Comedy

“Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!”–Stephen Sondheim

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You may have discovered the harder we try at humor and comedy, the less successful it is. The unplanned moments are often the funniest. Most people don’t find genealogy entertaining, let alone funny. So much of what we research falls into the category of sad, even tragic, events. How does one find humor in the deaths, illnesses, war injuries, tornadoes, and rattlesnake bites that befell our ancestors? You don’t, because it just isn’t there.

Sometimes, though, comedy sneaks through during the research process. We learn a quirky fact about someone, or the process of tracking down a piece of information is so convoluted, you can’t help but laugh at how you reached your conclusion(s).

My dad was the youngest of five. His oldest brother, Paul, died very young. You met Dad’s next oldest brother, Henry, in Namesake. He was six years older than Dad, so I’m not sure that as kids they would have hung out much with each other. Marie was in the middle of the boys, leaving George, eighteen months older than Dad, as his closest sibling, age-wise.

With three older brothers, and three sons of my own, I’ve observed brothers, particularly ones close in age, can have interesting relationships. Sometimes difficult ones! I don’t remember hearing many stories about Dad & Uncle George when they were young, but I imagine when they weren’t killing each other, they were causing mischief together.

Around April, 1941, in the backyard at 910 Rosemary Terrace, Deerfield, IL. Robert Haws is on the left, newly enlisted brother George is in the middle, and brother Henry is on the right.

During the 1990s, Mom’s Meintzer clan held four reunions: 1990, 1992, 1995, and 1997. We kids flocked back home to attend them, if we could. I remember sitting in the kitchen one of those times, packing coolers, cooking, whatever. Mom’s kitchen wasn’t very big, but in our family, the kitchen was [is] a regular hang-out spot, regardless of whose house and kitchen.

So a bunch of us were in there, and Dad started telling this story about when he was a kid. He and George found some rags in their basement. They didn’t know what they’d been used for. Somehow they got the brilliant idea to see if they would burn! This was probably the late 1920s, so they were eight to ten years old, maybe? Not necessarily the age to think through consequences of their actions real well.

Their dad smoked a pipe, so finding matches wouldn’t have been hard. Latex paint didn’t exist, so the house paint would have been oil-based. Where you have oil paint, you have turpentine.

You can see where this was headed, right?

Apparently Bob & George had the sense to put the rags in a coffee can. Of course, the coffee can had probably been used to clean paint brushes, so it’s likely there was turpentine residue inside it, also. Anyway, the fire started by the rags (and yes, they were still in the basement!) was a little more robust than they anticipated.

Fortunately, their mother (Victoria) had been upstairs, smelled the smoke coming up the stairs, and went to investigate. She extinguished (smothered, I imagine) the fire, and gave the boys “what for.” Lesson learned, right?

No, not really.

In the next day or so, they had a repeat performance. I’m not sure whether they thought they had a “better” plan, or what, but their mom was back downstairs, putting out the fire again. That time she was probably more emphatic about stopping the nonsense, threatening promising to tell their father (Edward) if it happened a third time. That was enough motivation for them to cease and desist!

Now, rags burning in the basement of a 2-story wood frame house is not a joking matter. It’s downright serious! Time has a way of mellowing the danger, though, especially when we know everyone came through safely. By the time Dad finished telling his story, it was seen only as a comedy of errors. We adult kids were in hysterics, and the grandkids old enough to appreciate the story were shocked and appalled their grandfather was such a scalawag when he was young.

Then there was my mom.

She’d been at the sink during the story, washing vegetables or something. Her reaction was not one of amusement! She railed into Dad, wanting to know why, in 45+ years of marriage, she had never heard that story. She continued on about how he should have told her about that incident when Bob & Warren (my older brothers) burned their bedroom floor.

Hold the phone! What??

She explained that the burn mark on the oak floor in the boys’ bedroom was caused by them starting a fire. Granted, it was small, but still a fire. At the time (the ages were never nailed down, but probably somewhere around the age of our dad’s adventure), she was worried there was something more seriously wrong with them. If she’d know Dad and George had done the same type of thing, she might not have worried as much!

Warren, Bob, and me at Scenic State Park, near Bigfork, Minnesota. Yes, that is a Mickey Mouse Club, short sleeved sweatshirt. And a really big fish, not caught by me! Warren says it’s probably a Northern Pike, rather than a Walleye Pike. He doesn’t recall who actually caught the fish. It could have been either one of them, or my dad, who was taking the photo. Estimated date, July 1961, ages 13, 3, almost 14. Why are there no photos of the Bluegill (my “first” fish) that was placed on my hook when I wasn’t looking?

At that point, if we’d gotten our laughter under control, we all lost it again.

I remember there being a blackened area on their floor, usually covered by a throw rug. By the time Dad was telling his story, we’d been gone from that house for over 15 years. The floor and burn mark had been replaced by a McDonald’s, and I’m unaware of any photos with that section of floor. Mom is now 97; I don’t expect her to remember the circumstances (it’s been 20+ years since the reunion where it came up!). So as a thorough researcher, my only option was to contact the perpetrators. Bob died in 2008, leaving Warren as my only hope.

He wasn’t much help. Of course, It’s been 49 years since he moved out of that house! Did I have pictures? No. He had no recollection of anything like that happening, and adopted a Mission: Impossible attitude, disavowing all knowledge of the alleged incident. Evidently whatever punishment they received didn’t leave a huge impression! He suggested IF such an event occurred, it was probably him and Bob trying to light paper with a magnifying glass.

