Nearly Forgotten

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.”–George Eliot

A few weeks ago, in Favorite Discovery, I wrote about the 1850s church records from Kreuzeber (now Kreuzebra), Germany. I showed you the stack of pages fished out of the canvas tote bag stowed in the corner of the living room. The records weren’t exactly forgotten, because the bag silently nagged at me every time my eyes swept that corner of the room. But they had been ignored. That project had been on the back burner for at least a decade.

The pages I printed from FHL microfilm #1,193,951, Item 1. I printed only pages having one of my ancestral surnames on it. Sometimes it was the person who the record was for, or the parents, or a witness.

In 2018, for Mother’s Day, I wrote about finding a child in those records who died very young, and mused about her mother’s possible feelings. I didn’t remember exactly who the mother and daughter were, and didn’t have time try and locate them in the stack, so they remained anonymous. I always intended to identify them at some point, but it obviously hadn’t happened. Finding myself mostly home-bound (albeit, healthy!), and the weather alternating between too cold and too wet for yard work, now seemed like a good time to dust off the pages and start tackling this project.

First a little background on the town. Its name has changed slightly since the 1850s, as have its jurisdictions. Kreuzebra is located in the Eichsfeld district, in the German state of Thuringia. Its population at the end of 2017 was 716, somewhat less than in the past. In January 2019, it joined several other villages in merging into the town of Dingelstädt.¹ Back in the mid-19th century, Kreuzeber was in the province (or state) of Sachsen, in Prussia. Same place, different places to look for records.

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, Catholic church in Kreuzeber/Kreuzebra. ©2019 Erwin Meyer by CC-BY-SA-4.0

To get started, I created a brand new file, and began with the first page: Births and Baptisms 1851. For the time being, I’m ignoring the paper Family Group Sheets I’d previously created by hand. I will go through them at the end, to make sure I didn’t miss something this time that I had noticed last time, but trying to make sense of them now would be confusing and time consuming.

It was a slow start. Trying to craft the citation for the microfilm took way longer than expected. I wanted to get it right the first time, so I didn’t have to go back and correct a whole bunch of citations. It’s easier (for me, at least) to create it once, then for the next record to make a duplicate, change the person-specific information, and use that for that person’s citations. And repeat. A lot.

It also took a bit of time to get into the handwriting. German script is not the easiest, so there’s a learning curve for reading it. It’s like retraining your brain to recognize the many letter formation options. At least the register pages were pre-printed forms, so each of the three formats was consistent. I worked my way through births, marriages, and deaths, and I developed a routine.

Then I found her: Anna Maria Haase, 11 months, 20 days old when she died on 6 January 1853 from Nervenfieber (nervous fever/typhus).² Only her father was listed: Ackermann Johannes Haase. Any guess how many Johannes Haase I have in the file? Eight. The adult ones were either an Ackermann or a Kämmerer. And this is only beginning my 4th year of records!

1853 Deaths for Kreuzeber. “Anna Maria Haase, legitimate daughter of the farmer Johannes Haase. Child, 11 months 20 days old . Sixth of January, 7 PM, [repeated because it was in the wrong column], numeric day, Nervenfieber. I can’t make out who reported & certified the death—it’s different than the other entries, and hard to read. She was buried 9 January, in Kreuzeber (that got cut off).

Anna’s age was specific enough, though, that I could calculate her birthdate from her death date. That pointed me back to her 17 January 1852 birth record, confirming Johann Haase and Magdalena Kühn as her parents.³ They later go on to have another daughter, Katharina, born 29 May 1854. With twelve more years to process, additional children could pop up for them.

Instead of making a photocopy for this register page, I tried the “trace the writing from the microfilm reader” technique. The reader projected down to a slanted surface. I placed the paper on that (presumably yellow improves visibility!), the image projected on the paper, which I could then trace. “[entry] 4, Anna Maria Haase, 17 Jan. 3 AM, legitimate daughter of Johann Haase, Ackermann & Magdalena Kühn, baptized 19 January.” I neglected to include her godparent(s). Hmm.

Anna was by no means the only child on that page of deaths; three more children ranged from 1 month to 4 years, 9 months. The adults were 48, 49, 56, and 82 years old. Other death record pages had similar age distributions. On the pages with people dying in their 20s or 30s, it was generally women. Not a huge surprise, given the possible complications from childbirth.

