Youngest

Everything old is new again . . .

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Last week, while looking for the note I’d written myself about the picture/plaque hanging on Anna Schultz’s dining room wall, I unearthed this document:

Carl Moeller death cert_0001

It is an Illinois Death certificate¹ for my great grandfather, Carl (sometime Karl!) Moeller. I requested it in the 1990s, when the state offered non-certified copies for genealogical purposes, if you provided the certificate number from the online index. It’s not the “youngest” (most recent) document in my possession, but since it was “lost” to me until last weekend, I’m counting it.

Carl Moeller is my maternal grandmother’s father. It wasn’t an uncommon name in the Chicago area at that time. I know this is the correct document for him because;

  • birth and death years match his headstone
  • the address and wife’s name are both correct
  • the informant is my grandmother’s sister, Lena

When it arrived, I was knee-deep in children (4), with little time for genealogy or giving it more than a cursory glance before filing it away–incorrectly! Instead of being in my grandmother’s file, it was in her husband’s. Oops. It also seems I gave little heed to some important information it held.

Let’s back up a smidge. Carl Moeller was born in Germany in 1860. According to the 1900² and 1930³ censuses, he came over in 1885. He and Elfrieda Jonas married in 1887.4 He worked at the local brickyard, and was also the flagman for the Shermerville railroad crossing. He and Elfrieda lived literally around the corner from my mom when she was growing up. They were the only grandparents she knew, as the Meintzer ones died before she was born. She and her brother spent a fair amount of time at her grandparents’ house while their mother worked.

When Carl died 3 May 1935,¹ Mom was 13 years old, so she had clear memories of him. She remembered his handlebar mustache (you can kind of sense it in the photo–he’s standing in front, 2nd from the left). When I started doing genealogy, we went to their graves in Ridgewood.Mom thought that Carl and Elfrieda had known each other in the “old country,” but didn’t get married until they were here. Of course, she didn’t know where in the old country, because like the other great-grandparents, nobody talked about it. It’s the recurring nightmare of my genealogical life!

So when I rediscovered the death certificate last week, I was more than a little shocked to see parents’ names for him (Johan Moeller and Sophia Milahan), as well as a town for his birth place (Cannitetz?). How did I miss all that? Granted, Johan Moeller is about as useful as Johan Schmidt or Schneider, and Sophia’s maiden name garners no hits for me, either. My guess is it’s misspelled, and possibly implements the “in” ending (showing up here as “an”) frequently added to a surname for German women. And the town? No idea. I will have to play with that a lot. Obviously Aunt Lena knew something, but I didn’t pursue genealogy until well after her death in 1969. She wasn’t around when I started asking questions.

Sometimes we spend so much time looking for new databases, new websites, and new ancestors, we forget to make time to review information we already have. We probably aren’t the same people we were when it was first acquired. I certainly know more now than I did at fifteen (or fifty!), as far as:

  • general knowlege
  • genealogy research techniques
  • specific details about my family.

What seemed to be a random or inconsequential piece of information before, can take on new meaning when considered with evidence acquired since then. Suddenly, everything makes sense! Or maybe it doesn’t? Maybe we realize we had a house of cards going (remember Where There’s a Will?), and need to start over–or at least back up. Either way, we benefit from a second look at what we thought we knew–if only we take the time to reexamine it.

Once again, even twenty years after her death, Anna has helped me out with my genealogy!

#52Ancestors


Top photo: Theodore Bohs Saloon & General Store on Shermer Rd. in Shermerville, Ill. Circa 1905. On porch: Mr. & Mrs. Theo Bohs, Mr. & Mrs. Albert Wolff & John Bernhardt. Foreground: George Schick, Carl Moeller, Tom Devaney & Carl Rickwardt. Photo (and description) courtesy of Northbrook Historical Society (https://www.northbrookhistory.org/), who has the reprinted image for sale in their museum store. Used with permission. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only photo of Carl we have.


¹”Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1916-1950″, database, Illinois Secretary of State, Illinois State Archives (http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/databases/idphdeathindex.html), accessed 11 August 2018, entry for Carl MOELLER, 3 May 1935; citing Cook County Deaths, death certificate 0018583.

