Rich Man

“I don’t care how poor a man is; if he has family, he’s rich.” – Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford, “Identity Crisis,” M*A*S*H

I’ve frequently mentioned that I come from a long line of peasants. Nothing has changed regarding that. No tycoons are hiding in the branches of my family tree!

Further thought brought to mind two situations where the person might have seemed rich–or generous?–at least by comparison.

My maternal great grandmother, Elfrieda Jonas, was born 7 December 1867, to an unwed mother, somewhere in Germany. Nope, I don’t even know her mom’s name! Elfrieda emigrated in 1884. Or maybe 1885? As far as I know, no siblings or family members traveled with her.

She married Carl Moeller in Chicago, 25 September 1887. Supposedly Elfrieda worked for the Krieger family in Glenview, prior to marriage.

Family lore suggests Carl and Elfrieda knew each other in the old country, but that location hasn’t been confirmed for either. They may have traveled on the same ship, though that’s a mystery, too, as I have multiple emigration years for each! Their backstory is a bit of a hot mess.

Regardless, the newlyweds moved to Shermerville, living first above the cheese factory, later buying a house on Church Street (below). It’s clearly a 2-story house in these photos, and my grandparents, Chris and Minnie, lived upstairs until at least the 1920 census. Mom says the house was lowered, later on.

Now, granted, it’s a good sized house, but not particularly ostentatious. Great grandpa Carl worked in the brickyard, 1900-1930, and later worked as a flag man for the railroad–basically raising and lowering the crossing gates. He owned his house in 1930, but they certainly were not a wealthy family!

Yet Elfrieda was known to have sent money to someone in Germany, presumably that unknown (to us) mother. Elfrieda’s mother likely would have been born around 1852, or earlier; I don’t know when she died. Presumably Elfrieda started sending the money soon after she first arrived, and continued through the years they had young children, and more expenses than spare cash.

Surely Elfrieda might have seemed rich to her mother, since she was able to send money back home! I wonder if Elfrieda felt the same way?

The second situation involved my grandaunt, Sophie Meintzer Kranz. When Sophie emigrated in 1881, she was 13. She was old enough to remember Dehlingen, her friends, and the family (aunts, uncles, and cousins) left behind.

When she married Edward Kranz, and embarked on the daunting task of raising their many children (11!), she did not forget her early roots. Their house on Sycamore, in Des Plaines, was a large farmhouse, as they would have needed. Of course, large doesn’t mean fancy or expensive!

I imagine hand-me-downs were as common in that family as they were in my own; a necessity for financial survival. When Sophie ran out of children or grandchildren to pass clothes to, they were shipped back to Dehlingen. How do we know that?

When the Meintzer descendants on both sides of the Atlantic reconnected in the 1980s, after decades of silence (initiated by WWII occupation of Alsace), several trips were made back to our ancestral town.

One of Sophie’s great granddaughters, Pat, made the initial contact, and visited with her mom, Arline, and her aunt, LaVera (sisters), at different times. When the photo albums came out, the sisters each recognized winter dress coats they had worn as young girls!

They probably never knew what happened to the coats once they’d outgrown them, but obviously their grandmother included them in one of her shipments. Yes, plural. When I was confirming that story with Pat, she elaborated further:

Yes that is true!! I was told by the older ladies like Albertine and Lina S***** that it was always a wonderful day when a box came from Aunt Sophie. They said this more than one time. They said the clothes were used but still had wear in them. On one of the visits to Dehlingen we were in Lina S*****’s house having coffee and Kuchen (it may have been when LaVera visited with me) and Lina brought out a black dress from the 1930’s that she said was sent to her by Aunt Sophie. I thought she was handing it to me to give to me, but she just wanted to show it to me. It meant so much to her after all those years, that she still wanted to keep it.

Email from Pat Weisel, 6 November 2019

Clothes boxes clearly happened more than once or twice, and were greatly appreciated! Sophie could have just as easily donated the clothes locally, saving herself the expense of shipping. She took the extra time and effort to put them in the hands of people she knew, and who would make good use of them.

I don’t think Sophie sent the clothes to show off, or make anyone feel bad. She remembered that Dehlingen was a small village, with fewer shopping options. Travel to a larger town would be necessary for any kind of selection. Even Des Plaines of the 1920s and 1930s (far less built-up than now) would have had more shopping choices that were easier to get to.

