If you ask many writers or actors, frequently they say they prefer writing about or playing the part of a “bad guy.” Those characters tend to be more complicated and interesting, compared to “nice” ones. Think Scarlett O’Hara vs. Miss Melanie, or Rhett Butler vs. Ashley Wilkes.
Family history isn’t much different, in that respect. It is much easier for me to find someone who did something “naughty” somewhere in their life, than to declare someone “nice.” To begin with, I don’t know personally the earlier ancestors, to know what they were like. While I may find newspaper articles or court documents about the transgressions of an ancestor in the mid-1800s (documenting “naughty”), “nice” really doesn’t show up with proof.
Back in Strong Woman you met my husband’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Nolan Kukler. She was the sixth child (of ten) of Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham, who you’ve been reading about the last couple weeks. In that earlier post, I described Elizabeth as
ready to have a good time
Another major characteristic, though, was that she was nice. Even with the little amount of time I was able to spend with her, I could see that. It wasn’t a superficial, sugar-coated “nice.” She was just a good person, plain and simple. What evidence do I have of that?
she named her oldest son William–the same name as the older brother who had died at age two. She never met that brother, yet she did something to remember him.
if she saw a stray dog, she’d put out some scraps for it. She was not an animal hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, but she did what she could, when she could.
similarly, if a stranger was walking by the house, in need of a meal, she would find something for him. With seven children to feed, it probably wasn’t much, but she would help out a little.
I never got the impression she did any of this with a lot of fanfare or attention. That wasn’t her style. But, yes, she was nice, and I am honored to have known her.
To prove or not to prove . . . that is the question
Family legends are tricky things. They lack a certainty that gives you confidence in them. Like a jet trail in the sky, they start out impressive, but soon dissipate, spreading wider, developing gaps. Once the plane is out of sight, we can’t be sure if that’s what it really was, or if it’s just some cirrus clouds, faking us out.
I’ve touched on legends before–Christian Meintzer and his “dual with Napoleon” (Colorful), most recently. Today I’m switching over to Mike’s Kukler family. It’s a rather mundane claim. I am unable to confirm or deny it, though, so I have to park it in the “legend” category for now.
I first heard about this in 2004, at a reunion picnic up in Michigan. I was showing Mike’s uncle the charts and whatnot I’d put together for their family tree. He mentioned that he was told there was a Civil War veteran on the Kukler side. This was the first I’d heard of it in the 24 years I’d spent as a married-in to this family! Of course, in the middle of a city park, in 2004, I had no way to try and research anything. I scribbled notes and started looking when I got home.
First stop was the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors database. The results were short and sweet: only one Kukler, first name Frank, who fought with the 155th and 156th Indiana Infantry. Now, Mike’s family is from Detroit, so Indiana is a stretch. The states share a border, but in the 1860s, the distance is farther than it seems now. Nevertheless, people move around more than we sometime know, so I felt I should follow up.
I learned the Indiana State Archives stored the actual Civil War muster cards on the east side of Indianapolis. I dropped children off at school, and headed there, hoping to find something useful. I located the muster card (not really telling me too much) and three pages of information about the regiments from Indiana. Frank Kukler mustered in on 22 March 1865, and mustered out on 4 August, 5 months later. I even spent $2 to print out the information, since it wasn’t available online!
Mike descends from a long line of Franks:
Francis Charles Kukler (grandfather) 1891-1972
Frank J. Kukler (great-grandfather) 1869-1942
Frank Kukler (2nd great-grandfather) 1845-1893
While his 2nd great-grandfather would be possible (he’d be 20 in 1865), we don’t know specifically when he arrived. We know he was in Bohemia in 1857 for daughter Ann’s birth, and in Detroit for son Frank J.’s 1869 birth. But the son in between (Wenzelaus/Venson–you met him in Same Name) has conflicting locations for his 1860/61 birth. There’s no evidence that the family settled in Indiana before Detroit. I also checked some of the aberrant spellings for their surname, and those all came up dry.
