Challenge

One challenge isn’t enough?

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Genealogy is often challenging. This week is brought to you by my mom’s maternal grandparents. We know more about the paternal grandparents who died before Mom was born, than the set that lived around the corner from her! The level of challenge they present is unexpected.

Elfrieda Jonas Moeller and daughter, Minnie. Date unknown. Cleaned up photo, below.

Carl [Karl] Moeller (Bearded) was born 27 July 1860, and died 3 May 1935.¹ Mom was 13, and definitely remembers him. Elfrieda Jonas (more with her name, later) was born 7 December 1867 and died 25 April 1954.² Because her mom (Minnie) worked in a restaurant, my mom regularly went to her grandparents’ house after school — and presumably during the summer.

The memories that have trickled out of Mom over the last 40+ years of genealogy include:

  • Carl and Elfrieda emigrated from Germany.
  • Mom thought they knew each other before coming over, but they got married here.
  • She believed Elfrieda worked as a maid/housekeeper after arriving, until she got married. This was possibly in the Krieger household, though the name Gerken pops up, too.
  • Carl and Elfrieda spoke German regularly — at least enough that they sent their children to “German School” on Saturdays. Minnie spoke German — she and Christoph would switch to that if they didn’t want the kids to understand!
  • We aren’t aware of any siblings for Carl or Elfrieda in this country.
  • Elfrieda used to send money back to Germany — to her mother?—and was born out of wedlock.
  • Tillie Gripke was someone important, because Elfrieda took the train to California twice to see her. We don’t know if she’s a relative, or just an old friend who happened to move west.

It seems Carl and Elfrieda are pretty well documented — at least in some areas:

  • We find Elfrieda in the 19407 census, living with her daughter and son-in-law (Caroline and Emil Mueller).
  • Carl and Elfrieda are in the
    • 1900³ (Charles and Alfreda)
    • 19104 (Karl and Alfriede)
    • 19205 (Carl and Frieda) and
    • 19306 (Carl and Alfrieda) censuses.
  • They were married 25 September 18878, in Cook County, Illinois.

While it looks like we know quite a lot about them, with closer scrutiny, you notice it’s rather superficial. None of that information helps me nail down an emigration date or specifically where they were from. The census records consistently tell us both were born in Germany, but it’s a big place. Emigration dates range from 1884-1887. Carl is naturalized by 1890, according to the 19306 census. I haven’t located his final papers, or any of the earlier ones.

Nor have I located a passenger list for either of them. They would have arrived at Castle Garden, but even with those records online, the details in the records are skimpy, making it difficult to distinguish between various Carl Moellers. His name is too common, and with Elfrieda, I get “Jones” results, instead of “Jonas.” If they had traveled in a large group, they might be easier to find.

Then there’s the confusion about Elfrieda’s maiden name: is it Jonas? Gerken? Krieger? Was one of those the name of the family she worked for? Because she emigrated, worked, and got married all in between census years, I don’t have those as checkpoints. The 1890 census fire is particularly not helpful. In the marriage database8 Elfrieda uses the last name, “Jonas.” I would think a 19 year old who’s getting married knows her last name. I can’t think of any reason for her to lie. Gerken and Jonas don’t sound remotely similar, so I don’t see it being recorded wrong because the clerk couldn’t understand her accent. Unfortunately, the marriage certificate doesn’t include parents’ names. A marriage application might, but those are frequently not available. Her mother (since Elfrieda is illegitimate) is still a mystery.

I still don’t know about Tillie Gripke. She was the daughter of Rose Buthmann. Could Rose have been a sister to Elfrieda, making Tillie her cousin? Maybe. I need to research Tillie’s tree to see where it takes me, and if there are any connections to Elfrieda.

On a tree at Ancestry.com, another researcher has gotten Elfrieda confused with a Friederike Gerken, born February 1865, in Illinois, to parents Henry (Heinrich) and his wife, Wilhelmine. This family lived in Northfield (just southeast of Northbrook) in 18709. Friederike had an older sister, Anna, and younger sisters, Rebecca, Henriette, Louise, Katharine, and Caroline. This family lived in Illinois until about 1878, when their youngest daughter was born. Then they moved to Cullman, Alabama, as they are there for the 188010 census. Henry has a land grant record in Alabama, dated 1888. Friederika married an Edward F. Wolff (also born in Illinois) in 1885, in Alabama11. None of her records refer to her as Elfrieda. Frederika Wolff died in Cullman, Alabama in 1908 and is buried there, with her parents, husband, and children.

