Mistakes were made?

I spent last week paging through the parish registers for the Alsatian town of Volksberg, in search of records to confirm my 4th great grandfather, Johann Jacob Meintzer, was a teacher. That was a failure. I found no online records that would tell me that. Since I needed to go through page-by-page, I took advantage of the situation and looked (and downloaded images) for records documenting other births, deaths, and marriages I had for that town. The effort wasn’t a total loss.

One item I was particularly looking for, was the marriage record for my 3rd great grandfather, Johann Philippe Adam Meintzer, and Magdalena Mauer. She was the mother of a daughter, Carolina Sophia, born 21 December 1798. Hopefully the couple had married before 1798, and Magdalena died before the record when Johann Philippe married my 3rd great grandmother, Maria Marguerite Meder, 9 October 1800.

They were all missing. I did not find a birth record for Carolina Sophie, a marriage record for Magdalena, or a death record for her. Was that information a mistake?

On image 11 in the Volksberg parish registers, 1772-1803, births section, the last entry is: dbr [December] 21 [baptized] 25, Catr. Sophie, Ad. Munsch [Meinsch?] et Magd? Mani. The child has a small cross below her name, probably indicating she died at or shortly after birth. That’s appeared on other birth records. There’s no record in the section for deaths, but with an infant dying so early, they typically didn’t record it both places. It is very definitely the abbreviation for Catrina or Catharine, and not Carolina.

While Johann Philippe often went by “Adam,” the last name in the record doesn’t resemble Meintzer—the ending is clearly “sch.” The mother’s name is an abbreviation for Magdalena, but the maiden name is Mani, not Mauer. This birth is also recorded in the civil record book, using the French Republican calendar date of 4 nivôse year VII. The records are consistent with each other, as far as the date and child’s name. The parents’ surnames are still a mismatch to the information I was given.

The tentative timeline for Johann Philippe Adam is:

  • was born in Volksberg (1775 record found)
  • married Magdalena Mauer (no proof of that)
  • married her in Volksberg (again, no proof)
  • had a daughter (who may have died very young) in 1798 (only a potential record, but the parents are wrong)
  • IF he married Magdalena, she died before October 1800 (no death record)
  • married Marguerite Meder in 1800 in Volksberg (record found)
  • had numerous children in Volksberg, including my 2nd great grandfather (records found)

The middle points (2-5) are pretty mushy. The choices are:

  • those events didn’t happen
  • the events occurred elsewhere
  • the events occurred, but didn’t get recorded

The third choice seems very unlikely to me. One event might be missed, but four? In a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it doesn’t make sense. I can’t simply assume the first choice, though. So I need to investigate the middle option, and search for a Meintzer child born in 1798, and possibly a marriage and death, in the neighboring towns. Off to Google Maps to see what is nearby. My list prioritized towns where Meintzers and other related ancestral names already occupied:

  • Ratzwiller (4.3 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Butten (5.9 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Dehlingen (10.3 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Waldhambach (5.5 miles) no birth, marriage, death—I did find other Munsch records here, but not the names I was looking for
  • Diemeringen (8.7 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Lorentzen (8.8 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Tieffenbach (5 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Puberg (3.7 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Rosteig (3.3 miles) no birth, marriage, death
  • Berg (9.8 miles) no birth, marriage, death

You can move the map around, zoom in, or even double click to open it in its own window!

The mileage calculation between Volksberg and each town is based on driving modern roads. Current roads probably retrace older ones, and are sometimes less direct. This is “hilly Alsace,” though, so traveling cross country would involve a lot of going up and down. I’m not sure that’s how anyone would have traveled in the late 1700s. These distances are probably generous. I checked the Tables des naissances, Tables des mariages, and Tables des décès (1792-year X), for each town and recorded the results above, to keep it simple.¹

Other than the Munsch records found in Waldhambach, I didn’t find that name anywhere else. I didn’t find any Meintzer records—a marriage for Philippe Adam and Magdalena, a birth for Carolina Sophia, or a death before October, 1800 for Magdalena—in those towns in the appropriate years. Did I search every possible town in the area? No. BUT, I think the ones I looked at were the most likely.

I did find an Adam Munsch, who died in Volksberg later on, 7 October 1823, age 69 years, 8 months, 24 days. His birth would have been in 1754, so he would have been 44 in 1798, if he was the father of Catharina Sophia. That’s entirely doable, though I didn’t notice an age in her birth record (I didn’t transcribe and translate it fully). Is he the same man as in the birth record? Maybe.

At this point, I haven’t been able to prove that Philippe Adam had a wife prior to my 3rd great grandmother. The evidence still suggests there is a mistake in his history. What’s my next step? I need to email my Alsatian cousins, Isabelle and Elisabeth, (3rd cousins, once removed), to find out more details about where they obtained the information about his first marriage and the child from that. They may have access to a local (not online) source that will clear up the question.

Is this really important? Does it matter? It’s not critical, since the answer doesn’t affect my ancestry. It would change Philippe Adam’s history, though, so it is important. It also matters because it reflects on my tree’s accuracy, and my other research. Is my tree perfect? Certainly not. I’m sure there is at least another error in there somewhere, probably more than one!

But to notice an inconsistency and shrug it off with an, “It doesn’t matter,” or “Oh, well!” casts suspicion on all the rest of my data. If I look at someone’s tree and see a glaring error, I will think very carefully before accepting any of their other information. I may use it for hints, only, and make sure I nail down reliable sources for the information I pull from it.

So, yes, it is worth following up on. We’ll see what the cousins have to say!


¹”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Volksberg and the other towns, Tables décennales, naissances, mariages, décès [ten-year tables, birth, marriage, death indexes] 1793-An X, various entries; accessed 12-15 September 2019.