There’s also the satisfaction of knowing the clothes we’ve loved are being worn by someone we know, rather than a stranger. Most of us have passed around maternity and baby clothes to newly-pregnant friends for similar reasons.

Elfrieda and Sophie weren’t rich in terms of dollars and cents, but they recognized opportunities to help others, when they could. They knew that despite the miles, family was still family and could always use support. These are traits I see continuing 4 and 5 generations after them.

However, if you are (or know of) a rich uncle of which I’m unaware, feel free to let me know!

#52Ancestors


1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield Township, e.d. 1176; Page 2A; dwelling number 14; family number 16; line 8; Charles [Carl] MOELLER household; accessed 11 August 2018; NARA microfilm publication T623; roll 294; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

“Illinois, Cook County Marriages 1871-1920”, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Family 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 Elfrieda JONAS (19).

At the Cemetery

“Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and
epitaphs.”―William Shakespeare, Richard II

Any genealogist worth his or her salt has accumulated an extensive collection of cemeteries. We spend an inordinate amount of time traipsing around them, searching for the names, birth and death dates, spouses and children of our elusive relatives. We come out with ticks; flea, chigger, and mosquito bites; twisted ankles; sunburn; poison ivy (if we are really unlucky); and dirty fingernails from pulling back the grass from the headstones so we can photograph them.

Despite all the energy expended, we don’t necessarily find the information we were hoping for! Sometimes the headstone is missing—or so worn it may as well be gone. Sometimes the people aren’t actually there. No, we don’t always know where the bodies are buried! Sometimes the headstone is there . . . and also in another cemetery . . . because the family couldn’t quite decide/agree about where the person should be buried.

Cemeteries come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to have their own personalities, too. That’s mostly a function of how old it is, where in the country it is located, and the type of headstones or monuments placed in it. An above ground cemetery in New Orleans feels much different than a colonial cemetery in Massachusetts, or a prairie cemetery in Illinois. One isn’t necessarily better or worse—just different!

Then there are cemeteries with split personalities. You know, the ones parked right next to each other, pretending to be two cemeteries, but you know deep down it’s really just one cemetery with two different halves. It’s a lot like your college dorm room with the roommate you barely got along with. There may not have been masking tape down the middle of the floor, but there may as well have been. One half was “yours” and the other half wasn’t—and you really needed to stay off that side!

I have one of those cemeteries in my family; Mooney/St. Mary on  Ridge Road, Highland Park, Illinois, just north of Deerfield Road. In Chicagoland, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a “St. Mary Cemetery” somewhere. Unless you are very careful to distinguish one from the other, people will be confused about which one you mean. Even though Mooney/St. Mary is across the county line, in Lake County, it’s close enough that you still want to be careful. Consequently, one usually hears the combined name used.

St. Mary is obviously a Catholic cemetery; Mooney is not. I have people buried in both. Each has a road that loops into the cemetery and back to Ridge Road. The two loops aren’t connected, but there’s also no fence separating the two properties. I learned about them in the mid-late 1970s, and have been there several times, though my first photos weren’t taken until October, 1996. On the St. Mary side, I have:

  • Stephen Charles Meintzer, second cousin, a twin who died at birth on 5 January 1947. He’s on a headstone with his parents (my godparents)
  • Willard Charles Meintzer, Mom’s cousin, 12 September 1922-6 November 1981  and
  • Lois E. Palmer Meintzer, 20 July 1923-12 September 2004.
Willard Charles Meintzer, 12 September 1922-6 November 1981; his wife, Lois E. Palmer Meintzer, 20 July 1923-12 September 2004; one of their twins, Stephen Charles Meintzer, died at birth, 5 January 1947. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.

Heading over to the Mooney side, we find:

  • Jacob Meintzer, (Willard’s father) 12 February 1876-24 August 1949 (Bearded and Nature)
  • Caroline Frances Trute Meintzer, (Willard’s mother) January or March 1886-9 October 1929    and their 2nd youngest son
  • Lowell H. Meintzer, April 1914-8 February 1939, in California, from TB
Jacob Meintzer, 1876-1949; and wife, Caroline Trute Meintzer, 1886-1929. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.
Lowell H. Meintzer, 1914-1939; son of Jacob & Carrie. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.

