Adventure

“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
― Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

The stock market crash in October, 1929, plunged the United States into the Great Depression and impacted everyone in some way for the next ten-plus years. When I started doing genealogy, my dad recalled a visit his family received from two Nachtwey boys—distant cousins from his dad’s side of the family.

Elizabeth Nachtwey was my grandfather’s paternal grandmother. She was born in Germany and came to the United States with her husband John Haase (later changed to Haws), settling in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Apparently she had one or more brothers who also settled in Wisconsin. The story my dad told about Chet (the one name my dad remembered) and his brother was that they were traveling around the country, visiting family while they “worked on the family’s genealogy.”

It was a good cover story, and scored the boys a couple nights free lodging and a few meals at every house! According to my dad, his parents “encouraged” the young men to move on after a couple days. My grandparents were barely able to keep sufficient food on the table for the six of them, much less extended houseguests!

My dad was only a kid, but I imagine he remembered their visit because it would probably have been an “FHB” (Family Hold Back) situation. That was the code the kids got when there really wasn’t enough food to accommodate extra (especially if they were unexpected!) people. The family needed to take smaller first helpings, and forego second helpings, in an attempt to have enough food for the visitors.

As far as I know, no paperwork was left at the time, or arrived afterwards, from the Nachtwey boys (pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc.). I have no clue about how “successful” they were with their project. Nor do I know how they traveled from one place to another. Since they weren’t working, a car seems unlikely, so maybe bus, train, or hitchhiking? I really don’t recall if my dad mentioned anything about it, and he’s not around anymore to ask.

So, who was this Chet and his brother, off on an adventure to track down extended family during the depression? Searches for “Chet” came up dry, but I found a “Chester Peter Nachtwey”¹ that seemed likely. I learned² he was born 6 April 1909, and died 28 August 1992. The birthdate put him in his 20s at the right time. The Social Security Applications and Claims Index³ identified his parents as Edward Henry Nachtwey and Mabel J. Allie, corroborated with the 1910-1930 censuses.4

Further research showed me his father, Edward, was a son of John Joseph Nachtwey and Mary Margaret Gillen. John Joseph was the oldest son of Anton Nachtwey and Catherine Platten. Anton was my 2nd great grandmother’s next older sibling. That made Chet and my dad 3rd cousins, with Chet being a 3rd cousin once removed to me.

That all sounds beautifully simple, but reaching that conclusion was a little more complicated than it might appear. Anton and Catherine decided to name their three oldest boys:

  • John Joseph (usually went by Joseph, but sometimes John J.)
  • John Henry (seemed to go by either John Henry, or just John)
  • Henry

Talk about confusion! So as I researched this family this week, I was checking records for Edward (Chet’s dad) and his siblings, to be sure I had everyone attached to the appropriate family. I think I have it correct, though I did see a tree at Ancestry.com attaching Edward to Henry (rather than John Joseph)—which I really don’t think is correct.

But, back to Chet, my adventurer. He had an older (by 3 years) brother, William, and a younger one (by 5 or 6 years), Floyd. I don’t really know which one he was traveling with, but Floyd seems to be a little young to be galavanting around the country in the early 1930s. So William seems the more likely choice, though I have no proof of that.

Nor do I know where Chet headed after he left Deerfield. Nachtwey is not the most common surname! My searches turned up families in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, that I haven’t fully connected (though Floyd did move to Minnesota!). Of course, there are the girls, too, who would lose the Nachtwey name upon marriage. I corresponded in 1999 with a descendent living in New York. Then there was a large contingent that moved to Washington state (Seattle and Spokane) by 1909. Chet had plenty of people to visit—and that doesn’t even start on his mom’s family, or the female lines of earlier generations!

Imagine my surprise when I ran across a 1935 ship’s passenger list with his name on it! Clearly he was even more of an adventurer than I initially thought. He sailed from Cobh, Ireland, 13 October 1935, apparently alone. Why he went there, I don’t know. His mother’s maiden name was Allie, but all I know about her parents was that both were born in Wisconsin. Perhaps there was some Irish in her ancestry? Or maybe he just wanted to travel there.

Some time between October 1935 and the 1940 census, Chet married and moved to California. Once again, he surprised me. Moving to Spokane, where there were other relatives living, would have seemed more logical, but no, he chose California. Again, I have no idea why, but he owned a dry cleaning shop in 1940, and had squeezed in a year of college some time prior to 1940. In Wisconsin, he’d worked at the lumber mill, and the 1940 census listed his “usual” occupation as “waiter,” so I’m not quite sure how he got involved with dry cleaning.

