Valentine

Roses are red . . .

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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.

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.

#52Ancestors

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!

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

#52Ancestors

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

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