Along with Jacob’s oldest sister, 

  • Sophie Meintzer Kranz (Valentine), 3 May 1868-12 December 1963, her husband
  • Edward M. Kranz, 1 February 1855-23 March 1939, and one of their sons
  • August Albert Kranz, 17 June 1899-16 June 1999 (yes, the day before his 100th birthday!)
Edward Kranz, 1855-1939; wife Sophie Meintzer Kranz, 1868-1963; son August, 1899-1999. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.

And another sister,

  • Carolina Meintzer Kranz, 20 January 1872-20 February 1965, her husband (Edward’s brother)
  • Adam Henry Kranz (In the News), 1 April 1863-2 April 1955
Adam Henry Kranz, 1864-1955; and wife Carolina Meintzer, 1872-1965. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.

Lastly, we find the parents of the three of them

  • Christian Meintzer (Colorful), 3 April 1830-28 January 1922 and
  • Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (My Favorite Photo), 17 August 1842-7 September 1913
Christian Meinzter, 3 April 1830-28 January 1922, next to wife. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.
Sophia Gaertner Meintzer, 16 September 1842-7 September 1913. Photo taken 1996, Christine Bauman.

Even when we think we know where our people are buried, cemeteries like to surprise us! When Lois (my godmother) died in 2004, I was at a point in life where I could actually get up to a funeral with minimum disruption to our household. Mike ran point on parenting the children still at home, and I drove up to my parents’ house. My cousin Janice (who lived closer, but had younger kids) was at Lois’s Funeral Mass with her young daughter, and went to St. Mary Cemetery for the graveside service.

We chatted a bit after the service, and I casually mentioned that our great-grandparents, Christian & Sophia, were buried in the “other” cemetery. Janice had no idea, so we decided to walk over so she could see. There’s no fence separating the two cemeteries, remember? We found the headstones easily enough, and I was explaining that Aunt Sophie & Aunt Carrie were also nearby. As I did a sweeping motion and turn to indicate they were “somewhere over there,” my eyes landed on Catharine Smith—Aunt Kate (Favorite Name)—on the other side of the drive. Surprise!

“Oh, look! Here’s Aunt Kate. I didn’t know she was here, too!” Granted, “Catharine Smith”¹ isn’t the most unusual name in the world, but fortunately her second husband was named Morton—far less common! Even without having her birth and death dates handy, I knew it was her.

Catharine Meintzer Warren Smith, 11 March 1865-29 April 1949 and 2nd husband Morton N. Smith, 6 November 1865-15 June 1930. Photo credit L. Winslow on Find A Grave.¹

Just like people, cemeteries have histories, too. As I was writing this, I got to wondering about the two cemeteries; how they started and how they are related, since they are literally “joined at the hip.”

Mooney Cemetery started in 1899,² when the old St. Mary’s of the Woods church (near Green Bay and Lincoln), and the churchyard around it, were sold for development. The church was abandoned when the congregation relocated in 1872, and no one was really keeping up the cemetery. With the property sale, remains had to be removed and relocated. John Mooney retrieved the remains of his father (James, who died in the 1850s) and other family members, and reinterred them on a section of his land on Ridge Road. He allowed others to add their family members. Mooney Cemetery was born. The land was officially surveyed in 1907.

A similar plat map was created for St. Mary Cemetery in 1908, when John Mooney transferred land south of Mooney Cemetery to the Archdiocese of  Chicago, retaining Mooney as a private cemetery. It remained private until 1960, when Cecilia Zahnle Mooney deeded the property to Deerfield Township (now Moraine Township).

Apparently, the record-keeping for Mooney was a bit of a mess. It consisted of typed index cards (undated), with notes overwritten (undated), sometimes with a contradictory index card (ALSO undated!). The original plot sales were recorded at the county seat (Waukegan), but later transfers were not. Attempts in the past to confirm grave locations and ownership had questionable success, and lots sold more recently have sometimes had to be reassigned when it was discovered they were already occupied!

The grave markers don’t necessarily provide much help, either. Tombstones (if present) were haphazardly placed—sometimes at the head of the grave, sometimes at the foot, and not always exactly lined up with the grave. For new burials, they use a special rod to determine if a vault is already below the grave they intend to use. During the winter that process can take all day—undoubtedly due to frozen ground.

A Winter 2010 Township Newsletter asked residents to bring in original deeds, so the records could be updated with hopefully more accurate information. By the Summer Issue 2010,³ they were talking about bringing in an expert to examine the property (ground-penetrating radar?) to determine what was going on beneath the surface.