He raised a fairly large family in Los Angeles (at least six children, with a couple more who died as infants), and died there in 1992. While wandering through the records, I spotted a newspaper clipping from 1960 or 1962 that had been uploaded by someone. It had a photo of his family in front of a camper, along with an aunt and uncle or a sibling (the owner of the camper). It seems the ten of them were heading out together on vacation, and it made the paper. Chet obviously still had a sense of adventure, even after “settling down” with a family! Unfortunately, I didn’t grab the image at the time, and I’ve been unable to relocate the image today so I could nail down the details.

Note to self: SAVE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT!

This week has been a bit of an adventure for me, too, as I researched a family line I really hadn’t looked at. There are still MANY more Nachtweys for me to ferret out—Anton had a LOT of descendants, and I’ve barely touched the tip of that iceberg! He and Elizabeth also had additional siblings I need to follow through on. In addition, I have at least one DNA match from this line, so I really should contact that person.

So, yeah, not quite done, yet . . .

#52Ancestors


¹”Chet”, En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chet.

²Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index”, database, Ancestry.com,(https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 15 October 2019, entry for Chester P. NACHTWEY, SS no. 468-10-9496.

³”U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007″, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 15 October 2019, citing Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007, (index only); dated 4 Jan 1971 and 23 June 1982. Entry for Chester Peter NACHTWEY, SS no. 468-09-9496.

41910 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Forest, Wabeno, e.d. 29; Page 14B; dwelling number 228; family number 235; line 71; Edward NACHTWEY household; accessed 15 October 2019. Chester NACHTWEY, age 1 1/12; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1710; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Forest, Wabeno, e.d. 90; Page 7A; dwelling number 114; family number 117; line 47; Ed NICHTWEY household; accessed 8 October 2019. Chester NICHTWEY, age 10; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1987; digital image, Ancestry. (https://www.ancestry.com).

1930 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Forest, Wabeno, e.d. 21-16; Page 5B; dwelling number 95; family number 105; line 83; Edward NACHTWEY household; accessed 15 October 2019. Chester P. NACHTWEY, age 21; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2570; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

At the Library

“When in doubt, go to the library.” —J. K. Rowling

Like any genealogist, I have put in time at many libraries. As a fledgling genealogist in the mid-1970s, my first guide book (Searching for Your Ancestors by Gilbert H. Doane, if I remember correctly) would have come from our local library. I think it was the lone geneology title on the shelf! Everything I knew about researching came from that book, until I received a paperback copy of Finding Your Roots by Jeane Eddy Westin for Christmas in 1978 or later. That book still sits on my shelf, non-acid-free pages yellowed with age.

Flipping the pages was a stroll back in time. I saw the parts I underlined (who used highlighters back then?) and paused at the section talking about Chicago’s Newberry Library. I knew the “LDS Salt Lake City Library” (as Ms. Westin referred to what we now know as the Family History Library) was not in my future. I did not live where my ancestors had, so “local records” were not nearby. Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was far enough away (3 hours) that a trip wasn’t really feasible. But the Newberry Library was only a half hour away, and would have more resources than a local library or historical society.

So somehow I managed to con persuade my dad to make a trip to the Newberry with me one Saturday. I knew my parents wouldn’t let me venture into the near north side of Chicago on my own! When we walked into the library, it was obvious that I was the youngest person in the building. My dad, in his early 50s, may have been the next youngest! I knew I had only a few hours there, so needed to make the most of it!

I do not have a research log from that visit. I was a teenager — I didn’t know any better. But I remember looking through the card catalog for anything about Manitowoc County. I’m pretty sure the stacks were closed, so I had to fill out a request slip and wait for them to retrieve the books for me.

While waiting, Dad and I went into the microfilm room to look for census records from Manitowoc County. With two of us there, we could cover twice the films, right? Of course, neither of us knew what we were doing! I found a couple reels for 1880 and we set to work looking for John Bruder¹ and family, and John Haase and family. You met some of them in The Old Homestead.

We knew they were in Manitowoc county, and knew some town names to start with, but it was still a page-by-page project. We learned the joys of cranking the microfilm handle, pausing to scan the page, then repeat. Luckily, neither of us experienced motion sickness, as some do!

