Sister

“When traveling life’s journey it’s good to have a sister’s hand to hold on to.”–unknown

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Christoph Jacob Meintzer, my grandfather, was the youngest child of his father, Christian Meinzer (Colorful). Christian had thirteen children all together: four with his first wife, Maria Elisabetha Weidmann (Cause of Death), then nine more with his second wife, Sophia Gaertner (My Favorite Photo). As the youngest of the nine who lived to adulthood, my grandpa had nieces and nephews older than he was!

Of the nine, only three were boys, so Christoph had six sisters! The two oldest (his half sisters) were Lizzie & Kate, and I’ll be focusing on them. They were well into their twenties when Grandpa was born. I always knew they were his half sisters, but he never focused on that distinction. Was he as close to them as to some of his other siblings? Probably not, but I think it was likely due more to the age gap than the “halfness.”

Both girls were born in Dehlingen, Bas-Rhin, Alsace. Lizzie’s (Marie Elisabeth’s) birth record1 (click on Accepter button, if you click through to see the image!) showed her mother to be a couturière—a seamstress or dressmaker. When she emigrated in 1881 (Elise, age 17), the passenger list2 showed her as also being a seamstress! I find it curious she developed the same skill as the mother who died when she was only two.

Elizabeth married John Ahrens 9 March 1885. Unfortunately, Illinois had no state census after 1865, so I can’t see if she was still working as a seamstress when she got married. By 1900 she had five children, so employment was not an option!

Elizabeth Meintzer Ahrens (1963-1945). This is an undated studio photograph. The prop in her hands (Abel’s Photographic Weekly) was published between 1913 and 1934, so presumably the photo was taken in that window. The image can’t be enlarged enough to read the date on the cover. The pleated top and skirt suggest the 1920s, placing her around age 60.

According to the census records, LIzzie and her husband rented in Chicago, in what might be considered the Irving Park neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. It wasn’t terribly far from her siblings, but far enough not to be able to visit easily or frequently. She was widowed in 1919, and around 1930 ran a grocery store—a small, neighborhood one, I imagine—assisted by her daughter, Josephine. It seemed one or the other of her adult children were usually living nearby.

By 1935, she’d purchased a home in Norwood Park, a little closer to her siblings, and lived there with her son, William, until her death. When Lizzie died 20 November 1945, the Illinois Bell Telephone operators had been on strike for a day, already. The strike ended by the 26th, but it complicated her funeral. Her siblings could not be reached by phone to be told of her death and what the funeral plans were. Her children mailed penny postcards with the information, but those weren’t delivered quickly enough to get the information in time. Her sister Sophie felt bad about missing her sister’s funeral on 23 November.

Younger sister, Catherine (Kate), was barely nine months old3 when their mother died. She was sixteen when she emigrated,2 and had no occupation listed at that point. In Favorite Name we got a glimpse of “Kitty” marrying George Warren in 1890. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what she was doing for the nine years in between. Did she live at home? Was she working somewhere? Or was she employed as live-in help in someone’s home? No answers to those questions.

In the 1900 census, Kate was running a boarding house in West Town (a west side Chicago neighborhood) with her two young children, along with five lodgers. She was listed as married, but George was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know what became of him. I couldn’t find him:

  • elsewhere in the 1900 census
  • in a death record (despite her listing as “married” for her entry)
  • in a divorce record (though it seems Illinois doesn’t have divorce records online)
  • on Find-a-Grave (obviously not all headstones are recorded there!)

Nevertheless, Kate married Morton N. Smith in St. Joseph, Michigan, 2 October 1904.4 The marriage register indicated Kate was living in Hammond, Indiana (right around the corner) and Morton was living in Blue Island, Illinois. St. Joseph was a common “marriage mill” for the greater Chicago area, because it avoided the Illinois 3-day wait rule. Morton was listed as never married, with Kate having one prior marriage. Presumably her marriage to George ended officially!

Kate, Morton, and her children go missing in 1910. While her son may have been old enough to be on his own, daughter Mabel was only 15, so a little too young for that. I didn’t find them in Illinois, Indiana, (prior residences) or Ohio (where Mabel got married in 1911). In 1920, their oldest grandson, Walter (age 7), is living with them in Chicago, but they are alone in 1930, shortly before Morton’s death.

Kate Meintzer Warren Smith at the 1930 Meintzer reunion. Not the best scan, but it’s hard to get a good one from a group photo like that. I don’t really have any other photos of her, that I know of.