I couldn’t locate any later articles to see what the results were,  but they seem to be making an effort to straighten out the burial records. Both cemeteries seem nicely kept up, so I’m happy some family members are there. I’m also glad I took a little time to find out more about both cemeteries. It’s nice to know the backstory of people’s final resting place.

#52Ancestors

Note: St. Mary is managed by the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries. On that website, it is listed as “St. Mary.” If you look at Find A Grave, they list it as “St. Marys” (no apostrophe). Other writers may add in an apostrophe. I chose to use the spelling of the Archdiocese, which is consistent with the name chiseled on the rock at the cemetery entrance (viewable in Google Maps street view)—which isn’t necessarily an old marker! Even if others weren’t consistent, I wanted to be.


¹Find-A-Grave, database, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 1 June 2019, memorial 23770538, Catharine SMITH, (1865-1949), Mooney Cemetery, Highland Park, Lake, Illinois.

²”Mooney,” Talk of the Township, Winter Issue 2010, online posting of article at the Moraine Township, Illinois web site. (https://www.morainetownship.org/super/CemMooney_article.html)

³”Mooney,” Talk of the Township, Summer Issue 2010, online posting of article at the Moraine Township, Illinois web site. (https://www.morainetownship.org/super/CemMooney_article.html)

Out of Place

“Being lost is worth the being found.” -Neil Diamond

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ancestors and family members end up “out of place” for a wide variety of reasons. It seems mine have have used a good many of them. Sometimes it makes them difficult to find; other times it makes them impossible to locate!

Sometimes we don’t know to look somewhere else until we find their children’s birthplaces. The Kranz brothers (grand uncles, Ed and Adam) hid out farming in Iowa for about six years (In the News). Without later census records showing the Iowa birthplaces for some of their children, I’d never have thought to look there, though. The rest of their lives had been spent in the Chicago area.

The census isn’t always a help, though. I still haven’t located Uncle Iggy Schweiger in the 1920 or 1930 census records (Bachelor Uncle). It just occurred to me that his brother, Leo (Black Sheep), is also AWOL in the 1930 census. Had the brothers thrown in together for a time? Maybe. There’s no family lore to support that, but it might be possible. Of course, Uncle Leo decided to mix it up a bit, by breaking off communication with the family some time after 1942. That is definitely a time-honored way of being “out of place.”

Residing in a different, but nearby, town also makes people hard to find. I knew Jacob Meintzer (my 3rd great grandfather’s brother in Ten) existed, and had a houseful of kids. He wasn’t living in the same town as his brother, though, so it wasn’t until I accidentally ran across him in a neighboring town in the Alsatian census that I could piece him together, better. Whether he emigrated with his family to the Odessa region of Russia is still up for grabs, as is the possibility of later generations emigrating to the Dakotas. His line is still a little bit lost.

A fairly complete database of Civil War soldiers and sailors exists (with that name), so you would think Mike’s Kukler ancestor (Family Legend) would be there. Nothing found under Kukler, nor any of the other surnames married into that line. The military records coughed up a different Kukler — Frank E. — serving during/after the Spanish American War. I have no clue who he is and if/how he connects. So I have someone not where I’m expecting him and another who shouldn’t be in the records. Brilliant!

Sometimes we find someone out of place, but we don’t know the “why” that goes with it. Case in point: Christoph (Grandpa) Meintzer in Arkansas in the 1910s (So Far Away). There’s more to that story, but I don’t know what it is. Without his postcard from Arkansas, I wouldn’t even know there’s a story I’m missing.

Sometimes the “why” shows up later. I was puzzled by the marriage of John Joseph Carmody & Mildred Fitzgerald (Mike’s grandparents) 100 miles away from Port Huron, in Bay City, Michigan. They weren’t teenagers sneaking away from parents. They weren’t traveling to a place with easier marriage requirements. As I learned more about John Joseph’s involvement with transporting harness racing horses (Unusual Source), it made more sense. Numerous newspaper articles and ads had him busy during race season, shuttling the horses around. Of course he wasn’t in Port Huron! Getting married “on the road” may have been their only option, other than waiting until racing season was over. Two days after their wedding, it was announced in the Port Huron Times.

. . . Mr. Carmody went to Bay City this week to attend the race meeting and from there with his bride will go to Alpena.