Could it have been a collateral Kukler, rather than a direct ancestor? Possibly, though Frank was the only Kukler to show up on the search. So could it have been a relative of one of the wives (different last name)? That’s a thought. Frank (b. 1845) was married to Anna Plansky/Palinsky (and I’m sure many other variations!). I’ve thrown a number of those through the Soldiers and Sailors search box with no success. So if she had brothers emigrate, apparently they didn’t serve, or I can’t find them.
Maybe it was a father to one of the female ancestors? Frank J. (born 1869) married Magdelena Schmitt. She was born in Michigan in 1870, as were four older siblings, beginning in 1857. Unfortunately, Joseph Peter Schmitt (her father) is a horrible name to search for! There are 678 Schmitts in the Union, and he sometimes got misspelled as Schmidt, as well as Smith! Narrowing to Michigan cuts the Schmitts to 4, but no Josephs. Schmidts number 3900+, with a mere 40 in Michigan. No Josephs there, either, though there is a Peter and a Peter R. The Smiths are just scary–50,000+ on the Union side, with 36 Josephs, and 17 Peters when you narrow it down to Michigan. Unless I can find additional information, that’s really more soldiers than I want to try and tackle!
I also looked in the 1890 Veterans Schedules. Of course, to show up there, you had to live that long! I found three Cucklers in Meigs County, Ohio (southeast), no Plansky variations. We won’t talk about the Schmitt/Schmidt numbers . . .
At this point, the best I can hope for is finding a DNA match for Mike, who knows more about this story than I do. He does actually have a “Polansky” match with shared matches to known relatives! And there are other shared matches to both of them, with different surnames. I need to make time to contact Polansky and some of the others to see where they fit on the nether regions of Mike’s tree.
So for now, we file this story in the “legend” slot. NOT that I don’t trust Mike’s uncle–I just don’t have any solid proof one way or another. I will keep looking as databases are updated with new information. And I’ll flesh out the other Kukler lines I find in Michigan and nearby, just in case they connect back to ours. Maybe some luck from Mike’s Irish side will rub off on the Bohemian side? I can only hope!
family names carried down from one generation to the next
families where all the brothers named their children the same, so it’s difficult to determine which of the cousins did what. I’ve got at least one of those . . .
people with the same name in the same town, roughly the same age, and how they sorted out who belonged where. I’ve got those, too!
In my typical, contrary way, I’m doing the direct opposite. You are going to meet my husband’s great-grand uncle, Wenzelaus Kukler. Or Venemi. Or Venson. Or something else entirely different, I don’t know!
I first met up with him in the 1870 census. I was trying to find my husband’s great-grandfather, Frank J. Kukler. Frank was born in Detroit, before the 1870 census (I didn’t have an exact date at that time), so the family should be enumerated in Detroit in 1870. I couldn’t find them. If you think “Kukler” has a simple spelling, guess again. It can have:
C or K at the beginning
U, O, or OO for the vowel–sometimes an E
K or C or CK for the next /k/ sound
LER or LA at the end (anyone remember Kukla, Fran, and Ollie? I’ve found the family with a KUKLA spelling!)
That left variations of Kukler, Cukler, Kookler, Cookler, Kuckler, Cuckler, Cucler, Koockler, Coockler, Coocler, Kucler, Kukla, Cukla, Kookla, Cookla, and probably some I’m forgetting. No matter how many ways I searched for the parents, Frank and Ann[a], nothing came up. Finally I gave up on them, and searched for the baby with first name and age only: Frank, born 1867-68, Wayne County, Michigan. While those may seem like ridiculous search parameters, I was banking on it being 1870. The smaller population might make it workable. I’ve found ages for baby/children tend to be more accurate in the census than for adults. There’s not much difference between a 31- and 33-year old, but a HUGE difference between a 1- and 3-year old! Usually the kids’ ages were right.
Scanning down generated the list I could quickly dismiss most of the surnames. Then it jumped out at me: GUCKLER! Say the names to yourself–with an accent–and you’ll see how one could be mistaken for the other. I clicked over to the image, and there were: Frank and Ann from Bohemia, right ages, along with little Frank, and two older siblings, Ann and Wenzelaus.¹ Both boys were born in Michigan.