²1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield Township, e.d. 1176; Page 2A; dwelling number 14; family number 16; line 7; Charles [Carl] MOELLER household; accessed 11 August 2018. Charles [Carl] MOELLER, age 39, July 1860; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 294; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³1930 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northbrook, block 18, e.d. 16-2237; Page 11A; dwelling number 119; family number 126; line 15; Carl MOELLER household; accessed 11 August 2018. Carl MOELLER, age 69; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 504; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

4“Illinois, Cook County Marriages 1871-1920”, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Record Search (https://familysearch.org), accessed 11 August 2018, citing Cook County, Illinois, reference 592131, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1030520. Carl MOELLER (27) and Elfrida JONAS (19).

5Find-A-Grave, database, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 11 August 2018, memorial 25468142, Carl MOELLER, (1860-1935), Ridgewood Cemetery, Des Plaines, Cook, Illinois.

Oldest

Anna and Elsie 1995 07 15
15 July 1995, Meintzer Family Reunion. Anna  Kranz Schultz and Elsie Rakow Kranz, both almost 90, keeping cool in the shade on a 99° day! It had cooled down from the 106° two days earlier. We had Anna for another 3 years, and Elsie for 7.5 more. Photo credit: Lois Palmer Meintzer

Age is relative. The older I get, the less old some people seem. I already wrote about my oldest relative, Clara Duckart Goessl (Longevity). Mike’s grandmother (Strong Woman) missed 96 by just over a month, and my mom just passed that milestone. I ran a report prepping for this blog that surprised me. It showed me some people who I thought were older . . . actually weren’t. It isn’t that they seemed older—just that they knew so many things that I assumed they had been around longer than I realized.

The two coming to mind are

  • Anna Kranz Schultz (born 12 September 1905 and died 4 June 1998), at age 92 and
  • Elsie Rakow Kranz (born 27 August 1905, and died 8 March 2003), at age 97.

Anna was the 9th child (of 11) of Sophie Meintzer and Edward M. Kranz. You’ve read her name before, as the source for many of the Meintzer stories. Elsie was her sister-in-law, married to Anna’s older brother, Julius. Born just seventeen days apart, I have a feeling Anna and Elsie were like two peas in a pod. We didn’t get together with more distant relatives when I was young, but seeing those two at the family reunions in the 1980s and 1990s—that’s the impression I got. They hung out together, and between the two of them, seemed to know everyone and everything!

As a “married in,” Elsie was not my first choice to approach with genealogy questions. I don’t know as much about Mike’s family as I do my own, so I wouldn’t expect her to know her husband’s, either. Of course, paired up with Anna, they could prompt each other and fill in details the other left out.

My first exposure to Anna was as “Aunt Anna.” Yep, that’s what Mom called her. I immediately asked which of my grandparents she was a sibling of. Mom said that Anna was her cousin, but she called her “aunt” because she was so much older. I’m sorry, it was only 16 years difference!

My cousin, Mike, should not hold his breath expecting to hear an “Uncle Mike” from me any time soon!

Anyway, I quickly set Mom straight on the “cousins are NOT aunts or uncles” issue. After 40 years I think I’ve finally broken her of that horrible habit! Anna was a 2nd cousin to me, and grandaunt to both Pat Jenkins Weisel and Donna Gabl Bell (as well as a ton of others!). Donna and Pat share this obsession hobby of genealogy with me, and we find ourselves collaborating with research.

**Quick sidebar! I tend to use the term “grandaunt/uncle.” I grew up with “great aunt/uncle,” just as you probably did. Those are acceptable and recognized terms. About ten years ago, I read a book or article suggesting a better choice was grandaunt/uncle, because they are siblings to your grandparent. Similarly great-grandaunts/uncles are siblings to great-grandparents. The argument seemed logical to me, and I switched over to using “grand.” So I’m not just being snooty and pretentious. I’m just trying to be logical and consistent. If you still use “great,” that’s fine—we can still talk. I just figure if you understand the reason behind my word use, it will make more sense to you and be less distracting. End of sidebar!**

Anna was a huge help to my other cousins and me when we had questions about the family. She remembered the stories her mother told of life in Alsace. Without the distractions of radio, TV, or smartphones when she was growing up, listening to those stories was the entertainment available!

Pat grew up across the country, so perhaps mostly had contact with Anna via mail. Donna and I had proximity on our side, so had the benefit of visits in person. I don’t recall seeing the box of clippings and photos Donna mentions in her book,¹ but perhaps I did and just don’t remember. In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were no scanners, cell phones, or digital cameras to make capturing those images easy.

I was also more focused on information going backwards, not necessarily bringing all the Kranz lines forward. We were still in a paper-based world of charts and forms, so adding that many additional people and family lines was much more tedious than it is with computer software! Donna, on the other hand, would find the Kranz information much more pertinent, since those were close relatives of hers.

