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

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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

My Favorite Photo

I’m going to have to cheat on this one

Choose one favorite photo? That’s not happening. But I will limit myself to posting only  one!

One of my favorite photos is actually two: my four children taken 8 years apart. The first one was at my daughter’s wedding and was taken by her cousin, Ben. Their ages ranged from 11 to 20. Despite the wedding dress and tuxes, it’s a laid-back photo of them just hanging out with each other. The second one, eight years later, was taken by the official photographer. They are all gown up, and not quite as casual, but it’s still not the prim and proper pose my mother and sister would prefer. My daughter is to the side with a wonderful expression on her face as if to say, “See what I have to put up with!”

What I love about those pictures is that I see my kids in them–the REAL kids, not stiff models. Their personalities show through. You can see that, regardless of whatever squabbling they engage in, they care about each other and will be there for each other.

Another favorite photo is one of my dad, in his 80s, up on the roof to blow leaves off the roof and out of the gutters . . . connected to his oxygen concentrator. Yes, seriously, he was up there on oxygen for his COPD. Granted, it was probably better than if he’d been up there without oxygen. That could have been dangerous, if he’d gotten out of breath. But just seeing his determination not to let the COPD dictate his life is inspiring.

The photo I settled on, though, is one of my great-grandparents, Christian Meintzer and Sophia Gaertner. They are standing in front of their farmhouse on what is now Riverwoods Road, Deerfield, Illinois. The house was still there in the 1980s, but has since then been torn down. The photo was taken some time between 1881, when they emigrated from Dehlingen, Bas-Rhin, Alsace (then under German rule), and 1913, when Sophia died. Sophia was Christian’s 2nd wife. His first wife, Elisabetha Wiedmann, had died in 1865, along with their son, Christian, Jr. With 3 children to raise, he married Sophia in 1866 and had 5 children with her while in Alsace.  Elisabetha’s other son, Heinrich, died before they emigrated, as did Christian and Sophia’s oldest girl, Christina.

Meintzer200
Christian Meintzer and Sophia Gaertner in front of their farmhouse on Riverwoods Road, Deerfield.

The end of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 put Alsace under German rule. When their first son, Jacob, was born in 1876, Christian realized his son would be required to serve in the German military–an idea he didn’t like. So in 1881, he packed up his wife and 6 children, and headed to the northern Chicago suburbs. Other relatives has settled there thirty years earlier, so it was good to have a few familiar faces in a strange land. Christian & Sophia went on (fortunately!) to have three more children in the US, the last one being my grandfather. Thank goodness they didn’t stop earlier . . .

The original of this photo is black and white. My 2nd cousin once removed, Mark Halvorsen, put the color on this image. While I’m not a huge fan of colorizing photos or movies (don’t get me started on the colorization of It’s a Wonderful Life!), Mark does a really nice job of being subtle with the tinting. He doesn’t get too intense, so the added color serves to help differentiate the various elements.

Sophia was born out of wedlock in 1842¹. We have found no records of who her father was, and likely never will. When another 2nd cousin once removed, Donna Gabl Bell, was working on her book of family stories, she wanted the few trees she DID have to be accurate. She also wanted to fill in more of Sophia’s back story. Donna and I tag-teamed our way through the Bas-Rhin archives, confirming Sophia’s birth and trying to determine her grandparents. We learned from the census records² she was raised by her grandparents–along with her two older brothers, also born out of wedlock³. Her marriage record³ told us her mom, Catherine, was living in Paris, and we even found Catherine’s declaration to remain French. When the Germans annexed Alsace, you had a choice: remain French (which required you to move OUT of Alsace), or become a German citizen. Even though Catherine wasn’t living in Alsace, she was apparently still considered to be a resident, so had to do the paperwork.

Sophia did not have an easy life. She married into a ready-made family, added to it quickly, and then was uprooted from all her friends. I’ve been told the letter in her left hand was a letter from Alsace, though I’m not even sure if she was literate. She never went back and we never knew she had any brothers until Donna and I dug deeper. I think this is the only photo I’ve seen (both in black and white and colored  versions) of Sophia, which is part of the reason I like it. I’m glad we have it to remember her by.

photo credit: color added by Mark Halvorsen

¹”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Lorentzen, naissance [birth] 1842, p. 7, no. 20, Sophia GAERTNER, 17 Aout [August] 1842. “fille naturelle”.