Unfortunately, this other tree has none of that information, other than the birth and parents. Instead, Frederika is “married” to my great grandfather, Carl Moeller, with my grandmother and all her siblings attached to the two of them as children. My great-grandmother’s obituary, though, confirmed many of the details my mom knew:

Mrs. Moeller was born in Germany 86 years ago and had lived at her Church st., residence in Northbrook for over 62 years. She was known to the community as “Mutter” Moeller . . . her husband, Carl, preceded her in death 19 years ago.

“Obituaries,” 29 April 1954, Newspapers.com: accessed 14 January 2019, record number: ng; citing original p. 22 col. 6 para. 2-3, entry for Mrs. Elfrieda Moeller, The Daily Herald, Chicago, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

That does not sound like someone born in Illinois! It seems clear to me that Elfrieda and Frederika are two different people. I’m not sure which woman the other researcher wants to connect to, but the tree is garbled.

Things aren’t much better with Carl! A different tree at Ancestry.com has my grandmother and her siblings as the children of an Elfrieda Johanna Gerken (with my great-grandmother’s birth and death information, and born in Germany) and Carl Heinrich Jochim Moeller (born in the right year, but wrong date). His parents are Johann Jochen Moeller (b 1825) and Lene Sophia Dorthea Mall (1838-1911), with additional generations shown. That’s all well and good, except that his death certificate says his parents are Johann Moeller and Sophia Milahan. Granted, I haven’t been able to research those two names — as far as I know, they never left Germany, and I don’t know where in Germany that is! The information was provided by my grandaunt, Lena, so I trust that it’s close. If she didn’t know, “unknown” would have been a perfectly acceptable answer — I’ve seen it often enough on other certificates!

Then there are all those middle names. Where did they come from? None of the attached records showed a middle name, much less 2. It’s possible Carl did have one or more middle names, but I have never seen ANY middle names or initials in his records, so I’m a bit skeptical. The same string of names is in the tree at FamilySearch — again, with no documentation of the name. I suspect one tree spawned the other.

Obviously the immediate challenge is to find birth places, parents, and emigration details for Carl and Elfrieda! The bigger (perhaps more difficult and/or more important) challenge will be to contact the owners of the two trees (also the submitter at Find A Grave), to “discuss” the name issues and mis-attachments. It would be easy to let it go, but incorrect trees tend to keep spreading, as additional researchers find them and incorporate the incorrect information into their own tree. It’s also possible that I am wrong, and they have additional information to document their assertions. In that case, I want to know that, so I can correct my tree.

#52Ancestors


¹Find-A-Grave, database, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 11 August 2018, memorial 25468142, Carl MOELLER, (1860-1935), Ridgewood Cemetery, Des Plaines, Cook, Illinois.

²Find-A-Grave, database, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com) accessed 13 January 2019, memorial 25468143, Elfrieda Johanna Gerken MOELLER, (1867-1954), Ridgewood Cemetery, Des Plaines, Cook, Illinois. [name is wrong]

³1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield Township, e.d. 1176; Page 2A; dwelling number 14; family number 16; line 7; Charles [Carl] MOELLER household; accessed 11 August 2018. Charles [Carl} MOELLER, age 39, July 1860; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 294; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

41910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Shermerville, e.d. 64; sheet 4A; dwelling number 55; family number 57; line 44; Karl Moeller household; accessed 13 April 2018. Wilhellmine MOELLER, age 17; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 238; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

51920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Shermerville, e.d. 139; Page 3B; dwelling number 58; family number 64; line 54; Carl MOELLER household; accessed 8 January 2019. Carl MOELLER, age 59; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 358; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

61930 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northbrook, block 18, e.d. 16-2237; Page 11A; dwelling number 119; family number 126; line 15; Carl MOELLER household; accessed 8 January 2019. Carl MOELLER, age 69; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 528; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