Giddy with the thrill of victory, I looked for them in 1880, returning to the standard spelling. Frank and “Annie” were easy enough to find. Ann (daughter) is AWOL, so either deceased or married, and there are two more, younger, children. Somehow, though, Wenzelaus converted to Venson² (incorrectly indexed as “Venemi”–not helpful!), and now it says he was born in Bohemia! There’s also a lighter (pencil?) notation by his name–“Pulansky” From other records, I’d found Anna’s maiden name is “Plansky” or “Palinski,” so that is very close. Had he been born out of wedlock, so had his mother’s maiden name? Maybe. Does it matter whether he’s born in Michigan or Bohemia? Yes! It changes which years I need to look for them on a passenger list.
1880 is the last I see of him. It doesn’t help that the 1890 census was destroyed, leaving a 20-year gap to 1900. State census records are almost non-existent for Michigan. The one year that had pages for Wayne county . . . didn’t include the city of Detroit. So what happened to Wenzelaus? Take your pick:
He died after the 1880 census. Ok, that’s a given. How about–He died before the 1900 census?
He chose a more “American” first name (I’ve looked at name lists to see if there was one that Wenzelaus typically translated to–no luck).
He started using the Plansky/Palinsky/Pulansky surname.
He moved away–out of Detroit, or out of state.
All of the above, or any combination!
I started going through the Michigan databases at FamilySearch with really loose parameters: Pulanski (FamilySearch is pretty good about pulling in variant spellings), born 1860-1862. I found some records that fit people I already knew, but nothing for him. I noticed a couple guys with Walter and Vincent for first names. If you were going to Americanize Wenzelaus, those might be good choices–but those guys weren’t who I needed.
I looked through death record databases. Marriage databases. I redid the searches with the Kukler surname. Still nothing. I even tried doing a nationwide search, but with the uncertainty of his name(s), and a nondescript occupation from 1880 (“laborer” is as generic as it gets!), he could be anywhere, doing anything.
At this point I’m stymied. Every online tree I’ve seen with him has nothing other than the two references I’ve found. It’s like aliens abducted him. He’s a loose end, and if you haven’t noticed by now, I don’t really like those. I’ve found entries for the family of his younger brother, Frank J., in the Detroit city directories. That was decades later, though. Maybe a more thorough search for additional (earlier) directories would find Wenzelaus? Or whatever he was calling himself. It will require a vague, surname only search, for each of the spelling variations, and lots of browsing through pages.
Wish me luck!
¹1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, Wayne, 2nd precinct, 6th Ward, Detroit; Page 33; dwelling number 288; family number 292; line 4; Frank GUCKLER household; accessed 4 September 2017. Wenzelaus GUCKLER [KUKLER], age 9; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
²1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, Wayne, Detroit, e.d. 305; Page 57; dwelling number 585; family number 618; line 27; Frank KUKLER household; accessed 4 September 2017. Venson KUKLER, age 20 (incorrectly indexed as Venemi); NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
You already met Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan briefly in Valentine. She was born 10 June, 1891, in Smiths Creek, Michigan (west of Port Huron). She was one of 10 children born to Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham–sandwiched right in the middle. I met her at age 88, and knew her only 8 short years. She was the only “grandma” I could lay claim to, since mine died before or just after I was born.
Elizabeth was an itty-bitty thing, Irish through and through, and from what I could tell from the little bit of time I spent with her, pretty feisty. At that time she was living alone in the house at 809 Pingree, in Detroit (it’s still there–Google Map it!), until the dementia that developed in the last few years of her life required her moving to a nursing home, where she could reside safely.
Elizabeth finished the 10th grade. Her father died in 1904, and her mother in 1907. That may have been the event to end her education and propel her to Detroit, working as a governess from 1907-1919. The 1910 census shows her oldest sister, Mary, as the head of household¹ back at the farm, with five of the younger siblings residing with her. I don’t know if Elizabeth sent money back to help with farm expenses, but it’s possible. Living in Detroit no doubt provided the opportunity for her to meet her husband-to-be, Frank, but I don’t know how or where.