Regardless of who asked, Anna was warm, friendly, and as helpful as possible. I’m not sure any of us would be as far along as we are with our family history, if it hadn’t been for her information and encouragement. And, of course, her fantastic memory! Even 20 years after her death, she’s still helping me. I spent part of Saturday looking for a note I’d written at her house. Either I remembered incorrectly, didn’t look in the right spot, or missed it because it stuck to the back of something else. It never turned up. But the hunt unearthed a different piece of paper I’d forgotten about. You’ll read about that next week, though!

IMG_4911Anna gave me the ceramic ornament to the right, on a visit shortly after their 60th anniversary party. I guess she had some extras. Every Christmas I think of her when I put up and take down my tree!

She may not have been the oldest relative, but she was certainly the keeper—and sharer—of some of the oldest memories!

#52Ancestors


¹ Donna Marie Bell. My Family Keepbook (Blurb, 2016), 143.

Colorful

Looks can be deceiving . . .

My great-grandfather, Christian Meintzer, lived his life spanning two centuries and two continents. You met him (and this photo) early on (My Favorite Photo). Looking at him here, I wouldn’t peg him as a particularly “colorful” guy (despite my cousin Mark’s artful tint job to the original black and white!). He’s a farmer, just doing his thing. But his life had a little more color than that.

Meintzer200
Christian Meintzer and 2nd wife, Sophia Gaertner Meintzer, outside their farmhouse in the Riverwoods, Illinois, 1913 or earlier. Colorization by Mark Halvorsen.

He was born 3 April 1830 in Dehlingen, Bas Rhin, Alsace.¹ You all remember hearing about “Alsace-Lorraine” in school, but it’s not really a place. It’s like talking about “Illinois-Indiana” or “Michigan-Ohio.” But both regions got batted back and forth between France and Germany from 1871 until the end of World War II, and Germany lumped them together. Alsace is the “leg” part of the “sloppy 7” shape they make. His parents were Chrètién [Christian] Meintzer and Christine Isel (Jessel).

Nothing colorful happens until he gets older. France required its young men to serve a mandatory 2-year military stint. From 19 April 1854 to 31 December 1857, he served in the 6th Division, 8th Regiment, of the French Army. Luckily, we still have his discharge papers! He served as a Hussar–light cavalry (horsemen) and was apparently proud of his uniform and his fancy plumed hat. He was not married yet.

Family stories claim Christian fought a dual with Napoleon over improper care of a horse. That would be really exciting . . . except that Napoleon Bonaparte (the person I think of when hearing only “Napoleon”) was dead before Christian was born! Christian actually served when Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon–Bonaparte’s nephew) was emperor. Somehow I doubt Napoleon III was mingling with the troops. So what gives?

From all accounts I’ve heard, Christian was not large (light cavalry, remember?), but was strong for his size, and wiry. His horse, and the others, would have been hugely important to his–and his regiment’s–survival, so I can see him picking a fight with someone who didn’t seem to be taking proper care of his mount–probably not the Emperor, though!

His time in the army also enlarged his vocabulary. The everyday language in Dehlingen would have been Alsatian–a dialect based on German (I’m grossly oversimplifying it!). According to his children (my grandfather and his older siblings), when he was angry, Christian would swear in French! His children did not speak or understand French, so while they knew he was saying something bad, they didn’t know exactly what was said. I hope they knew better than to try and repeat any of it–at least not around their father!

Two years after his discharge from the army, he married his first wife, Elisabeth Weidmann. They had four children, but nine months after their youngest (Catherine–Favorite Name) was born, Elisabeth and their oldest son died. Six months later, he married his second wife, Sophia Gaertner. They had five more children, but lost two.

In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace was surrendered to the newly-formed Germany. Residents were given two choices:

  • remain French–and move elsewhere in France
  • remain where they were–and become German citizens

I’m sure it wasn’t an easy choice for anyone to make. According to Wikipedia, 10.4% of the residents chose French citizenship,² though only 1/3 of them actually emigrated. Christian decided to stay, at least for a while. One granddaughter, Anna Kranz Schultz, told me when his son, Jacob, was born in 1876, Christian decided he needed to emigrate to the United States. According to Anna, he didn’t want his son to serve in the German Army when he grew up. It took until May 1881 for them to sail on the Labrador, moving his wife, two daughters from his first marriage, and 4 children from his second marriage, to America.