“Carmody-Marshall,” 15 July 1921, Newspapers.com: accessed 20 September 2018, image number: 209880537; citing original p. 2, col. n.g, para. n.g, entry for Mrs. Mildred B. Marshall and John J. Carmody. Marriage license application notice below it in the column

Then there are the times when I lose my ancestors though my own fault — temporarily, at least — as I did when I misfiled the death certificate of my great-grandfather, Carl Moeller (Youngest). I came across it accidentally while looking for something else, but it was a wake-up call to me, reminding me I need to clean up my physical files. If I don’t know what I have, I don’t know what I need to look for, plain and simple.

Carl and his wife, Elfrieda Jonas Moeller, also ended up “out of place” through the fault of someone else on the Family Search tree (Challenge). Another user had incorrectly picked up Carl & Elfrieda as their similarly-named relatives, dragging my grandmother and her siblings into the whole mess. It took hours, but after confirming that the people they had blended with them were not correct (Drat! Those people had parents’ names!), I moved people around until the connections were correct. I hope they stay that way!

How do I avoid “out of place” situations? I can’t, unfortunately. But I can try to resolve them by:

  • Keep looking. Seriously, persistence sometimes pays off!
  • Search smarter. Use different spellings. Look for the kids. Use age and only the first name. Breaking out of the routine is sometimes effective.
  • Go page-by-page. Sometimes old-school and brute-force is the only way that will work.
  • Go on-site. Some records are not available online, so going in person is what needs to happen.
  • Give it a rest. New databases come online regularly. Sometimes I just need to tackle a different problem and give them a chance to show up.
  • Try a new database. Coupled with the one above, I think I’ve finally managed to acquire death and potential birth dates for Mike’s great-grandfather, Andrew Carmody. I wasn’t finding him in the others I searched.
  • Document everything. If I don’t know what I have, I don’t know where my gaps are.
  • Read every word for the evidence I have. Sometimes there are clues there that are more hidden. Picking just the low-hanging fruit may leave me missing the best!
  • Blog about it. Focusing on one person or family forces me to really look at what I know, and what I don’t know. I notice the gaps I have, and go in search of facts to fill them. Sometimes I find the answers I need, but if not, I still have organized my knowledge, and left myself a summary of where everything stands with that individual or family.
  • Read and watch. Blogs/newsletters/books and webinars. There are a whole lot of smarter/better genealogists our there. I’d be foolish not to learn from them. Sometimes it’ll be an entirely different approach, and other times they are telling me something I already know — but totally forgot about, and needed to be reminded of.

There’s no magic wand for any of this, but my “out of place people” don’t always have to stay lost.

#52Ancestors


In the News

Sometimes we’re in the news . . . sometimes the news happens around us.

I’ve written more than a couple blog posts with newspaper clippings at the heart of them — actual articles other than a perfunctory death notice or marriage announcement. Sometimes, though, the news isn’t about an ancestor, but is happening literally in their back (or front?) yard. This one falls into that category.

My grandfather, Christoph Meintzer, had eight older siblings. Two of his sisters (Sophie and Caroline (Carrie)) married two Kranz brothers (Edward Melchior and Adam Henry).

You’ve met Sophie, Ed, and at least some of their eleven children, in other posts. With that many children, there are a lot of stories! Carrie and Adam had a much smaller family — only three children. We’re going to focus more on them, this time.

With brothers sharing last names, it was common to refer to the Sophie/Ed family as “Des Plaines Kranz” and Carrie/Adam family as “Rondout Kranz” based on where they lived. In fairness, the Kranz families may have done something similar with the Meintzers — “Deerfield Meintzers,” “Shermerville/Northbrook Meintzers,” and so on.

Edward M. Kranz (left-age 75) and Adam Henry Kranz (right, age 66 ) at the 1930 Meintzer family reunion. Photo quality isn’t the best, because it’s coming from a large group photo. I don’t have any other photos of Uncle Adam, that I know of.

As young men, Ed & Adam had somewhat parallel lives for a while, despite their nine-year age difference. Ed and Sophie were married first (1885), in Chicago, but soon moved to Iowa to farm. Their first four children were born there.

In 1890, his brother, Adam, married Sophie’s sister, Carrie, in Iowa! Adam may have been there prior to that, but the marriage was definitely there, not in Cook County, Illinois. Ed signed the marriage affidavit and was the witness, and Adam and Carrie farmed nearby. Their first two children were also born there. Ed and his family moved back to the Chicago area some time between November 1892 and April 1893. Adam’s return window is wider, though it’s possible both families returned to the Chicago area around the same time.