I probably don’t still have the notes from that day, having transferred them to Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts. But the lessons learned that day have stuck with me. Things I had only read about, became glaringly obvious:

  • Spelling is flexible. For Haase, I found:
    • Hoss4
    • House
    • Hasse
  • For Bruder, I found
    • “Brother” (yes, “Bruder” translated to English!)
    • “Rinder” in the 1870 Ancestry index (name misread by the indexer)
  • First names were not exempt!
    • Johann Mathias: Mathias, John, Johann, or John M.
    • Elizabeth: Elisabeth, Elisbeth, or Lisabeth,
    • Nicholas: Nicklas, Niclaus
    • Catherine can be “C” or “K”, with or without the “e” in the middle, and even “Katy”
  • Age is relative! As long as the gaps between children were consistent with what I expected, I learned to roll with it. And adults were given wide latitude with their ages, too.

I quickly realized I could not rely on reading last names, and needed to look at the entire family — parents and kids together! The kids’ names weren’t particularly unusual, but the odds were low that, even if the last name was wrong, there probably weren’t two families with Elizabeth, Dorothy, Frank, Bertha, John, and Henry (or whoever) in the right order, with the right age gaps. That probably was the beginning of my learning to “trust my gut” about whether the person or family is “right.” Sometimes the leeway or accommodations I allow are greater than others, and people whose names might seem very wrong, are very right, and people with the “right” name are so very, very wrong! It’s an art, not a science, and not infallible.

So after cranking through the 1880, 1870, and 1860 censuses, we returned to the reading room to see if the books I’d requested were waiting. That was when I learned my next lesson: Farmers are not written about in the county histories! To me, the mid-1800s seemed “early,” but when History of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin Volume I talked about the pioneers, it meant the early 1800s. I headed to the chapters for the towns the Haase, Bruder, Jost, and Nachtwey families lived in — no mention of any of them.

Another memory from that trip, was seeing my first plat maps. I’m not sure how I found them, but I remember seeing names I recognized. Those may have been in another book. One thing I did not come home with, was photocopies — of anything — not even the census pages. All that information was written down in old school notebooks! At the time, copies cost fifty cents a piece! College expenses were looming, and I did not have a “genealogy budget.”

As so often happens while writing a blog post, I learn something new. This time I discovered it can be harder to find census records online, than cranking through the physical microfilm! Looking for Bruders in 1870, I couldn’t find them. I knew they were there, and I could find the FamilySearch image, but not the Ancestry one. The two databases have different indexes, and Ancestry misread “Bruder” as “Rinder.”³ It took some creative searching to locate it, and then a helpful cousin with an Ancestry subscription (thanks, Barb!) to confirm it was the right page. Searching online databases is faster only when the names are indexed correctly!

As I verify information, I sometimes find gaps in it. I realized I’d never located the Haase family in 1880. I finally found great-great-grandma Elisabeth, misspelled Hasse, with the three youngest kids.² My great-grandfather, Frank (b. 1858) is not with them, however. I can’t find him anywhere. He doesn’t marry Anna Bruder until 1885. Presumably he’s nearby, working for someone else — though he could be in another county, too! It looks like I need to do a page-by-page search online for him.

So many dead people, so little time, and always more questions than answers . . .

#52Ancestors


¹1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth, e.d. 66; Page 12; dwelling number 104; family number 108; line 3; Mathias BRUDER household; accessed 3 February 2019. Mathias BRUDER, age 45; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1434; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, e.d. 78; Page 13; dwelling number 112; family number 112; line 25; Lisabeth HASSE [HAWS} household; accessed 3 February 2019. Lisabeth HASSE [HAWS], age 55, widowed; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1434; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers Town; Page 19; dwelling number 134; family number 139; line 10; John RINDER [BRUDER] household; accessed 2 February 2019. John RINDER [BRUDER], age 33; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).4

4 1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers Town; Page 15; dwelling number 108; family number 113; line 6; John HORS [HOSS] household; accessed 2 February 2019; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

Mother’s Day

Not always the warm fuzzy we’d like it to be.

I have an uneasy relationship with Mother’s Day, for a variety of reasons. It’s not that I don’t think mothers should be celebrated or honored. I had a great mother (still living, at age 96), four wonderful adult children, and five grandchildren, who I dearly love. But the holiday itself just makes me uncomfortable.

I first noticed it as a child, with the blessing at the end of Mass on Mother’s Day. All the mothers were supposed to stand up, but my mom didn’t. She wasn’t Catholic, and rarely went to Mass with us. To me, it seemed unfair that she didn’t get the blessing–she had certainly earned it, having to put up with me! As I got older, I decided God would take care of blessing her, even if she wasn’t there.