Reaching the Riverwoods (north and west of Chicago), the family settled into farming again. Not very exciting or colorful! Christian was 51 years old, and still had three more children to add to the family. He remained on the farm until at least 1910–probably until 1913, when his wife, Sophia, died. At that point (age 83), he moved around to the households of various children. He still spoke only German (Alsatian?).

As he aged, Christian didn’t really slow down much. My 2nd cousin, Richard Jahn (now age 92), once told me his dad remembered Christian out in the fields with his sons and sons-in-law, helping bring in the harvest. It sounded like they all pitched in with whichever field was ready to harvest, knowing they’d later have help with their own. Despite his age, Christian kept up pretty well with the pace of the younger men. We also have this photo of him, out sawing wood. Clearly he held his own with chores!

Meintzer03
Christian Meintzer sawing wood. Date undetermined, but before 1922.

Anna also told a story about Christian rowing a boat out into the water and taking off all his clothes. He was living with her mom, Sophie, in Des Plaines at the time, very near the Des Plaines River. Did he go out to fish, and just got too hot? Was he going a bit senile? I don’t know. But at 83+, he was clearly still a colorful guy! He passed away 28 January 1922.

Most times we don’t know much about our ancestors’ lives. Social media didn’t exist. Photos are scarce–and sometimes tossed because they aren’t identified. Their stories, inconsequential as they may seem, disappear because no one takes the time to write them down. Making time to do that preserves these bits of color from their lives. It’s worth the effort.

#52Ancestors


¹”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, naissance [birth] 1830, p. 4, no. 10, Chrètién Meintzer, 3 Avril [April] 1830.

²https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alsace-Lorraine. Section 2.2 “From annexation to World War I,” paragraph 9 (“The Treaty of Frankfurt . . .”), citing reference 6.

Music

Music links us to a time, place, and people, and can trigger memories, just as smell does. I still remember walking around town with girlfriends the summer before 8th grade, figuring out the words to “American Pie” –before album liners and the internet solved that problem.

I wouldn’t really say my family is musically inclined. We are not clones of the Von Trapps, and there’s no “Pa Ingalls” with a fiddle lurking up-tree from me to go on about. I remember watching with dismay when the used upright got carted out of our living room and sold before I was old enough for lessons. My older siblings got them, but the combination of the cost and the annoyance of having to nag them to practice got old for my parents. The money could be put to better use, and having fewer topics to nag your children about is always a good thing!

My sister enjoyed the piano, however, eventually obtaining one for her own household, which she did play. One brother went the guitar route during high school (didn’t everyone in the 1960s?) and is still fairly good–though I don’t know that he plays much anymore. I dabbled in clarinet at school, but realized I was no Benny Goodman, and dropped it after a while.

My parents enjoyed listening to music, so we had records in the house. Mom even taught me some songs (beyond nursery rhymes) when I was young. It was what we did in the car in the pre-Walkman/iPod/iPad days. Unfortunately, I learned the lame “if one of the bottles should happen to fall” version of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” I guess she figured it would help me with counting, and was more appropriate for a 4- or 5-year old! It wasn’t until junior high when I learned the more typical “take one down and pass it around” lyrics!

The other memorable song in my life was “Johnny Rebeck.” The spelling is approximate, but that’s how it sounded. If you Google it, there are lots of variations in name spelling and lyrics. Below is what I remember singing:

There was a little Dutch man, his name was Johnny Rebeck.
He was a dealer in sausages and sauerkraut and speck.
He made the finest sausages that ever have been seen,
And one day he invented a brand new sausage machine

chorus:

Oh, Mr. Johnny Rebeck, how could you be so mean?
I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.
Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will never more be seen.
They’ll all be ground to sausages in Johnny Rebeck’s machine.

One day a little fat boy came walking in the store.
He bought a pound of sausages and dropped them on the floor.
He then began to whistle. He whistled up a tune,
And soon the little sausages were dancing around the room.

Chorus (above)

One day the thing got busted, the old thing wouldn’t go.
So Johnny, he climbed inside, to see what made it so.
His wife, she had a nightmare, and walking in her sleep,
She gave the crank a twist (sometimes “deuce”) of a yank, and Johnny Rebeck was meat!