This is where they diverge, with Ed settling in Des Plaines, and Adam going father north, to the Libertyville/Rondout area. Adam begins working for the railroad as a section foreman, and shows up with that occupation in the 1900 thru 1940 censuses. The older son, Raymond, is a clerk at the depot by 1910, and continues to work there, with a break for a year of military service, until 1940. The younger son, Clarence, follows in his father’s and brother’s footsteps. They are a railroad family.

The evening of 12 June 1924, put Rondout, Illinois, on the map forever. The Newton Boys staged what was the biggest train robbery to date — over $2 million — and it would hold that record until 1963! The train was carrying new Federal Reserve cash, as well as bonds and other securities, in its mail car. The train was forced to stop at Buckley road (just east of what’s now Exit 13 on the Tri-State Tollway).

13 June 1924 Woodstock, Illinois, Daily Sentinel, p. 1

It was a bold robbery, though they were all caught within a month or so. It had been an inside job, which explains why the haul was so good. Most of the money and securities were recovered, except for some that was buried. The outlaw was drunk at the time, and couldn’t recall afterwards where he’d buried it.

The story and subsequent trial made the news around the country. True Detective magazine ran a story in 1930 spanning two issues, detailing the heist, as well as the detective work to catch the outlaws. A PDF copy of both issues is available at the Internet Archive:

  • Part One starts on p. 32
  • Part Two starts on p. 60 You will have to “download” the PDF to read them, but you don’t have to actually save it.

Even decades after the fact, newspaper articles still popped up! The New York Times had one in 1982. The Chicago Tribune had at least two: one in 1991, and another in 1994.

So how did this news event impact Uncle Adam and his sons? I don’t really know. Fortunately, none of them provided the “insider information,” nor were they part of “the gang.” The robbery was north of town, so away from the station. If any of them had been on duty, that kept them safe from stray bullets (one of the robbers was mistakenly shot by one of his partners!). That time of day probably had fewer riders, so that would help keep injuries down — the only injury was to the one robber.

Did Uncle Adam or his sons come under suspicion, until they could get cleared? Did they have police or federal law enforcement interviews? Reports to file? Changes in procedures, afterwards? Who knows? Neither the station nor the track conditions (things for which they were responsible) were at issue, but you know how it is sometimes when things go wrong — everybody has to make changes!

Even though they were not directly involved, The Great Rondout Train Robbery probably impacted their lives, altering their sleepy little burg. I wonder if they ever talked about it, or just tried to forget about it?

#52Ancestors


First

I never thought my first genealogy software would help me so much!

A year ago, you heard my genesis story (Start) in genealogy. In the “good old days” (1975) all my records were on paper, namely:

I had pre-printed forms to fill in. They organized the information, but there wasn’t a lot of room on each page. I had enough sense to type, which was probably neater than hand writing. My parents’ Underwood portable typewriter — along with whiteout —were well used as I transferred my interview notes, letter responses, etc., to a consistent format. It was tedious, with ample opportunity to introduce errors (more about that later).

As you later read in Lucky, my daughter decided to tackle genealogy in the mid-1990s. Everything was unpacked after an eleven or twelve year break. I discovered the local library had Family Tree Maker 3.0 software to check out. I tried it out on my Compaq (Win 3.1) desktop, and decided it was worth converting my information to the computer.

Truthfully, I could have migrated to computer ten years earlier, with my Atari 1200XL. If you didn’t realize I am a geek, that cat’s out of the bag! Someone had developed genealogy software for Atari, but would require me to retype all my information, something not terribly feasible with a new baby. Data storage would have been a problem (remember how little 5 1/4″ floppies stored?), and I still would have needed to print everything out. Printer ribbons weren’t particularly cheap. So while we did use the Atari for Mike’s MBA research papers, finances, home inventory, and even a frogger-type game I found code for, I passed on genealogy.


The Atari 1200 XL. It needed a TV to do anything, plus an external disk drive and an adapter to connect an Epson NLQ (Near Letter Quality) dot matrix printer for any kind of useful output. 64 KB RAM and 16 KB ROM. No, those are not typos! Ah, for the good old days . . . Image linked from Wikimedia Commons, attribution Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

So Family Tree Maker 3.0 became my FIRST genealogy software, and I started the process of retyping all my information. Had I used the Atari software, I still would have had to redo data entry because the file formats were different. It was a slow process, but it allowed me to reacquaint myself with everyone. I also realized the benefits of entering each piece of information only once.