Then I grew up, got married, and had children. I came in contact with other women who

  • were having difficulty getting pregnant
  • had miscarried
  • had stillborn babies
  • had lost a child (Cemetery)
  • had lost custody of/contact with their child

So even as I stood in church, squirming child in my arms, sometimes not so thankful I was a mother (come on, we’ve all had days/weeks/months like that!), I would notice the women not standing. My heart would ache for them, not necessarily knowing the reason. Truthfully, every year it was harder for me to stand, not because I was ashamed of being a mother, but because it seemed like salt in the wound for the known and unknown women who were hurting–whether or not they were standing. I didn’t want my kids freaking out about, “Why isn’t Mom standing!?!?!” so I always stood. I seldom do, now, though.

With genealogy, I find these wounds regularly. Miscarriages won’t be recorded–because few of them are ever known beyond the mother and father. Stillborn children and those who died young I always include on the tree as I learn of them. Even if they are unnamed, they need to be remembered and mourned. One of my dad’s cousins had three daughters . . . and also three sons who died at or shortly after birth. The generations coming up need to know about those branches that got pruned too soon.

I remember looking through the Kreuzeber, Thuringen, Germany, microfilm church records for the mid-1800s at a Family History Library (Film 1193951 Item 1 DGS film #007768336). My great grandfather, John Haase, and his wife, Elisabeth Nachtwey, were born there, married, and had at least one child before emigrating to Wisconsin. I had located the specific events I needed for them, then started back at the beginning. I scrolled through Births, Marriages, and Deaths for each year, looking for other Haase and Nachtwey family.

I found the names of John’s parents, and at least one brother. But it was a small village, so I assumed anyone with those surnames were likely to be a relative. My plan was to print the pages with a Haase or Nachtwey record, then I could bring them home and sort out the people. Unfortunately, the “sorting out” phase is still waiting to be done . . .

As I scrolled through, I jotted notes to myself, so I knew which pages to print later. Capital “H” and “N” are fairly easy to pick out, even in funky German script, so I could cover a decent number of pages each time I went to the library. One afternoon I was tooling along when I let out a pretty audible, “OH!” Half a sigh, like air being let out of a balloon. I quickly glanced around to see if anyone was giving me the evil eye for being noisy. Fortunately, no one was.

I had just found the death record for a very young girl. It was the mid-1800s, so not a terribly unusual occurrence. But I had just seen the birth record for this girl. For whatever reason, that particular day, finding her death record left me feeling sad, and wondering about the mother.

How did she cope with her loss? Did she think about this little girl, or try not to? Is she happy that a complete stranger (me) is now acknowledging her child’s brief life, and mourning its loss, even after more than 150 years? Does it give her satisfaction knowing her child will always have a spot in at least one persons’s family tree? I don’t know, but I hope so. I hope that mother can rest easier knowing someone besides herself remembers and mourns her child.

Mother’s Day. It’s a little trickier than flowers and chocolate.

#52Ancestors

The Old Homestead

Be it ever so humble . . .

I have lots of old homesteads in my life:

  • 2 houses in Glencoe, IL, built by Edward M. Haws (Grandpa)
  • 1 house in Deerfield, IL, also built by him
  • the house in Manitowoc, WI, where my dad was born
  • numerous houses in Northbrook, IL, lived in by my mom and her extended family members
  • the Nolan farmhouse in Smiths Creek, MI, from Mike’s family
  • assorted houses in Port Huron, MI, belonging to the other side of his family
  • 2 houses Mike grew up in, in Detroit, MI, as well as his grandmother’s
  • my parents’ 2 houses
  • my own 2 houses

I have recent photos of them all, but today’s winner is the farmhouse in Kossuth, WI–between Manitowoc and Francis Creek. My great-grandfather, Frank Haws, and his wife, Anna Bruder, lived there until 1932, or so, when they sold it and moved to a “house in town” in Francis Creek. It had been in the family since 1850, though.

Haws farmhouse new

Former Haws farmhouse, 6604 County Road Q (New Q), Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It’s north of Shoto Road, and just south of the intersection where the north end of Old Q connects with New Q, on the west side of the road. This photo was taken by my parents in 1999. My dad’s cousin (who grew up in the area) drove with them to find it. Google Maps street view shows the house still there in 2013.