Now widowed, she continued to live in the Chicago area. My mom remembered as a teenager, Aunt Kate visiting, and hearing Kate Smith (the singer) on the radio. They all thought it amusing that “Kate Smith was listening to Kate Smith on the radio!” I believe there was also a time when she had moved in with my mom and her parents. Later on, Kate moved up to stay with Carrie, a half sister, in Rondout, Illinois. She was living there at the time of her death in 1949.

This week has taught me that even though I was familiar with these two sisters, there were still a lot of unanswered questions with them. Some details got filled in, but many more questions remain. It was good to take the time to fill in some of those gaps. Maybe I need to schedule a road trip to research records not available online to fill in the rest?

#52Ancestors


1“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1863, p. 7, no. 20, Marie Elisabeth MEINTZER, 20 December 1863; accessed 7 August 2019.

2“New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), citing Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, NARA Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. Records of the U.S. Customs Service; Record Group 36, Roll #437. National Archives, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Entry for. Elisa MAINTZER, entry number 496, line 9, list number 661; accessed 8 August 2019.

3“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1865, p. 3, no. 5, Catherine MEINTZER, 11 March 1865; accessed 7 August 2019.

4“Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 11 August 2019, citing Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics,1903 Wayne – 1904 Chippewa, film number 80, record # 935. Morton N. SMITH (38) and Catherine WARREN (37).

Legend

Just because we can’t “prove it,” doesn’t mean it isn’t true . . .

One of the enduring genealogy myths is that of the “three brothers.” It generally goes along the lines of three brothers emigrating to America, each one heading in a different direction once here, with one of them never heard from again. While it conveniently explains brick walls in our trees, there’s really no basis in fact. Yet, it persists!

My Meintzer line does have three brothers, but only one ends up in the United States. That would be my great grandfather, Christian (Colorful). The next younger brother, Heinrich (1834-1909) remained in the Alsatian village of Dehlingen. His descendants continued to live in the area, with some still living in the family homestead.

The youngest brother was Philippe. He never married, and died relatively young. The legend surrounding him is that his mandatory military service was done in Rome “at the Pope’s.” Supposedly he walked to and from Rome, and later died from a disease he got while there.

The parents of the three boys were Christian Meintzer (born in Volksberg in 1806) and Catharina Christina Isel (Jesel), born in 1809, in Dehlingen. There is a four year gap between Christian and Heinrich, and six years between Heinrich & Philippe. It’s possible Christina may have had miscarriages in those intervals. We know she gave birth to a daughter, Christina, 3 February 1840, who lived only 4 days before dying 7 February. The “tables décennales ” (10-year tables—an alphabetized index of a decade’s worth of births, deaths, and marriages) don’t point us to any other children for this family.

But back to Philippe. We find his birth documented in the civil records the day he was born, 13 December 1841 (no. 29).¹ I can’t post the image here, but the link will take you to that image on the “Archives Departmentales” (Department Archives) of Bas-Rhin website. You need to click the “accepter” button towards the bottom to accept their terms of use and see the image. It’s in French. His parents are listed, along with their ages, birth places, residence, and occupation. Similar information is recorded for the required two witnesses, with signatures for them, as well as the maire (mayor) who recorded the event. No real surprises are in the entry.

The only other vital record in the village was for his death, 28 April 1871 (no. 6).² Philippe didn’t make it to his thirtieth birthday. His occupation was “cultivateur” — one of many terms that could be used for someone working in agriculture. He was not married, and his parents’ names and ages confirm we have the right man. Both parents were still alive at that time. His father, Christian, and brother, Heinrich, also had the occupation of “cultivateur,” and reported the death to the maire.

No mention was made of Philippe’s cause of death—or for any of the other deaths on the page. That’s consistent with what I found with Elisabetha Weidmann Meintzer’s death record, and that of her son, Christian, Jr. (Cause of Death). Apparently it still wasn’t considered important to record, six years later. It’s very inconvenient! You would think the civil authorities would have been more concerned about something like that. It seems he arrived home and was able to work for at least a period of time. If he arrived home so sick he couldn’t work, I doubt they’d have included an occupation for him.

Supposedly, France has excellent military records. Unfortunately, they aren’t easy to locate if you aren’t on-site. Some are coming online, but it’s random as to which Departments have them digitized. It takes time. All young men were required to serve in the military. According to the French Military Records³ site, young men needed to register between their 20th and 21st birthdays. Looking at my great grandfather’s (Philippe’s oldest brother) discharge papers, Christian served about 3 years—from 1854-1857. That doesn’t mean he didn’t report between 1850 and 1851, they simply may not have needed him right then.