Chorus (above)

Rather a macabre little ditty! Explains a lot about me, right? Mom knew the song as a girl (1920s) but doesn’t remember if she learned the song from her parents, grandparents, or friends. She grew up in a town with a high concentration of residents with German ancestry (including her own). I’m not sure if “Dutchman” is intended as is, or possibly “Deutchman” (“German man”) instead (like with Pennsylvania Dutch)? Or was it intended as a slam against the Dutch? I’m not sure many Dutch settled in Chicagoland, so they would miss their target. Sauerkraut and speck/spek are a part of both cultures, so neither is eliminated.

The only origins I find for the song dub it as a scout song. I learned it about the same time as “99 Bottle of Beer,” from Mom, NOT scouts.

What, you are wondering, does this have to do with genealogy? Well, nothing–and yet everything. It’s an illustration of how information–in this case a nonsense song–can get lost over time. A half century of disuse causes memories to get fuzzy. The same thing occurs in other areas of our family history–unless they are recorded somewhere. That’s why I write this blog. Sometimes I’m sorting out a genealogy puzzle (complete with footnotes!), and sometimes I’m documenting the bits and pieces of family lore I’ve picked up along the way. I try to make sense of them, put them in context, and just remember them, before I forget!

I didn’t teach my children this song, though possibly they heard it once or twice. The mindset when they were young wouldn’t have approved. Raffi and Fred Penner were more acceptable, so I caved. Of course, now that they are seeing it here, I may never be given access to my grandchildren, again (no, I haven’t taught it to them, either!). But at least it’s recorded and remembered.

Of course, a song is nothing without its tune! This one was very fun and catchy. I found this link: Johnny Rebeck melody so you can hear it for yourself. Other videos exist, but they were just *wrong*. I didn’t care about the words, just the tune. I’m certainly not sending you to the one sounding country-ish. Eww! Others were just plain scary . . . This one was the closest–coincidentally it’s coming from scouts!

Maybe for a Christmas prompt I’ll break out “Hardrock, Coco, and Joe” for you . . .

#52Ancestors

Travel

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”—Lao Tzu

With the closest relatives three and a half hours away, our children grew up in the car/van/minivan. Family visits, coupled with tent, then pop-up camper, finally Holiday Inn Express vacations, got them all to the lower 48 states by 1998. Alaska was added in 2010. Two children completed all fifty–with Hawaii on their own dimes (before Mike & I got there!)–prior to that. Family vacations were apparently time well-spent, because our children have lots of stories to tell (some more entertaining than others!) of those trips, and they all seem to enjoy travel as adults.

For my ancestors, the trip from Europe to America was not for relaxation. They uprooted themselves from the life they knew and traveled to a completely foreign place. Both Mike’s and my families are relatively new to North America, with only a handful of ancstors showing up in the 1850 census records. No Mayflower Society or DAR/SAR memberships in this house!

I’ve not had terribly good luck locating ships’ passenger lists. Part of the difficulty has to do with:

  • inexact emigration dates
  • non-existent naturalization records–or incomplete information on them
  • lack of ships’ records from that time
  • difficulty in reading the records that do exist!
  • extremely vague descriptions of the passengers. With a somewhat common name, is that “farmer from Germany” mine, or someone else’s?

Few of my ancestors passed down information about their emigration. When I expressed surprise about that 45 years ago to the grandaunts & granduncles (their parents were born in the USA, but they had aunts and uncles–and grandparents–born in the “old country”), their reply was that everyone was trying so hard to fit in and become American, they didn’t talk about the past. It’s also possible those memories saddened them, so not talking about it made it easier.

But we do have snippets of their adventures. My great-grandmother, Dorothea Hary/Harre/Haré/Harry (just a few of her variations!) was born in Wisconsin, but her parents and older siblings were not. I still haven’t found the passenger list for the ship they came over on in 1854. But shortly after I got married, I was contacted by a Mr. Leslie Larson. His wife descended from Dorothea’s older sister, Margaret. At some point the story about the last leg of their journey, after arriving in New York, was recorded. I don’t know who the story originated from (possibly Margaret?), or who wrote it down, but this is what I read:

“Great grandfather [Peter] did not have enough money when he arrived in New York to bring all the family to Two Rivers. Great Grandmother HARRÉ [Elisabetha] lived in New York and worked at a hotel for at least a couple of months until she had earned enough money to pay hers and the children’s fare to Cooperstown near Two Rivers. She carried Peter and kicked Johnny to keep him from lagging behind, and they walked all the way from Cooperstown to Two Rivers, a distance of approximately 15 miles.” (from narrative obtained from Leslie Larson)

Peter & Elisabeth (Boullie/Bullea) Harré arrived in New York some time in May, 1854. I don’t know exactly what route or method they used to reach Wisconsin. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825, so all they needed to do was get to the starting point. While cross county train travel was not available yet, apparently New York State had several railroads linking different parts of the state.¹ Taking a train to the canal wouldn’t have been difficult. Or they could have traveled up the Hudson by boat.