He was NOT Irish–rather, Bohemian (a nice catch-all that could include Hungary, Czechoslovakia, that whole region) and some iteration of Germanic (his mother’s maiden name was Schmitt–definitely not Irish!). According to Mike’s mom and aunts, Frank’s parents (Frank and Magdalena) were not particularly happy he was marrying an Irish girl. Consequently their kids did not see much of that side of the family. But when his parents celebrated their 50th anniversary with a big party, the family attended, and Elizabeth made sure the kids all had new outfits (a rarity) for the event. Sue the youngest) had a pink, lacy dress. The occurrence was unusual enough to still be a vivid memory for the girls 60 years later!
Elizabeth had seven children in eleven years; 5 girls and 2 boys. Feeding and clothing that many, especially through the Depression, can’t have been easy. Nevertheless, she managed the children and household, doing the best she could. All the stories I’ve heard of her painted a portrait of a very resourceful woman.
While 1967 may have been “the summer of love” in San Francisco, it wasn’t quite like that in Detroit. Riots were taking place about a mile from the house on Pingree. Elizabeth’s concerned adult children encouraged their parents to pack a couple of bags and come out to one of their houses until the situation settled down. They refused, making for very unhappy children! But they, and their house, survived the unrest.
For all the hard work in her life, she nevertheless knew how to have a good time. Her living room and basement were the site of numerous family gatherings, as evidenced below. I don’t know what holiday this was, in the 1940s or 1950s, but she was certainly living it up! That didn’t really diminish as she aged. The colorful blur in the lower photo (not taken by me!) is her at age 88, dancing the night away with two of her grandsons-in-law–barely keeping up with her.
Undetermined party–maybe on a New Year’s Eve?
August 1979, Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan Kukler (age 88), dancing at a granddaughter’s wedding with grandsons-in-law!
Living 6 1/2 hours away, my opportunities to get to know her very well were limited. But never was there any question in my mind of her strength–not necessarily physical (especially in her late 80s and 90s)–but certainly of spirit. Hopefully some of that has passed down to my daughter and granddaughter (her great- and great-great-granddaughters)!
¹1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township, e.d. 125; sheet 10B; dwelling number 226; family number 229; line 74; Mary NOLAN household; accessed 5 March 2018. Mary NOLAN, age 25; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 673; digital image, Ancestry.com.
One person’s junk is another’s heirloom? Or vice versa?
When does something cease being stuff, junk, or clutter, and graduate to “heirloom?” Is it age? Monetary value? Who owned it? How “cute” it is? Its genealogical value? While it’s a question I’ve dealt with these last 40+ years of doing genealogy, it’s really hit home since September, 2009, when my dad died and Mom moved out of her house and into independent living. Suddenly I became responsible for dealing with/disposing of the salt cellars, soup cups, teacups, candlesticks, Mottoware, Hummels, and other antiques she’d acquired over the years. She had boxes in the basement that hadn’t been opened since 1977. It all wouldn’t fit in her 3 room apartment.
As I catalogued and photographed the items, I’d ask Mom if anything was special: anything that belonged to her mother or grandmother? Items that were wedding presents? I needed information so people could prioritize which items to select.
She seemed a little peeved that I “didn’t want all her pretty things.” Yes, they were pretty, but at 51, I was downsizing my OWN things–ditto for my older siblings! We could not absorb it all. Plus, for her each item meant more. They held memories of antique shows with her friends, or trips to Galena, IL, with its abundance of antique shops and tea rooms. Cute or not, we don’t share those memories.
Then she’d remind me that, “People collect this.” Inquiries at nearby antique shops met with no interest. No shops were buying, because no customers were buying. The stock market kerfuffle the year before pushed discretionary spending way down. Antiques are not necessities! The boxes came to my family room (no basement), but the market in Indy was no better, and I really had no time to make the rounds, anyway. I sent the spreadsheet and photos to my siblings, asking them to claim whatever they wanted. The volume reduced a little, so I repacked the boxes and moved them into Mom’s storage space. I figured when she died, I’d take them to the funeral, let people take what they wanted, and dispose of the rest. I figured wrong.