So presumably Philippe reported between 13 December 1861 and 13 December 1862. He is, in fact, still at home for the 1861 census,4 but is missing in the 1866 census.5 The next available census is 1880—nine years after he died. While we are fortunate to have reproductions of my great grandfather’s discharge papers, with no descendants, I don’t imagine anyone thought it necessary or important to keep Philippe’s. Until I can manage a trip to Alsace, with a visit to the archives, I can’t pinpoint his service dates better than that. I see no reason he would have been able to escape the mandatory military service, however.

What about the rest of the story? When I think of “military” and “the Pope,” the Swiss Guard immediately springs to mind. Unfortunately, Philippe was neither Swiss, nor Catholic. That branch of the family has a long history of being Lutheran. I doubt the Swiss Guard would have made an exception for him!

Digging a little deeper, one learns there were other military forces associated with the Vatican. One difficulty is that some of them disbanded, or morphed into a different structure, so it’s difficult to nail down who he would have been assigned to. Wikipedia mentions (under the”Papal Military” heading) the Papal Army (1860-1870), containing Italians, Swiss, Irish, plus “artillery and dragoons” (not specifying where those men came from). An international Catholic volunteer corps (Papal Zouaves) was another group formed in 1861 to defend the Papal States. It had a strong French influence, despite the many other nationalities participating. That could be a possibility.

No, I haven’t forgotten that he wasn’t Catholic, but the Second Empire still favored Catholicism, so it’s possible he was sent to Rome, regardless of his beliefs. Unfortunately, unless or until I can obtain access to the military registers, I cannot be more specific than those suggestions. It’s possible there were other, smaller units that simply have been forgotten about.

What about the walking? The distance from Dehlingen to the Vatican is 725 miles. That’s 250 miles longer than the Camino de Santiago—which people walk regularly, and about 1/3 of the Appalachian Trail—another busy route. Google maps tells me it takes 249 hours on foot, so it might be doable in about a month? While an undertaking of that sort rarely crosses our minds, today, back then it was probably more common, particularly for the infantry!

While I am unable to confirm all the details of this legend, nothing I discovered left me with the impression it was impossible, or even unlikely. I can’t imagine my Alsatian cousins would make up a story like that, or get the story so wrong. Philippe’s brother, Heinrich, lived until 1909. While most of Heinrich’s children were born after Philippe died, or were very young, it seems like Philippe was talked about and remembered by that family. Here in the States, we didn’t hear the story of him until 1994, but obviously someone had kept his memory alive! For that, I am grateful.

#52Ancestors


¹”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1841, p. 8, no. 29, Philippe MEINTZER, 13 December 1841; accessed 4 July 2019.

²”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de décès (Death Registers) 1871, p. 3, no. 6, Philippe MEINTZER, 28 April 1871; accessed 4 July 2019.

³Morddell, Anne. 2010. “French Military Records – Les Recensements Militaires”. The French Genealogy Blog. https://french-genealogy.typepad.com/genealogie/2010/04/french-military-records-les-recensements-militaires.html.

41861 census of France, canton Saare-Union, arrondissement de Saverne, Bas-Rhin, p. 5, no. 39, family 48, person 215, Chrétien MEINTZER household. Chrétien MEINTZER, age 54; accessed 4 July 2019; digital image, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, (archives.bas-rhin.fr).

51866 census of France, canton Sarre-Union, arrondissement de Saverne, Bas-Rhin, p. 5, no. 40, family 50, person 213, Chrétien MEINTZER household. Chrétien MEINTZER, age 59; accessed 4 July 2019 [Philippe absent from home]; digital image, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, (archives.bas-rhin.fr).

Frightening

Being frightened can be fun, but sometimes . . .

Last week I told you about Elisabetha Weidmann’s death, but I held back a bit of the story, knowing this prompt came right after. I left out the part about her oldest son, Christian (1860-1865), dying shortly after her. You see him on the tree snippet in last week’s post.

Christian Meintzer, Jr.’s death record immediately follows (No. 19) his mother’s on the register page. He was 5 years, 2 months old, and died eight days after his mother (13 December). As with her record, no cause is provided. It would seem likely he would have died from the same thing as his mother.

The family story is far more interesting, though, and we hear it from both sides of the Atlantic. Sophie Meintzer Kranz mentions it in her narrative, as does her daughter, Anna Kranz Schultz, retelling her mother’s stories. We also hear it from the relatives still living in Dehlingen—descendants of Christian Sr.’s brother, Heinrich.

Supposedly, after Elisabetha died, five-year-old Christian was hanging around the cemetery, watching while townsmen dug his mother’s grave.