Water transportation would have been much easier and quicker than overland travel through the relatively new (and still rough around the edges) states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. From the description, it sounds like Peter went on ahead–probably to secure land, get seeds planted, start on a house, maybe? The oldest of their four (at that point–two daughters had died before they left) children was under age 10:

  • Mary–9 1/2
  • William–8
  • John–5
  • Peter–barely a year

None of them were old enough to be helpful to him. It made sense for them to stay with their mom while she earned the traveling money.

Arriving in Two Rivers, she was still not home free! According to Google, (click for map) it’s a 16.3 mile walk to Cooperstown, and takes just under 5.5 hours–following present-day roads. I can’t begin to imagine doing that with children and questionable roads! Peter wouldn’t have known exactly when to expect them, so couldn’t have been there to meet them in Two Rivers and give them a ride back. Did Elisabeth have to deal with luggage, too? Hopefully not, if she was carrying the baby! Were that left in town, for Peter to drive in for later, with a wagon? So many questions, so few answers . . .

Sometimes in genealogy, we get so focused on the ship crossing the Atlantic, we forget that wasn’t the end of the road. Interstates didn’t connect places. No Holiday Inn Expresses to stay in, serving cinnamon rolls. And no Game Boys (or whatever the current equivalent is) to keep the kids from complaining during the trip.

As far as I know, none of my ancestors kept diaries, documenting their travels. I’m grateful to have this one description to give me at least a taste of what it may have been like for the others.

#52Ancestors


¹ Website describing state-wide train service in New York beginning in 1830: click here

Independence

Fireworks! What can go wrong??

Growing up, Independence Day was a big day in Hinsdale. There was the parade. There were fireworks! I never got taken to those. Most importantly, there was the CARNIVAL! It came to town for 3-4 days, setting up in Robbins Park. This was the mid-1960s, when practically the only theme park was Disneyland. Sure, Santa’s Village and a few other amusement parks were around–basically stationary carnivals. They weren’t that close, or cheap, and parents didn’t really take kids to amusement parks back then–at least mine didn’t.

But once a year the amusement park came to us. Dad usually “closed up” the business for two weeks in July to take our vacation then. When I was little, it seemed he waited until after July 4th to start the camping trip, so we’d be home for the holiday. If I was lucky, he’d find some odd jobs for me to do to earn money for the rides–weeding between the bushes, cleaning up the clippings after trimming them, catching up his invoice filing. At 25 cents per ride, the dollar or so I made didn’t go very far. I learned to choose wisely!

One activity that was NEVER part of our celebration was setting off fireworks. Never. Ever. Did not happen. Not even sparklers, and they aren’t even fireworks! It was Dad’s rule, and there was no exception to be made. When I asked why not, he said when he was growing up, he knew kids who had lost an eye from fireworks accidents. Kids can be careless, plus he didn’t trust they were assembled correctly/safely in the first place. He wasn’t going to risk having that happen to us.

He never told us who these kids were (not that we would have known them!), but I don’t think he was making it up. If his only reason was that he didn’t think they were safe, he would have left it at that. He wouldn’t see the need to manufacture a story on top.

Fair enough. He had his reasons. I countered with, “You can set them off, and we’ll stay way back.”  It seemed a reasonable compromise. That wasn’t going to happen, either. Then he’d tell the story about the time Grandpa Haws (his dad) bought a roman candle to set off. I guess he didn’t let his kids get fireworks, either! Somehow they had convinced him it would be fine if he was in charge of it.

My dad & his siblings were thrilled! Until it got lit. Apparently the roman candle was packed incorrectly, and instead of going up, it went sideways, around the house, completely out of control, until it burned itself out. That sealed it for my dad. No fireworks.

Occasionally I’d revisit the sparklers option. “Come on, Dad, sparklers don’t go up in the air. Nothing can happen.”

“You wave them around, someone isn’t watching, and something bad happens. No.”

I gave up. I was not going to win that battle in this lifetime. I also recently learned from my mom that when they lived on Adams Street (before my time!), they walked my older siblings over to watch the Fourth of July fireworks at Robbins Park. Apparently one or more of those (supposedly professional?) fireworks misfired, landing on a neighboring house roof. Mom & Dad hustled everybody home, and that was that. I’m sure that after that, fireworks at Disney parks were the only ones Mom & Dad ever saw in person!

