashed potatoes (my dad’s favorite dish). She left a recipe legacy of her own: Rich Oatmeal Cookies, Wesson Wonder Brownies, and Ice Box Rolls in a clover leaf shape.

Beyond recipes, though, both grandmas understood the importance food and family and passed that value onto their children and grandchildren. Holidays and special food dishes are important, but no more so than everyday dinners, weekend breakfasts, or even popcorn on movie night or s’mores around a campfire. It’s not about the food, whether fancy or plain, but about the time together, preparing, eating, telling stories, reminiscing,  planning for the future, and just hanging out. I’ve see this time and again:

  • Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners
  • times when I suddenly had extra teenagers I hadn’t given birth to, joining us for dinner
  • beach-house weeks with our kids and grandkids, where the cooking duties are shared (everyone taking one night) to split the work load
  • photos posted on Facebook by cousins cooking with THEIR grandkids, demonstrating these values are still being transmitted to later generations

So yes, I’d like to have dinner with these two ladies: to visit and laugh with them, thank them for the rich legacy and traditions they left (without realizing it?) their descendants, and to make sure I’m not missing any critical recipes!

#52Ancestors

Longevity

“Old” is a relative term. What seemed old when I was younger isn’t quite as old, now. And my Grandpa Meintzer was noted for saying that no one should live past the age of 60. Of course, that was probably during the depression, when he was still a long way from 60! Work was scarce and less competition for jobs would have been appealing. As he approached 60, apparently he stopped making that comment–not really surprising! And he lived until age 78–a respectable age for someone from that era.

But this week’s prompt got me wondering about the age at death for all the other people in my tree. Luckily, software makes it fairly easy to distill the data. I have birth and death dates for almost 28% of my 5,552 people. Seventy-five died under the age of 2, including our oldest granddaughter, Grace. The other age brackets break down as such:

2-12:  52                                            50-59:  183

13-19:  32                                          60-69:  275

20-29:  58                                          70-79:  321

30-39:  54                                          80-89:  292

40-49:  111                                       90-99:  64–my mom’s still hanging in there, going on 96, along with her brother, 4 years younger, and 2 “married in” aunts

Three people died over the age of 100 (though one was supposedly born in 1530, and I haven’t confirmed the research on her!).

Naturally, some of these people belong to Mike–I can’t claim them all. Some are “married ins” and have no genetic connection to either of us. And there are LOTS of people for whom I simply haven’t had the time to track down their death date. It’s interesting, though, to look at the data collectively–something I rarely do. Scanning down the spreadsheet, I wasn’t too surprised by the people age 90+ born in the late 1800s. Medical advances explain much of that. But the ones born in the mid-1800s–or more surprisingly, mid 1700s!–were very unexpected. There were similar results among those who died in their 80s. It seems the adage that the older you are, the longer you’ll live, holds true.

Of course, I’m sure you’re anxiously waiting to learn who won the longevity pool! That would be Clara Irene Duckart, who married my dad’s 2nd cousin Edward (Eddie, as Dad always called him) Goessl. Clara and Eddie were both born in 1898, and while Eddie died in 1980 (age 82), Clara lived to 107. Yes, you read that right; she lived in 3 different centuries! It’s a little hard for me to wrap my head around that. Clara and Eddie were both born in Wisconsin, and died there, got married in Minnesota, and their oldest daughter was born in Illinois. So they moved around a bit, presumably for work. My dad had memories of them both, because they were living near him when their oldest daughter was born, 8 years after my dad. Since they were hours away from immediate family, presumably my dad’s family filled that void. When my parents took a road trip to Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1999, they stopped by Clara’s house in nearby Denmark (Brown County) to visit. Clara was still living in her house, at age 101.

So far, I’ve been unsuccessful in tracking down very many additional details about her life–the meaty little bits to fill in the “dash” (18982005) with personal information. It’s the unfortunate case of too many relatives, too little time, so the collateral families suffer. At least Clara got her “few minutes of fame” (however long it took for you to read this) for having outlived everyone else in my tree!

1977 11 13 GOESSL Ed & Clara 50th anniversay
Undetermined newspaper article printed after 13 November 1977, most likely from the Denmark, Brown  County, Wisconsin area

#52Ancestors