The property was first owned by Nicholas Jost, who purchased it from the government in 1850:

1850 08 10 JOOST Nicholas land description

description of the land parcel purchased by Nicholas Joost [Jost], 10 August 1850: “the South East Quarter of the North East Quarter of Section twenty five, in Township twenty, North of Range twenty three, East, in the District of Lands subject to sale at Green Bay, Wisconsin, containing forty acres,”      https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=WI1410__.187&docClass=STA&sid=l42wzwfj.cni#patentDetailsTabIndex=1

The 1872, 1878, and 1893 plat maps of the area (see snips below) show the property transferring from Nicholas Jost, to John M. Bruder, to Frank Haws.

scan0017

Haws farmhouse in the 1920s, maybe? Frank Haws is probably the man in the hat (by right corner of the window), and Anna Bruder Haws is probably the woman sitting nearest the door. The two young women (standing) are probably grand aunts, but I’m not sure which ones.

1872 kossuth plat map

1872 plat map. The red box is around the N. Jost (hard to read) property described above. The green arrow points to the dot/square showing where the house is located on the property. The double line winding to the right is “Old County Q”–a road that is still there. http://www.2manitowoc.com/1872pl14.html

1878 kossuth plat map

1878 plat map showing the house still there and the property now owned by John M. Bruder. Old County Q is visible. http://www.2manitowoc.com/1878plt14.pdf

1893 Kossuth plat map snip

1893 plat map. The house is still there (green arrow), as is Old Q. Frank Haws now owns the property. http://www.2manitowoc.com/1893plt13.html

Nicholas Jost is found on the 1850 census.¹ I can’t tell if he’s living in this house when the census was recorded, since the land purchase was later than the census date. In 1860, he’s hard to find because his last name was written “Jose” and indexed as “Jase.” The 1870 census² lists his son, Mathias, as the head of household, with Nicholas living there as well. Nicholas still owns the property according to the 1872 plat map, but by the 1880 census, John Bruder is the head of household, with Nicholas (his father-in-law) still living there.

Of course, the 1890 census (mostly destroyed in a fire) provides no help, but Frank is in the house by 1893. I probably need a road trip to Manitowoc to help me nail down the exact transfer dates, but each one is well before the death of the previous owner.

What I find most curious, though, is that the property does not transfer down through the sons, as one would expect. Both transfers are to the spouse of a daughter. Nicholas’s daughter, Elizabeth Jost, was married to John M. Bruder, the next owner. It wasn’t

part of her dowry (if they even did that), because John & Elizabeth married in 1860–long before they acquired the property.

Why didn’t it pass along to her brother, Mathias? While he did work the farm at the time of the 1870 census, he moved his family to Marathon County after that. Why he didn’t stay around and wait to inherit, I don’t know.

Anna Bruder, one of John & Elizabeth’s daughters, married Frank Haws in 1885. That’s twenty years before her father’s death, so the property wasn’t an inheritance. The 1885 Wisconsin census³ still lists John Bruder in that neighborhood, so it wasn’t a dowry/wedding present for her, either. She had four brothers, all living to adulthood. Why were they passed over, for a son-in-law? I have no idea.

While several of the western states (Wyoming, Montana, Utah, among others) granted extensive rights to women long before the rest of the country, Wisconsin was not on the forefront for that. So I find it interesting that this family seemed to depart from the norm, and wish I had a better explanation for it. I’ll keep an eye out for anything that might give me some insight, but won’t hold my breath. Even so, it’s nice to see the old farmhouse still in use, even if it has left my family’s possession.

#52Ancestors


¹1850 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Manitowoc Rapids; Page 44 (written); dwelling number 207; family number 213; line 18; Nicholas YOST [JOST] household; accessed 21 March 2018. Nicholas YOST [JOST], age 54; NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 1002; digital image, FamilySearch Record Search (https://familysearch.org).

²1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth; Page 13; dwelling number 92; family number 85; line 2; Mathias JOIST [JOST] household; accessed 21 March 2018. Cathrine JOIST [JOST], age 35; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image, FamilySearch Record Search (https://familysearch.org).

³Wisconsin State Census, 1885, Manitowoc, Kossuth; page 4 (center top), line 6; J. BRUDER entry; accessed 21 March 2018. digital image, FamilySearch Record Search(https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6DH7-CS9?i=49&cc=1443713 free); citing State Historical Society, Madison.

Lucky

Luck. Is it random? Or do we make our own?

I don’t consider myself particularly lucky. I don’t gamble in casinos, play the lottery (though I DO pick up discarded lottery scratch-offs, occasionally scoring an unclaimed winner!), or have any relatives winning the Lotto–and offering to share. I don’t know any relatives who missed the “Titanic” or “Lusitania”, either. What to write about?