So, fast forward several years. It’s 1970 or 71. Dad increased the summer vacation to four weeks, and now we usually left before the 4th. My three oldest siblings were out of the house, and it’s just my brother Bill & me, and Pepper (our dog). And of course, Mom & Dad. We were headed to Colorado, towing our Fan travel trailer behind the car. We stopped for gas (the good old days, when a car pulling a trailer got 10 MPG!) and restrooms. At the corner of the station was a fireworks booth. We might have actually been in a state where they were even legal! Bill, over 18 at this point, walked over and purchased some. I don’t know how much he bought, or what the cost was. Dad saw him walking back from the booth, carrying something, and said, “That’s not coming in the car.”

“I don’t know if he’ll give me my money back.”

“You should have thought of that, before. It’s still not coming in the car. And we’re leaving soon. Take care of it.” No raised voice, no drama, just very matter-of-fact.

Bill had no choice but to go back to the guy, who I’m sure watched/heard the exchange. He wouldn’t refund Bill’s money, so Bill threw the fireworks out, and the vacation continued. Apparently we settled for fabric fireworks:

1970 Disneyland Bob Chris Bill
Bill & me in 1970, at Disneyland, on Teeter Totter Rock on Tom Sawyer Island. Pants that should never be forgotten! I’ve got my mom’s old Brownie camera around my neck. Bill has his camera in the camera case. The “yellow” thing in his hand must be a map of the island.

In case you’re wondering, no, my dad did not get more permissive with his grandchildren. They never had fireworks–or sparklers–around him, either! And yes, Bill gave me permission to tell this story–though the photo was a last minute inspiration. While I can’t tell you what Bill’s fireworks policy was with his own son, my kids were as deprived of fireworks as I was.

#52Ancestors

Black Sheep

Or maybe just a lost lamb?

When the prompt list came out at the beginning of the month, I was REALLY glad this was scheduled at the end of it! I had absolutely no idea what I could write about. Here we are, weeks later, and I’m still clueless.

You already heard about my witches (Misfortune), so that’s old news. To my knowledge, there are no horse thieves, bank robbers, con men, suffragettes, or “working girls” lurking in the tree, either. Was/is everyone perfect? Certainly not! But several factors conspire against me:

  • Neither side of the family tended to air “dirty laundry”–and especially not around the kids! Apparently, at 60 I’m still a kid . . .
  • Some situations probably qualify . . . but they still have people attached to them. Maybe not the direct person, but close, nevertheless. These aren’t necessarily my stories to tell, particularly if someone might be hurt by it. Off limits.

So what to do? Who to write about? My brain kept looping back to my Granduncle Leo (middle, above). He was a younger brother to my grandmother, Victoria. I don’t like the label of “black sheep” for him. Maybe a little gray. But mostly, he was a guy who, for whatever reason(s) seemed to have a tough time of it. I’m choosing him, but hope you remember it’s not the best fit, and he wasn’t a bad guy.

Dorothea & kidsThis photo is the clearest, and you can see he was fairly good looking . . . and had a much better hair deal going on than most of his brothers! Unfortunately, I don’t really know much about Uncle Leo. I never met him. I never heard his name until I started doing the family tree (Start). Even then, it was with a shake of the head and a, “We don’t really know what happened to him,” said with regret, not shame or disappointment in him. Most relatives who knew him personally aren’t alive to talk about him anymore. Dad and his brothers are gone. My mom doesn’t recall ever meeting him. My dad’s cousin Fred, almost 86, and smarter than two of me put together, probably knows the most. Much of what I know about Leo, I learned from Fred in the first place. I’ll try to link what I’ve heard with the little bit of paper trail I could find. Paper trail, first.

He was born Leo Matheau Schweiger on Christmas Eve, 1896, the eighth child out of eleven, with two of his older sisters dying before he was born. He was baptized either at the new Sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka, or at the family’s former parish, St. Joseph in Wilmette. Older and younger sisters were baptized at each place, but I don’t know about him. He grew up above the family butcher shop, later a restaurant, on Park Avenue in Glencoe. Presumably he attended Sacred Heart Catholic Grade School, like his older siblings, but he continued on to complete four years of high school¹ like his younger brothers. He would later develop Type II diabetes, like his mother and sisters, Victoria & Rose (not sure about the other siblings).