It would be easy to forget about the children dying young. Clearly they weren’t anyone’s ancestors! I could be very practical and rationalize that I keep track of them to help me sort out the survivors. There are a lot of repeated names in the records. Remember the eight “Johannes”? The situation is equally bad for Maria, Katharina, Franz, etc. If I’m trying to figure out which Wilhelm died or got married, it’s helpful to know which ones are already out of the running. For instance, nine entries below Anna’s birth entry was one for Anna Maria Elisabeth Haase, born 26 May, to unmarried Theresia Haase. Knowing that Johann’s and Magdalena’s Anna died young might help me down the road, dealing with this other girl.

And, of course, unrecognized DNA matches trace back to those collateral relatives of my ancestors. I need my ancestors’ siblings and cousins properly placed in my tree to figure out how my matches connect. Guess work doesn’t really work.

The bottom line, though, is that those young kids simply deserve to be remembered. Period. Their short little lives mattered, and had an impact—regardless of how small—on the people around them. That impact rippled down to all of us who followed, whether we realize it or not.

So, how does Anna actually fit into my tree? I don’t know. Kreuzeber was (is) a small community. Odds are, all the Haase residents were related in some way. Who was this particular Johann, Anna’s father? He was not my 2nd great grandfather, [Charles] John Haase, who married Elisabeth Nachwey, with their daughter, Elisabeth, arriving later in 1853. Most likely Anna’s father was my 2nd great grandfather’s cousin, since they seem to be around the same age. Johann and Magdalena’s marriage record (which would list their parents’ names) was not in the register pages I viewed, so is in the previous record book. That will have to wait for a trip to the nearby Family History Center for their online access to the images.

I was curious about how the tree was shaping up, so I created a quick “Extended Family Chart” containing everyone. There are 176 people in 53 distinct family groupings, many of them consisting of just a mother, father, and one child. Some of those will flesh out with additional children as I continue to process pages, but to make any real headway, I will need the earlier marriage records, giving me the parents names. Then I will be able to link some of these people together as sibings with the same parents. Until then, I will keep slogging through the pages I have at home, making the connections I can.

Regardless, the nearly forgotten project and people are back in view.

#52Ancestors


¹Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/) “Kreuzebra,” rev. 12 February 2019, 10:49 (UTC).    

²Katholische Kirche Kreuzeber (Kr. Heiligenstadt) (Kreuzeber, Sachsen, Preussen, Germany), “Kirchenbuchduplikat [church book duplicate], 1815-1874”, Deaths, 1853, entry 1, Anna Maria HAASE, 6 January; filmed as Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1851-1866 (Kefferhausen) Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1851-1866 (Kreuzeber); FHL microfilm; 1,193,951, Item 1.

³Katholische Kirche Kreuzeber (Kr. Heiligenstadt) (Kreuzeber, Sachsen, Preussen, Germany), “Kirchenbuchduplikat [church book duplicate], 1815-1874”, Births, 1852, entry 4, Anna Maria HAASE, 17 January; filmed as Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1851-1866 (Kefferhausen) Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1851-1866 (Kreuzeber); FHL microfilm; 1,193,951, Item 1.

Favorite Discovery

Really? Pick just one?

My “favorite” discovery always seems to be the elusive record I have finally managed to track down. It might be a census record where the enumerator mangled the name on the page, or the indexer misread what was written. Or it could be a marriage record or obituary providing the missing information linking several generations together. Sometimes it’s just the random newspaper blurb about my mom’s second birthday party, or her cousins being vaccinated.

A lot of the cool discoveries have already been written about. If I has to pick one, though, it might be the microfilm records in Kreuzebra, Thurigen, Germany (Kreuzeber, in the 1800s). That’s the ancestral town for my dad’s great grandfather, John Haase. I’ve mentioned that microfilm, but never went into much detail. Let’s take a closer look.

When Katherine Rueby provided me the Family History Library (FHL) microfilm numbers with my 2nd great grandparents’ marriage record, I was excited. Finding the opportunity to access them proved to be difficult. The microfilm reels needed to be ordered from Salt Lake City, at $3.25 each, for a 3-week period. The local FHL wasn’t far away, but its hours were limited—as was my time! I still homeschooled my two youngest, so the library’s daytime hours didn’t work. Research would have to wait a while.

A couple years later, I finally committed to ordering the film. The scheduling was tricky, but worked. Three “renewals” allowed the film to stay at the local center perpetually.