71940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northbrook, e.d. 16-341; Page 7A; household number 143; line 15; Emil A. MUELLER household; accessed 9 January 2019. Elfrieda Moeller, age 72; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 784; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

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

91870 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Beat No. 1; Page 22B; dwelling number 131; family number 129; line 26; Henry GERKEN household; accessed 12 January 2019. Federica GERKEN, age ; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 213; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

101880 U.S. census, population schedule, Alabama, Cullman, Beat No. 1, e.d. 46; Page 22B; dwelling number 180; family number 181; line 5; Henry GERKEN household; accessed 12 January 2019. Friederike, age 15; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 10; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

11Ancestry.com. Alabama, Select Marriage Indexes, 1816-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014, citing Alabama, Marriages, 1816-1957. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

elfrieda moeller & minnie moeller meintzer copy
Elfrieda Jonas Moeller and Minnie Moeller Meintzer, cleaned up photo. Possibly taken after 27 September 1913, as Minnie seems to be wearing wedding ring.

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

Next to Last

Ed & Emma Meintzer
George Edward Meintzer, and his sister, Emma. Date unknown, but probably before either married. George married in 1909, Emma around 1915.

My great grandfather, Christian Meintzer, had 12 children, 9 surviving to adulthood. My grandfather, Christoph, was the youngest. The next to last child—and one of Grandpa’s two brothers—was George Edward, born in 11 July 1886. While I was seven years old when Uncle Ed (more about that later!) died, I don’t think I ever met him. From his grandchildren, though, I learned that the two brothers were very close. When Uncle Ed was ill with cancer, they remember my grandfather coming over to visit him and keep him company.

 

But let’s go back to the beginning. George Edward Meintzer was born 11 July 1886. His World War I¹ and World War II² registrations (filled out by him) confirm that, as well as his death certificate. For some unknown reason, the Social Security Death Index has 4 July, instead. I’m not sure whether incorrect information was submitted to them, or if someone misread/mistyped it as it was entered.

The other detail you may have noticed, is that the first draft registration lists his name as “George Edward,” but the second one has it “Edward George.” Up above I also referred to him as “Uncle Ed.” That’s the only name I ever heard, so was initially surprised to see “George” in front. His name sorts out this way:

George Edward (or just George):

  • 1917—WWI draft registration
  • 1919—daughter’s & son’s birth (twins)
  • 1920 census
  • 1930 census

Edward George (or just Edward):

  • 1900 census

    gemeintzer
    Edward Meintzer, wife Annie, and probably their oldest child, Delore. He was born in 1910, so this is 1911, perhaps? Not the best digital image.
  • 1909—marriage record
  • 1910—son’s birth
  • 1914—son’s birth
  • 1924—daughter’s birth, twin son’s death
  • 1928—daughter’s birth
  • 1940 census
  • 1942—WWII draft registration
  • 1958—daughter’s death
  • 1965—Social Security Death Index, death certificate, Find-a-Grave, and tombstone

We see him was using Edward as a primary name at least as early as age 14, but he still returned to George at times! I’ve never heard an explanation as to why he flipped his names. I do know that the other Mentzer family in the area (the ones without an “i”—we were the ones with an “i”) also had a George—a 2nd cousin to him—who was 15 years older. That’s a bit of a large gap for the two of them getting “confused” for each other. The family had been in the USA for five years, so reverting to the German tradition of using the middle name instead of the first name seems unlikely. Plus, this family didn’t really go by middle names, with the exception of their oldest daughter. Maybe he just didn’t like the name George . . .

Uncle Ed worked at the brickyard with my grandfather for a number of years, switching over to janitorial work as he aged. Or maybe the brickyard closed down (maybe I should check that!), prompting the career change?

Occupations:

  • 1910-1930—worked at brickyard
  • 1940-1942—janitor at school
  • 1965—brick maker (death certificate)

It’s interesting, though, that on the death certificate his son listed his dad’s occupation as brick maker! I doubt Ed had worked at that occupation for the last quarter century, yet that is how his son thought of him. I don’t have any records telling me when he retired, or if he had additional occupations later on.

