Oldest

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

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

The two coming to mind are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#52Ancestors


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

Colorful

Looks can be deceiving . . .

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

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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!

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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.

Valentine

Roses are red . . .

While I know three individuals with Valentine’s Day birthdays, my family tree doesn’t really have a lot of traffic on February 14th. Between births, deaths, and marriages for 5500+ people (granted, not everyone has dates for all 3, and some have none!), you would think there would be, but there’s only:

  • one birth–a married-in from Mike’s side
  • two deaths on my Meintzer side–a 2nd cousin, Arline Ehrhardt Jenkins Axtell, and Hans Adam Ensminger, a 1st cousin 8x removed (nephew of my 7th great-grandmother) and
  • 1 marriage–a 2nd cousin on my dad’s side, Allan Heerey and his wife Mary

I don’t really have particularly good stories for any of them, and don’t know of any romantic proposals taking place on Valentine’s Day. So I started thinking about aggregate data again, and wondered how many couples in my tree were married for 50 years or more.

Being married for a long period of time is more than simply not getting divorced. Granted, that helps immeasurably, but you also have to keep BOTH people alive. That’s a little harder, and less in our control than the other.

Unfortunately, my Family Tree Maker software failed to help me. While it can generate a Marriage Report, I cannot make changes or additions to the information it provides. I get the bride and groom, a marriage date, and the current status of their marriage. Number of years isn’t an option. The Custom Report is no help, either, While “age at death” is a calculated value available for everyone, “number of years married” is not. It’s a little more complicated, since you have to look at the marriage date, see if someone has died, and if both, see who died first. Then you can do the math. Looks like I’m going to have to go about this old-school, relying on my memory. So cousins, if I’ve missed someone, please let me know! This is based on how I happen to remember, so not ordered by length of the marriage.

First up on the list are Robert & Ardyth Meintzer Haws (Dad & Mom), clocking in with 63 years. Mom’s brother, Gail, and his sweetheart, Neva, celebrated their 70th last year, and are still going strong. Dad’s oldest brother, Henry, and his bride, Mary, were going strong for 62 years. His other brother, George (who happened to get married the exact same day as Gail & Neva!), celebrated a 50th anniversary with his “better half”, Marge, before his too-early death at age 77.

My grandparents (Invite to Dinner), though, do not make the list. Victoria died in 1955, just before her 46th anniversary, and Minnie died in 1958, shortly before her 45th anniversary. Nor do great-grandparents Christian and Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (My Favorite Photo & In the Census), who were married only 47 years when she died in 1913. But since she was a 2nd wife, maybe they get bonus points?

Their oldest daughter, Sophie (married to Edward Kranz) was married for 54 years, and her daughter, Anna, was married to Walter Schultz just shy of 65 years. Anna was a huge help to me with family information and stories, and one of the times I visited her, she gave me a ceramic ornament given as a favor at their 60th Anniversary party. I think of her every Christmas, hanging it on the tree. Anna’s son, Walter, and his wife, Connie, were married at least 66 years when Connie died in 2014. That’s 3 generations! Many of Sophie & Ed’s other children also had long marriages:

  • son Emil and Evelyn: 51 years
  • daughter Lillie and Richard Jahn: 38 years
  • daughter Coila and Harry Frohn: 47+ years
  • daughter Mary Ella and Martin Reeg: almost 59 years
  • son Julius and Elsie: 57 years
  • daughter Louisa and Walter Ehrhardt: 60 years
  • daughter Minnie and Ed Ladendorf: 54 years
  • daughter Emma and Joe Poc: 41 years
  • daughter Martha and Louis Kanitsch: 39 years

Yes, some of them don’t quite make the 50 year cut-off, but it’s still a pretty impressive run for one family!

From my dad’s side, [Grand] Uncle Sylvester Schweiger and Aunt Stacia were married for 55 years, their daughter Marita married to Harry Nash for almost 60. And my dad’s cousin, Fred Schweiger and wife, Nancy just celebrated number 60.

Edward and Clara Duckart Goessl (Longevity) had another 2 years beyond the newspaper clipping in that post–with Clara spending another 25 years more, as a widow!

On the not-related-to-me side, Mike’s grandparents, Francis Charles Kukler and Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan, got married in 1919. They had 52 years together before Frank passed away. Not bad, given that they were 28 years old when they married!

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Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan and Francis Charles Kukler, 11 June 1919, the day after her 28th birthday. She had 7 children and lived to age 95!

And Mike’s Uncle Bob and Aunt Gloria are still going strong with 58 years under their belts.

So, is there a “long marriage gene”? Probably not, though looking at Aunt Sophie’s line, it almost makes you wonder! A lot of it is luck. Having good genes and a long life is a huge help. So is the ability to resist strangling your spouse–not always an easy urge to control! But it’s reassuring to know that sometimes we beat the odds on both of those.

#52Ancestors