Schweiger boys on fence
Leo at far right, hard to see with the exposure. It looks to me like he’s having a good time, though! Circa 1908

My timeline for Leo includes:

  • 1900 census, age 3; in Glencoe with parents²
  • 1910 census, age 13; in Glencoe with parents³
  • 1918 WWI draft registration, age 21; in Glencoe with parents, working for a livery company (probably a driver, like below)4
  • 1920 census, age 23; in Glencoe with parents; chauffeur, garage5
  • 1930
  • 1935–on 1 April, living with his sister, Rose Rau (according to 1940 census) ¹
  • 1936–in December he applied for a Social Security number 6
  • 1940 census, age 43; in Wilmette with his sister, Rose; clerk, drug store.¹
  • 1942 WWII draft registration, age 45; living in Glencoe; clerk, drug store. Contact person is his sister, Elizabeth (not Rose!)7
Schweiger siblings
All the siblings, a different day. Not the best image. Once again Leo is in the center. It’s interesting the boys are in the same order as before, but the girls change it up a bit. Possibly their mother’s funeral (31 October 1932). Al lived in New York, so probably didn’t get in often.

On the whole, it’s not a bad timeline–except for the noticeable gap in 1930–technically 1920-1935. I cannot find him anywhere in the 1930 census. He’s not living with his mom and the other unmarried siblings or his married siblings. A very fuzzy search (first name, first 3 or 4 letters and a wildcard for “Schweiger,” and a range for his birth year) in the 1930 census turns up nothing. I swapped in his middle name. Still zip. His Social Security Number yielded nothing, either.

So, what about that gap? I don’t have a solid answer for that. Uncle Leo would drop contact with the family for a stretches of time–maybe that was one of them. When I emailed Fred with questions about the blog for Aunt Rose (The Maiden Aunt) he related this story:

“Leo deliberately separated himself from the family in about 1940 was found on “skid row” with a bad diabetic wound, she was contacted by the welfare agency.  She and Joe took Leo in, nursed him back to health, and found him a job. Unfortunately, a year later he disappeared once more and never was found again. “

The 1940 census has Leo in Rose & Joe’s house in 1935 and 1940, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was continuous. He applied for a Social Security Card in 1936, so he was working. Maybe something happened after that point. The rest of Fred’s story fits, with Leo getting back to Rose & Joe before the census. Why he’s moved out by 1942, I don’t know. Was there a falling-out with Rose? Other stories I heard implied Leo had problems with alcohol. Was he not following some “house rules” regarding behavior and self-care? If he moved out simply to be independent, why wouldn’t he have used Rose for his contact person? Maybe I’m reading too much into it?

I doubt we will ever know what happened to Uncle Leo, and that’s a shame. From everything I heard, he sounded like a really nice guy–when he was taking care of himself and making better choices. I don’t know what demons distanced him from a family that kept trying to be there for him. I hope he’s remembered–and knows he’s remembered–for his good points–not his shortcomings.

#52Ancestors


¹1940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Wilmette, e.d. 16-297; sheet 6A; household number 95; line 16; Joseph RAU household; accessed 25 June 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 43; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 782; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 1172; sheet 11B; dwelling number 188; family number 193; line 97; Ignatz SCHWEIGER household; accessed 2 April 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 3, December 1896; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 293; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 57; sheet 9A; dwelling number 168; family number 169; line 27; Ignaty[z] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 29 April 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 13; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 239; digital image, Ancestry.com) (https://www.ancestry.com).

4“U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.ancestry.com), Leo Matthew SCHWEIGER, serial no. 107, registration no. 9, Draft Board #3, Cook County, Illinois; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: NARA microfilm publication M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library Roll No. 1504112; accessed 20 November 2017. Registered 5 June 1918.

51920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 119; sheet 27B; dwelling number 543; family number 561; line76; Ianatz [Ignatz] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 26 June 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 23; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 361; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

6“U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 29 June 2018, citing Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007, (index only); dated December 1936. Entry for Leo Mathew SCHWEIGER, SS no. xxx-xx-xxxx.

7“U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942”, database, (https://www.ancestry.com), Leo Matthew SCHWEIGER, serial no. 1183, order no. not given, Draft Board 3, Cook County, Illinois; citing World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Illinois. State Headquarters ca. 1942. NARA Publication M2097, 326 rolls. NAI: 623284. The National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. U.S.A.; accessed 9 June 2018. Registered 27 April 1942.

Photos and labels from Fred Schweiger.