Now, before you get outraged at that thought, those if you who are baby boomer and older (and children of early baby boomers) need to remember how we grew up: we were scooted out the door after breakfast, expected to be seen for lunch and dinner, and that was it. Hanging around the house, you ran the risk of getting saddled with extra chores—housework, yard work, or both!

I’m sure Dehlingen in 1865 was not much different. At age five, Christian probably knew almost everyone in town. Even if he didn’t, everybody undoubtedly knew him and who he belonged to. I don’t have my Dehlingen map handy, but there’s only a couple streets, and the cemetery is close by, so yeah, I can see him out there, watching.

Supposedly the guys digging the grave had the brilliant idea to give him a scare. They picked him up and put him in the grave (not the coffin, just the empty hole), with some comment along the lines of “trying it out” or “seeing what it was like.”

Nice guys, huh? Those of you who read regularly know I make a point not to pass a lot of judgement on ancestors mostly because I don’t know the whole story. I’m breaking that rule this time. Those guys were jerks.

I raised four 5-year-olds and have known many more. I know how they can pepper you with endless questions until you are ready to scream. I certainly don’t know if Christian was doing that, but even if he was, that’s no excuse. The kid’s mother had just died—cut him some slack! It was neither the time not the place to play a joke.

Anyway according to the family story, he died, days later, of fright from that incident. Did he really? Who knows? While people can die of fright, we usually associate it with heart failure caused by the sudden shock. That seems unlikely with a 5-year-old—in my mind, at least.

On the other hand, the mind is very powerful; it can heal us, or make us ill. A 5-year-old can have a very vivid imagination, so who’s to say that event didn’t put a worry into his head that shouldn’t have been there? Since this story can’t be debunked as easily as Napoleon (Colorful), we’ll keep it documented.

And I’ll throw out the caution: “Don’t try this with your kids or grandkids, please!”

#52Ancestors

Cause of Death

Sometimes the death we mourn is part of a bigger picture.

Elisabetha Weidmann is my great grandfather’s first wife. She’s not really related to me, not genetically, at least. But she is the mother of my grandfather’s half siblings—my half aunts—so I keep track of her. A snippet of her tree is above.

Thinking about it, if she hadn’t died when she did, Christian Meintzer probably wouldn’t have married Sophie Gaertner, so I wouldn’t be here. I guess she’s more important than I thought!

Anyway, this prompt made me think of her. My brain couldn’t quite recall if she died of typhus or typhoid, so I figured I needed to nail that down.

Before getting to that, I looked up what they both were. I was operating under the assumption they were different names used for the same thing—like consumption and tuberculosis. Wrong!

While the two share some similar symptoms, they are actually quite different and spread in different ways. This website: What’s the Difference Between Typhoid and Typhus? (republished with permission of Passport Health) can explain it better than I.

So I looked in my database and discovered I don’t actually have a cause of death listed for her. Hmm. So I checked my two Doris Wesner books, Alsatian Connections and Dehlingen im Krummen Elsass, finding nothing there, either.

Back to the Archives du Bas-Rhin website for Elisabetha Meintzer’s death record on 5 December 1865. You’ve wandered through those records before with me. Lo and behold, cause of death isn’t found there, either! At least, not that was easily discernable.

Maybe it is hidden in the record, but I did not have the time to do a full-blown transcription and translation of it right then. I’ve looked at enough of these records, though, to be familiar with the pattern and to know where to look. I could have missed it, so if someone sees it, please let me know!

I even checked nearby records, none of which seemed to have a cause of death. That’s when it hit me: a lot of people died that November and December! Dehlingen is a small town. Even at its peak, it probably didn’t crack 1000 residents. The earlier months that year seldom had more than one death—if that!

Then November and December show up with 5 and 6 deaths, respectively (plus one in late October) . . . something was ripping through the town, that’s for sure! There were 22 deaths that year, total, so the other 10 were spread out over 9 months.

So where did I get the mistaken typhus/typhoid dilemma from? Possibly from a handwritten narrative from my grandaunt, Sophie Meintzer Kranz. She wrote that her older sister, Christina (b. 1867, d. 1876), died of typhoid fever. Christina Meintzer’s death record doesn’t list a cause of death, either, but Sophie was 8 at the time—old enough to remember. Even if she didn’t know the specific illness right then, there was ample time for her to ask her parents later what her older sister died of.

As I go through my documents, organizing them so my children don’t curse me after I’m gone, I may find something else confirming Elisabetha’s cause of death. Until then, I’ll assume she caught whatever ran rampant through the town in late 1865. My guess is typhoid fever, again, since it seems to me to be more easily transmitted.