His wife, Annie, had died suddenly in 1936, leaving him with at least the three youngest (all girls) at home to finish raising—the youngest one just 8 years old. He remained in the area until he passed away, almost thirty years later.

img2813
Siblings: Christoph Meintzer (Grandpa), Sophie Meintzer Kranz, and Edward Meintzer. Aunt Sophie died in 1963, so it’s before then. I’m not sure what party in whose home, though. Only one other sibling was still alive at this point.

#52Ancestors


¹”United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918″, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.familysearch.org), George Edward MEINTZER, serial no. 1168, order no. 95, Draft Board 1, Cook County, lllinois, citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: NARA microfilm publication M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library Roll No. 1504100, accessed 2 December 2018. Registered 5 June 1917.

²”U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942″, database, (https://www.ancestry.com), Edward George MEINTZER, serial no. 409, order no. not given, Draft Board 3, Cook County, Illinois; citing World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Illinois. State Headquarters ca. 1942. NARA Publication M2097, 326 rolls. NAI: 623284. The National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. U.S.A.; accessed 2 December 2018.

Random Fact

Life isn’t always as random as we think . . .

26 May 1881. Seems like a somewhat random date, right? It’s actually very important—the day one set of great grandparents, Christian Meintzer Colorful and Sophia Gaertner My Favorite Photo, arrived in New York. It was before either Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty were in place.

I still don’t have arrival dates for:

  • Carl Moeller and Elfrieda Jonas
  • Nicholas and Elisabetha Jost
  • Christian Bruder and Catharine Cugel
  • John Haase and Elisabetha Nachtwey
  • Peter Harré and Elisabetha Boullie
  • Ignatz Schweiger
  • John Joseph Carmody and Elizabeth Alloway
  • Frank Kukler and Anna Plansky
  • Joseph Schmitt and Margaret Hildesheim
  • Patrick Nolan, and his parents John Nolan and Elizabeth Alpin (Halpin)
  • James Needham and Mary Elizabeth Renehan
  • Augusta Maud Varco and her parents, Robert & Jane
  • John Flynn (Augusta’s husband)

Just looking at the list makes me sad, and I would give almost anything to know those dates and arrival ports! I didn’t choose this 1881 date from all the random dates in my file simply because it’s when Christian and Sophia brought their large family to the USA from Le Havre on the French steamer, Labrador. I chose it because of another random event, 137 years later.

People who know me know that we cruise quite a bit. This past April, Carnival launched a new ship with a very short European season. The Carnival Horizon had just 5 cruises in the Mediterranean, with a transatlantic cruise (our first!) leaving May 9th from Barcelona. We booked that cruise shortly after it became available.

We spent 5 days circling the Iberian peninsula before heading west to Halifax—with 6 sea days in between! We’ve had 5 consecutive sea days before, so weren’t concerned when we left Vigo, Spain.

2018 05 20 atlantic crossing
Crossing the Atlantic, 20 May 2018. This may have been taken through a widow, adding the blur. Not all our sea days were this dreary . . .

I love sea days—looking at the horizon, watching the changes in the sea—regardless of whether it’s smooth or rough. At some point I usually think about my ancestors, wondering what their trips had been like, and how they felt, looking at the sea.

IMG_20181117_063948
Some were like this: sunrise, 17 November 2018–different cruise, but still the Atlantic, farther south, parallel with the Carolinas

This particular cruise wasn’t really different, until about 3 days into the crossing. It suddenly dawned on me that I was sailing across the Atlantic at the same time of year as Christian and Sophia! I couldn’t believe in all the months of planning, I never connected those two random events.

While they and we all ended up in NYC (we docked 3 days before they did), our ocean voyages were vastly different:

  • 3 weeks (I think they left on 5 May, but I’m not finding that document right now) vs. 6 days
  • Steamship vs. diesel/marine fuel
  • Steerage vs. Ocean view stateroom (their passenger list didn’t distinguish between 3rd and 4th class–anything not 1st or 2nd class was “steerage”)
  • 1388 (160 1st class, 125 2nd, 653 3rd, 450 4th)¹ vs. 4000² passengers (they were listed as passengers 494-502 on the passenger list, so maybe 3rd class?)
  • 3200¹ vs. 133,500² gross tonnage
  • 7 children ages 19 to <1 vs. traveling without kids
  • Limited food choices vs. abundant eating options
  • we won’t even talk about the IMAX, water slides, or ropes course . . .