Earlier I mentioned the risk of introducing errors. Maintaining the tree entirely on paper means a person’s information is typed between one and three different times:

  • on the pedigree chart (if they are a direct ancestor)
  • on the family group sheet as a parent (if they are one)
  • on another family group sheet as a child (if the parents are known)

If they married more than once, that’s another sheet to type. Plenty of opportunity to

  • misspell a name
  • mistype a date (birth, marriage, death)
  • mistype a location

If I later realized a piece of information was wrong, I needed to remember ALL the places (sheets) that information might be typed on, so I could correct it. Miss any, and I’d have conflicting information confusing things. Software allows me to type each piece of information only once. Each chart, form, report, or screen view is generated on the fly, using that single piece of data, so everything is consistent. Can I make a mistake? Certainly! But one correction will take care of it.

Paper didn’t provide much space to document where information came from. I could type a citation on the back, but that was a little awkward. My paper forms (yes, I still have them!) don’t have citations. I’ve been steadily working at improving documentation in my software (now Family Tree Maker 2017 — the equivalent of v. 23, I think?). As software changed, adding a source citation feature, I got more diligent about recording them. The newest versions have Evidence Explained templates, so I need to revisit all the citations to beef them up and make them consistent.

So why was that FIRST software so important? It changed the WAY I researched. No, not chasing “shaky leaves!” Even with many more people in my file (about 5500 right now), I can easily check out who I have information on. I don’t have to flip through multiple binders or hanging files, or the single binder I actually had, with everyone filed alphabetically. I can add in more details about their lives (occupation, military, residence), that paper family group sheets don’t have space for. I have plenty of room to incorporate notes about inconsistent data, or why I drew certain conclusions. When three different censuses tell me three different ages, I can record each, picking one as preferred. If later information causes me to change my opinion, it’s easy enough to change the preferred fact. No whiteout required!

Software makes citations simpler to apply, and I can easily attach digital images to them. Finding the actual document is much easier/quicker if I don’t have to scour Explorer looking for it, trying to remember how it’s named. Easier citations means I’m more likely to DO it, instead of putting it off. Having citations keeps me from searching the same place more than once. I should log better than I do, but citations help in the meantime. Baby steps!

Software has changed WHO I research. I try not to be a “name collector,” but if I were typing up physical sheets, I think I’d be less inclined to follow through researching collateral relatives. Sometimes they simply fill in tree details, but other times they answer an important question. Sometimes they let me help out extended relations.

When I found Edward M. Kranz (husband of my grand aunt, Sophie Meintzer) in the 1880 census, he was with his parents and his younger siblings. On paper, I would have picked up his information and his parents’ names. I wouldn’t have bothered with his siblings, or other details about his parents. In my database, I now enter all the information from the census, so I don’t have to go look it up again.

Now when 2nd cousins from that branch ask me questions, I have a little information for them, and some idea of what they are talking about. If I decide to help them with research, but I don’t want all their extra people (not related to me) in my file, I can easily spin off a new file with just the relatives I need for that research.

I also research BETTER. It is easier to decide if someone is part of our tree, or not. I have a number of people who I have determined (at least, as of now) are not relatives. They are different than the person in my tree (do not have the right parents, siblings, etc.). I leave them in, however, with all their information (and sources!), and an explanation about why I think they don’t belong to us. If a cousin (or I!) find a document of theirs later on, I have solid facts about why I think they are not connected. “They aren’t related to us, but I don’t remember why,” is a pretty poor answer. Researching them again to gather that proof is a waste of time. Hanging onto them and their information saves me time in the long run. And if a new document does connect them to us — I still have all the prior research handy.

Sharing information is also much easier! I can create whatever report I like (with citations, if needed!), and email the PDF to whoever I like. No pulling sheets from a binder, going to Mailboxes, Etc. to make copies, then the post office to mail them. Ditto for document images.

Twenty years ago, most of the above benefits never crossed my mind. Software was simply cool, and maybe it would save a little time. It was certainly quieter than the click-clack of the typewriter keys, so I didn’t keep the rest of the family awake! I’m glad I took leap into the fledgling realm of genealogy software 20+ years ago.

#52Ancestors

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.

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