She’s still here, turning 96 in April. In the fall of 2016, she moved to assisted living. Three rooms down to one, and no storage space. The boxes came back to my family room (photo below). Photos and spreadsheet were shared via Google Drive to siblings (again) and also to her grandchildren. More items claimed! Leftovers were shared with cousins. Some more distributed, but I still have a “wall” of boxes behind the living room couch to deal with. I’ve listed select items on eBay, but I don’t want the hassle and risk of shipping china and glassware, so am (unsuccessfully) looking for local options that don’t include Goodwill. Most “heirloom” items have found homes. I also sold some teacups and glass salad plates to the Sassafrass Tea Room, where they will be used and enjoyed.
One result of this whole process is the renewed vigor Mike has for reducing our possessions. He looks at our Christmas tree and asks, “Can we get rid of any of these?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” I really don’t buy ornaments, except one for each new cruise ship, so most of ours have a history. The kids’ ornaments have already been kicked off the tree, so there’s been reduction from that, but most of the ornaments have a story behind them.
My mom started buying me one ornament a year after my sister got married. Young newlyweds, and in graduate school, after buying the tree, tree stand, and lights, they really couldn’t afford ornaments! Mom decided one a year would be a good start for me. I made “glass icicles” when I was in high school mimicking the ones hung on our tree and made by my grandmother, Victoria Schweiger Haws. I DO have her originals boxed in the attic, but they are very fragile, and since the tree is full enough, I figure they will survive better, handled less. Later, we acquired the ornaments from Mike’s grandmother, Elizabeth Nolan Kukler. And some actually ARE his: two ornaments from the ones he & his roommate bought to decorate a tree at college, as well as Jeannie and her bottle, and his Raiders helmet. As Mom has downsized–and finally eliminated–her tree, I’ve taken in a few favorite ornaments from my childhood. Plus there are handmade ornaments from my niece, Julie: crocheted and starched snowflakes, or crocheted ice skates with paper clips for blades. She manages to find cute and clever designs.
Does our tree look like a magazine photo? No way! It’s very eclectic. There’s no theme. People who see it for the first time are surprised? awed? I’m not quite sure of the right word, but it usually involves a lot of looking, pointing, and realizing that there are ornaments way inside the tree, not just at the ends of the branches. Our tree has short needles. If not, there’d be no room for ornaments! I don’t know how people with long-needled trees do it.
(Mike just started an Amazon search for “artificial tree long needles . . .”)
You might say some ornaments could be gotten rid of. They are probably past their prime, but they are also among the very few items we own from those people. The color has faded, and they’ve acquired a bit of tarnish and corrosion; none of us are as bright and shiny as we used to be! I carefully tuck them inside the tree–not out of sight, but placed where they reflect the lights, illuminating the interior, while minimizing their flaws. You hardly notice the scratch on the finish or that the glass actually has a hole in it (it’s little, on the bottom!), or the splotch of the spray-on “snow” that was so popular in the 1960s.
I can tell you about every ornament on the tree. My kids know some, but not all, and have undoubtedly forgotten many. Realizing this, in 2017, while dismantling the tree, I photographed each ornament. The plan is to create a spreadsheet where I can list them, link the photo, and document the provenance for each. (Yes, I watch Antiques Roadshow!) At least they will have enough information to decide what they want to do with them, when the time comes. If they decide to drop them off at Goodwill, at least they made an informed decision–I will come back to haunt them, though . . .
So, back to the original question: what what makes an heirloom? I think it’s mostly the meaning we attach to it. So we have 2 challenges. One is to “thin the herd,” so the volume isn’t overwhelming (no, you’re not touching my ornaments!). The other is to make sure those who have to deal with our goodies, know why something was important to us. That just might make it important to them, too. Otherwise, it’s just “stuff.”
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!
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.