I knew the marriage date for John Haase and Elisabeth Nachtwey, so it was easy to find and confirm. Working backwards from their ages at marriage, I also located the birth records for both John (1825) and Elisabeth (1827), and I was able to obtain their parents’ names. I also confirmed the birth date for their oldest child, Elisabeth. It was great finding documentation for dates I’d received second hand, plus acquiring new information.

Looking back at that research, I now realize that was first time I’d looked at actual record images that weren’t census pages. It was also my first experience with German records in German script. That was quite a learning curve!

As I searched for the dates I already knew, I noticed lots of other records for the same surnames. Were they related? Maybe. I knew Elisabeth Nachtwey had a brother, Anton, but that was it. I was able to identify John Haase’s older brother, Joseph, from the birth records (same parents’ names), and a younger brother, Nikolaus. I’d never heard of them. But who was Kasper Haase? Ferdinand Nachtwey? More siblings? Cousins? Uncles? I didn’t know.

Kreuzebra was a fairly small town. It still is. The population recently hovered around 700 people. While it’s possible the population has been higher, it’s unlikely to have been markedly more. It certainly seemed likely that same surnames equated to relatives, but how did they connect? It became clear that I needed to gather all the records and piece people together. There were just a couple problems . . .

It was the early 2000s. The microfilm readers performed one task: displaying film images. The center had one reader with a printer, but patrons couldn’t hog it. You needed to find the frame you wanted on a regular reader, slide the film out of that reader, and slide it onto the spindles of the reader with the printer. After you printed your page, you needed to return the reels to your original reader. Use a digital camera, you suggest? If they existed then, I did not have one. It was not an option.

I decided the better plan was to make notes on a legal pad, recording the record type (birth, marriage, death), year, record number and name. By doing all the research on the non-printer microfilm readers, I could take my time with trying to read the script. After I’d viewed all the records, the next visit found me on the microfilm printer. Using my list, I could move directly to the pages I needed to print.

The stack of printed pages from the microfilmed Kreuzeber Church records. This reel contained birth, marriage, and death records from 1851-1866. The church was dedicated to Sts. Sergio and Bachus. Current labeling at Google Maps indicates the building is the Gemeindeverwaltung (municipal administration). It’s possible the parish had to merge with other towns, and the building has been repurposed.

The plan worked well, and I took home a stack of 139 pages. I started to process through them, connecting names together. I’d made the decision, though, to do it on paper, rather than in my software. Why? I sometimes wonder that, myself! We had three desktops (with three different operating systems!)—but four children, needing computers for assorted reasons—sometimes, even homework! “Mom time” on the computer had to be scheduled. Filling out paper forms allowed me to multi-task and work on this project while watching TV.

I started creating family group sheets. A birth record placed a child in the kids’ section, with a father and a mother identified. Marriage records created two family group sheets (bride and groom each as a child on their parents’ sheet)—three if I decided to start one for the couple, too. Deaths were a little trickier, because the deceased person wasn’t necessarily identifed too well. A child might have a father identified. But if it was the child of a Johann Haase—which one? There were half a dozen! Without a wife/mother identified, I couldn’t attach a child to a particular couple, unless their age at death could point me back to a specific birth record. It was slow, tedious work.

Then life happened. House painting. Twice. Renovations. Weddings. Grandkids who needed Christmas stockings. Working on my Kreuzeber records was tabled indefinitely. All the paperwork was packed into a canvas tote bag, where it has sat for at least 15 years. Doing nothing. Not forgotten, but left to languish.

I created 84 family group sheets before stalling out. Some are undoubtedly people needing to merge, but I don’t have enough information to do that, yet. This is clearly a project I need to resume. The information tucked away in those records is invaluable, and will answer questions I didn’t even know I had. This time, though, I will build the tree on the computer, in its own file, while I sort these people out. That will be more managable than shuffling sheets of paper around.

In the meantime, the Family History Library has digitized that microfilm reel, though it’s not accessible from home. I’m not sure if I would be able to access the images from my local FHL, or if it would require a trip to Salt Lake City. That is something I need to check on. Digital images from the original film would be far superior to scans of the printouts I have.

Once I finish with the pages I have, there are two more films covering 1815-1842 and 1843-1850, and a third reel covering 1867-1874. Those should fill in additional ancestors, as well as following up on the descendants of Joseph and Nikolaus, and the other, collateral relatives. I need a solid handle on the people surrounding my 2nd great grandfather, though, before I start looking earlier or later.

Looks like my work is cut out for me!

#52Ancestors

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

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