My two hour walk this morning provided ample time to ponder the question. As usual, while I wandered, so did my mind. It occurred to me how much luck is actually involved with our existence. More than once, while researching and recording information for one of my nth-great-grandmothers, I’ve thought how perhaps her most important accomplishment was simply raising my ancestor to adulthood. Some of these great-grandmothers buried half of their children, so it was harder than we may want to think about.

Not that she would have really thought much about it. Her life was a daily routine, busy with taking care of the house, cooking, cleaning, growing vegetables, sewing clothes, etc. Kids were simply part of the equation. But with cholera, typhus, whooping cough, measles, diphtheria, and plain old bacterial infections (no antibiotics or immunizations then!), raising children to adulthood was not a given.

Yet, if she hadn’t kept that particular child alive, history would be changed. “Little H” history, not History. That child would not have been around to marry his/her spouse, and NONE of the people down that line would be here–most notably, me! So you would be sitting there, reading a cat blog, instead of this one–unless you happen to share that ancestor with me. Then you wouldn’t be here, either. Don’t forget to multiply that bit of luck for each generation between, because a broken link anywhere along that line changes everything that follows.

Then my mind wandered over to my genealogy research. Losing all my grandparents at a young age certainly wasn’t lucky, but fortunately I started while I still had grandaunts and granduncles on all four branches, who patiently answered my questions (see Start). They gave me a solid base of information. Naturally, all my charts were on paper–there was no “online” back then. My dad drove me to the Newberry Library one Saturday, and we cranked through I don’t know how many reels of microfilmed census records. Otherwise, everything else was done by snail mail, and without original documents.

I got married. Mike really had no interest in genealogy, so my the paperwork lived in one box. One. Okay, I’ll wait till you finish laughing. With only five vacation days per year, he wasn’t interested in visiting courthouses (I could sneak in a cemetery once in a while), nor did he want to spend half of his weekend at the Indiana State Library looking through microfilm–or sit at home, alone, while I did. Kids came along, leaving so much time for genealogy! All I did for twelve years was to slide into the top of the box any information I received from relatives. I didn’t “do” anything with it, but I knew where it was, and it was safe.

Then my daughter decided to do the 4-H genealogy project, figuring it would be pretty easy, since I had lots of information. Out came the box, and shortly afterwards I acquired my first software: Family Tree Maker 3.0. Transferring from paper to software was a slow process, but reacquainted me with the people I’d neglected for so long. Now there was email, so contacting relatives was easier than before. Rootsweb mailing lists were in their heyday, so I learned about repositories in the areas I researched (Wisconsin, Illinois, Alsace, Germany), without the expense of travel.

In 1999 I saw a message from a Katherine Rueby, Roschester, NY, with a surname in the signature: Nachtway.  One of my great-great grandmothers is Elizabeth Nachtway, who emigrated from “somewhere” in Germany. I contacted Katherine and learned she is a descendant of Elizabeth’s younger brother, Anton. Not only did she know all about Elizabeth and her husband, John Haase, but she knew they came from Kreuzeber (now Kreuzebra), Germany AND could tell me the specific LDS microfilm numbers the church records were on!

It was midnight, everyone in the house was asleep, and I was bouncing up and down in my chair, alternating between silently cheering and screaming. It was magical. You’d have thought I’d won the lottery. Twice. I really didn’t keep in touch with her afterwards, but I am so grateful for the huge chunk she took out of that brick wall! Nor was Katherine the only distant relative I’ve come across unexpectedly. It’s a little rare on mailing lists, but I’ve got a boatload of DNA matches to process through–when I can find the time!

I’ve clearly benefited from the best of both worlds. By starting early, I learned what I could from my grandparents’ generation while they were alive. Surprisingly, the unintentional break in research wasn’t actually a negative. With the difficulty in finding records, and lack of discretionary funds, it’s not likely I would have made much progress during that time, anyway. When I resumed, the digital age was starting up, and hasn’t slowed down. The access to original document images from home (or the library) is invaluable. As my dad would say, “Timing is everything.”

I’ve also realized I have good instincts when researching; sort of a “Gibb’s gut” for genealogy! I’m careful not to leap to conclusions, but sometimes something just “seems” right–or wrong–and further research usually confirms it.

Hmm. Maybe I’m luckier than I thought? And yes, there’s more than one box, now.

#52Ancestors