²1851 Census of France, canton Sarre-Union, arrondissement de Sauverne, Bas-Rhin, Lorentzen, p. 8. no. 193, family 45, Sophie Gaertner; accessed 12 January 2018. age 8; digital image, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, (archives.bas-rhin.fr).

³”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Lorentzen, naissance [birth] 1837, p. 6, no. 14, Jacques GAERTNER, 14 Decembre [December] 1837. “fil naturel”.     and

“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Lorentzen, naissance [birth] 1839, p. 6, no. 16, Pierre GAERTNER, 14 Septembre [September] 1839. “fil naturel”.

#52Ancestors

Start

How I got here . . .

This post is technically a day late, but I was building the site last night, so didn’t have time to get the first week’s blog done on time. Sorry!

My journey down this rabbit hole began in the spring of 1975–sort of. That was when I started writing to my grand-aunts and grand-uncles (the first generation born in the USA), asking them what they knew about our family history. This was before Roots; before the Internet or genealogy software; back in the Dark Ages, when  a stamp cost only a dime and there was only one Bell company. I had no grandparents at that point. The last grandpa died before I turned 9, Grandma Haws died 3 years before I was born, and Grandma Meintzer died 6 weeks after I was born, seeing me only once. I was named for both grandmas, but never knew either of them.

Unfortunately, even though I was only the 3rd generation in the US, my grand-aunts’ and -uncles’ knowledge of the “old country” was minimal. Apparently their parents really didn’t talk about it. Maybe they were simply too busy trying to survive and assimilate into their new country. “When did your parents emigrate?” “Not sure.” “Where did they come from?” “Germany.” That’s about as useful as “the Midwest!” And while they patiently answered my questions as well as they could, their common question was, “Why are you asking? We aren’t related to anyone famous/important.” They were right–we come from a long line of peasants. In the 1970s, the only people doing genealogy were gray-haired old ladies trying to prove they qualified for the Mayflower Society or the DAR.

I’d forgotten, though, that I’d tried to start this journey at least 8 years earlier–some time before Chicago’s “Big Snow” in late January, 1967. I was younger than 9, and it was a Sunday evening, after supper. I was sitting on the floor of the living room, next to the bookcase where my brother, Bob, had stored the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica set he’d picked up dirt cheap at a garage sale. With its help, I was attempting to create a pedigree chart on typing paper. I’m not sure why I wanted to do it, but I think maybe I’d read a book that had a family tree at the front to help sort out the characters. Anyway, I knew the names of my siblings, my parents, and all their birthdays. Then it got harder, so I’d ask my mom, who was across the room, trying to finish reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune, “Mom, what’s Grandpa Haws’s middle name?” “Matthias.” Then, “What year was he born in?” I knew he shared a birthday with my sister and Abe Lincoln, so already had the month and date. She gave me that answer, and I worked my way through the grandparents.

What I didn’t notice, because I was young, was that with each exchange, the irritation in her voice increased ever so slightly. When I started on the next generation, I knew enough not to ask her about my dad’s grandparents, but I figured hers were fair game. I gathered the names, and then I asked, “What’s the birthday for Grandpa Meintzer’s father?” That was the last straw. There was NO mistaking the exasperation in her voice as she replied, “I don’t know. You’d have to ask your grandfather.” My pursuit of genealogy ended for the night, and didn’t resurface again until 1975.

You might wonder how I can confidently place this event as being prior to late January, 1967. My mom’s father was the “last grandparent standing”–the one who died during “The Big Snow.” We weren’t into séances, so if she was telling me to ask him something, he would have to be alive. For whatever reason, he never got asked and that tree never got finished. Would my path have changed if I’d talked to him at that time? I’ll never know.

I still can’t provide a clear explanation of why I started genealogy–at 8 or at 17. I didn’t receive obvious outside influence, but did my grandmas or other ancestors prod me along subconsciously? I don’t know. Maybe? When I catch up with them, I’ll ask!

#52Ancestors


Oh Boy!

And so it begins . . .

After years of hearing how blogs are wonderful “cousin bait” for genealogists, and repeated nagging from some (maybe all?) of my children, I’ve decided to start a blog. We’ll see how it goes. The final prod was Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. Blogging isn’t required, but it seemed having a blog set up might be the motivation to follow through each week. What’s the fun of writing, if no one else sees it? So the plan is to post at least for the weekly prompt, perhaps more. Wish me luck!