But whatever the cause, the last two months of 1865 were tough for a lot of families in Dehlingen.

#52Ancestors

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.

Misfortune

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.”—Washington Irving

Every extended family has misfortune of one sort or another, somewhere along the line:

  • failed crops/losing the farm or house
  • illnesses/accidents
  • women dying from complications of childbirth
  • infant/child deaths
  • marital discord
  • loved ones not returning from military service

The family lines I research are no different. As a researcher, it’s my responsibility to record and document what I find. Sometimes, though, the information is of a “sensitive” nature. I’ve learned to put on my “Sargent Joe Friday” hat to record “the facts” and keep my opinions and biases out of it–not get caught up in the drama, and hopefully not create any! It’s certainly not my job to judge. Hopefully I succeed.

But I am not merely a researcher–I usually am part of that family in some way. As such, I must be mindful of the people involved or affected by the event or situation, and not sacrifice feelings or privacy in my zeal for “the truth.” The need to temper how information is handled might be because

  • the event is very recent, and people haven’t healed
  • it might be embarrassing–and the people involved (or very close) are still alive and would feel hurt
  • it really isn’t my story to tell

On occasion I will put notes in a private area, so I don’t lose track of the information, but keep it out of general circulation. More often, I simply record it, but not draw attention to it. If it’s noticed by someone, I can discuss it with them, perhaps providing more explanation and context. Time and distance provide perspective, and as time goes by, the sensitive topic generally becomes less touchy.

While I can find at least one example of each of the misfortunes above, I’m going to drop back 300+ years to Alsace (NE corner of present-day France). That should give us LOTS of perspective! The year is 1673, and Alsace is still comprised of kingdoms, duchies, and whatnot. While my ancestors lived in Dehlingen, Lorentzen, Waldhambach, Berg, and other small villages in Bas-Rhin; Diemeringen was the location of the local lord. As such, it is where trials would have been held, and punishments meted out.

Genealogist Robert Weinland (an 8th cousin, once removed, I believe) put together a web page for his genealogy in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, my original link broke, though the information can still be accessed via the “wayback machine” at Internet Archive: (copy and paste this 2007 link)

https://web.archive.org/web/20070827184109/http://www.robert-weinland.org:80/sorc.php?lang=en

Though further searching turned up his current web page at this address (you may need to run Google Translate on it):

https://www.robert-weinland.org/sorcellerie/

In the section listing the people “beheaded and burned near the gallows” on 16 October 1673, three of the six listed are direct ancestors of mine:

  • Ottilia [Bach], widow of Carl Ensminger,
  • Margaretha, wife of Anstett Hemmert,

and (my favorite, but don’t tell the others . . . ),

  • Walburga/Walpurga [Eberhard], wife of Johannes Koeppel

Two 9th great-grandmothers, and one 10th great-grandmother. Why is Walburga my favorite? She was the first one I learned of. Just like a first kiss or a first love, the first witch is something special. I love Otillia & Margaretha, too, but they are just extra icing on the cake.

Their death record in Diemeringen (transcribed and translated at the bottom of Robert’s web page) simply records the deaths, giving no information regarding the charges against any of them. I don’t know if any court-type records survive in Diemeringen that could shed light on the events leading up to these people being accused and found guilty. All three were older (thankfully, or they would’t be direct ancestors!), and surprisingly had adult children, and husbands (except for Ottilia) alive at the time of their execution. Generally, those accused of witchcraft were more likely to be alone in life and not have close relatives who could protect them. It seems a little odd mine were singled out, despite having family. Interestingly, one of Walburga’s sons was the maire (mayor) of Dehlingen later on, so clearly it didn’t impact his reputation negatively.

The consensus now is the Salem, Massachusetts, witch accusations were baseless–caused by anger, fear, or jealousy, and “confirmed” by atypical behavior by the accused. Some of the behaviors could have simply been eccentricities (hey, some people like dancing naked in the woods during a full moon!), or physical (epilepsy?) or mental (schizophrenia?) illnesses that were unknown, not understood, or treatable at the time. It’s unlikely accusations in the “old world” were much different. I seriously doubt they were casting any spells on people or things.

Am I upset or embarrassed by my witches? Heavens, no! While I am not “proud” of them, I’m certainly not bothered by them, either. They had the misfortune of being out of step in some way with the rest of the local society, and suffered for it. So I love my witches–all of them. Hopefully at some future date, no 9th-great-grandchild of mine will be embarrassed by my eccentricities or (figurative) warts . . .

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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”.

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