I still marvel that we unintentionally mimicked their trip. If we had wanted to do that, undoubtedly we would have run into problem trying to find a ship going where we wanted, when we needed it. Yet this one simply dropped into our laps.

Will I find those other emigration dates? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I ever be able to understand what all of them went through? Surely not. Nevertheless, I do feel different somehow as a result of that one trip.

So, coincidence? Random? I’m not so sure . . .

#52Ancestors


¹Norway-Heritage, Hands Across the Sea. http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=labr1 click here; accessed 18 November 2018 (scroll down for images of the ship!).

²Carnival.com. https://www.carnival.com/cruise-ships/compare-cruise-ships click here (then select “Horizon” and “compare” to see its stats); accessed 18 November 2018.

Bearded

To shave, or not to shave . . .

I was not terribly excited about this prompt, because I had zero ideas about what to write about. We don’t have any Amish in our trees, and offhand I couldn’t think of anyone with a beard. Mike’s 18-day beard when we went camping in the Pacific Northwest in 1998 (he decided to take a vacation from shaving) wasn’t particularly noteworthy. I don’t think we have a photo record of it, either.

His beard was kind of nice, and had grown out past the awkward and uncomfortable stage—itchy for him and rough/scratchy for me. But he shaved it off when we got home. As soon as we got home. That afternoon—not the next morning. No warning to me. No chance to say goodbye to it. I was in the yard picking up the mail from the neighbor and talking about the trip, when he walks out with a naked face! There aren’t even words.

So yeah, no story there. A couple weeks of working on other posts intervened. It finally occurred to me that Christian Meintzer did have a beard, but he’s already had quite a bit of press in the blog (My Favorite Photo and Colorful), and I don’t have any particular story about him and his beard. Cousins, feel free to help out!

So I’m going to cheat and back off to just a mustache. A number of them hang around our trees;

John Carmody portrait 1906
Photo ca. 1906 probably provided by him to The Port Huron Daily Herald for an article written about him 2 March 1906

some you’ve seen before. The first is John Joseph Carmody, Mike’s paternal grandfather. You meet him in Unusual Source. As I mentioned then, I don’t know that much about him, and certainly don’t know any stories about his mustache. But his photo from the paper is just to awesome to pass up!

Another mustache, attached to my great-grandfather, Carl Moeller, was from the same turn-of-the-century era. My mom remembers this grandfather’s handlebar mustache when she was growing up, and she said he had a mug with a bar across the bottom edge to keep his mustache dry when he was drinking coffee. When I see one of those in an antique stop, my mind immediately goes to him! He’s the 2nd from the left of the men in the foreground, below.

Carl Moeller Northbrook photo_0001

From the photos I have seen, my grandfather, Christoph Meintzer, never sported a mustache, but his older brother, Jacob, seemed to. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to put my hands on one of Uncle Jake’s photos.

I don’t recall my dad or any of my uncles having mustaches, but I vividly remember a time when all three of my brothers were mustachioed. It was the 1970s, so that explains a lot! Several cousins had them, also—some never giving them up.

1975 dad and sons
1974-1976? Warren, Bob, Dad and Bill in front of the house we kids grew up in. Three mustaches and one not. This is a fairly rare image of Warren with a mustache.

I must be getting old, because it seems one memory begets another. As I wrote this, I suddenly remembered my oldest brother, Bob, coming home for our oldest sister, Carole, getting married in May, 1969. I was at school when Mom picked him up at O’Hare . . . with hair down to his shoulders, and a full beard. She was not at all pleased. I don’t know what discussion went on, but by the time I got home from school, his hair was shorter and the beard trimmed up. Mom was visibly happier!

1969 May 31 Mom &amp; Bob
31 May 1969 Mom and Bob, at Carole’s wedding.

Beards and mustaches aren’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things. We sometimes get so caught up in the stories of our people, that we ignore the littler stories behind the stories. Often those are as interesting—or more mysterious—than bigger issues in their lives. Were they

  • Following the fashion of the time?
  • Rebelling?
  • Taking on a dare?
  • Trying to be taken more seriously in their profession?

Most of the time we will never know, but it’s interesting to look for possible patterns. And we need to save those photos for blackmail, later!

#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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