Some of you may remember back in the pre-Nintendo/Atari/Sony, and pre-iPad days, childhood entertainment was pretty simple. It could include roller skating, playing cops & robbers, or making stick floor plans for the worms on the sidewalk after a rain (yes, I was a weird kid!). Compared to that, firing cap rolls by hitting them with rocks, or lighting paper or dry leaves with a magnifying glass were far more exciting activities! But starting a fire that way was harder than it sounds, because it took a really steady hand to keep the beam focused on the exact spot. Move a bit, and you were effectively starting over! It was a skill I learned under the tutelage of my older siblings.

The boys’ room had three west-facing windows, but it presented several logistical problems, reducing the plausibility of the magnifying glass scenario:

  • the burn was closer to the door than the windows, so the sun would have had to come in at a fairly low angle
  • there was an elm tree (later succumbing to Dutch Elm disease) that would have blocked sunlight from that angle
  • even without the tree, the light passed through a window and window screen, first. I could be wrong, but I think that would have dispersed the beam enough that it wouldn’t have worked. It was hard enough starting a fire outside, sun directly overhead! Adding obstacles wouldn’t have helped.

Clearly the details of my brothers’ mischief have been lost through the years. I don’t doubt its occurrence, though. Mom had no reason to make up a story like that, but my brothers had every reason in the world to have forgotten the incident! We just don’t confidently know the why or how of their fire.

Sometimes it’s not the event itself, but the memory of it, and the reactions generated from retelling, providing the comedy. Fortunately none of our four “pyromaniacs” continued down that path—that we know of, at least! It seems I instinctively knew to keep my matches on the top shelf of a cupboard, and never retrieved them in view of my children . . .

#52Ancestors


Sister

“When traveling life’s journey it’s good to have a sister’s hand to hold on to.”–unknown

Christoph Jacob Meintzer, my grandfather, was the youngest child of his father, Christian Meinzer (Colorful). Christian had thirteen children all together: four with his first wife, Maria Elisabetha Weidmann (Cause of Death), then nine more with his second wife, Sophia Gaertner (My Favorite Photo). As the youngest of the nine who lived to adulthood, my grandpa had nieces and nephews older than he was!

Of the nine, only three were boys, so Christoph had six sisters! The two oldest (his half sisters) were Lizzie & Kate, and I’ll be focusing on them. They were well into their twenties when Grandpa was born. I always knew they were his half sisters, but he never focused on that distinction. Was he as close to them as to some of his other siblings? Probably not, but I think it was likely due more to the age gap than the “halfness.”

Both girls were born in Dehlingen, Bas-Rhin, Alsace. Lizzie’s (Marie Elisabeth’s) birth record1 (click on Accepter button, if you click through to see the image!) showed her mother to be a couturière—a seamstress or dressmaker. When she emigrated in 1881 (Elise, age 17), the passenger list2 showed her as also being a seamstress! I find it curious she developed the same skill as the mother who died when she was only two.

Elizabeth married John Ahrens 9 March 1885. Unfortunately, Illinois had no state census after 1865, so I can’t see if she was still working as a seamstress when she got married. By 1900 she had five children, so employment was not an option!

Elizabeth Meintzer Ahrens (1963-1945). This is an undated studio photograph. The prop in her hands (Abel’s Photographic Weekly) was published between 1913 and 1934, so presumably the photo was taken in that window. The image can’t be enlarged enough to read the date on the cover. The pleated top and skirt suggest the 1920s, placing her around age 60.

According to the census records, LIzzie and her husband rented in Chicago, in what might be considered the Irving Park neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. It wasn’t terribly far from her siblings, but far enough not to be able to visit easily or frequently. She was widowed in 1919, and around 1930 ran a grocery store—a small, neighborhood one, I imagine—assisted by her daughter, Josephine. It seemed one or the other of her adult children were usually living nearby.

By 1935, she’d purchased a home in Norwood Park, a little closer to her siblings, and lived there with her son, William, until her death. When Lizzie died 20 November 1945, the Illinois Bell Telephone operators had been on strike for a day, already. The strike ended by the 26th, but it complicated her funeral. Her siblings could not be reached by phone to be told of her death and what the funeral plans were. Her children mailed penny postcards with the information, but those weren’t delivered quickly enough to get the information in time. Her sister Sophie felt bad about missing her sister’s funeral on 23 November.

Younger sister, Catherine (Kate), was barely nine months old3 when their mother died. She was sixteen when she emigrated,2 and had no occupation listed at that point. In Favorite Name we got a glimpse of “Kitty” marrying George Warren in 1890. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what she was doing for the nine years in between. Did she live at home? Was she working somewhere? Or was she employed as live-in help in someone’s home? No answers to those questions.

In the 1900 census, Kate was running a boarding house in West Town (a west side Chicago neighborhood) with her two young children, along with five lodgers. She was listed as married, but George was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know what became of him. I couldn’t find him:

  • elsewhere in the 1900 census
  • in a death record (despite her listing as “married” for her entry)
  • in a divorce record (though it seems Illinois doesn’t have divorce records online)
  • on Find-a-Grave (obviously not all headstones are recorded there!)

Nevertheless, Kate married Morton N. Smith in St. Joseph, Michigan, 2 October 1904.4 The marriage register indicated Kate was living in Hammond, Indiana (right around the corner) and Morton was living in Blue Island, Illinois. St. Joseph was a common “marriage mill” for the greater Chicago area, because it avoided the Illinois 3-day wait rule. Morton was listed as never married, with Kate having one prior marriage. Presumably her marriage to George ended officially!

Kate, Morton, and her children go missing in 1910. While her son may have been old enough to be on his own, daughter Mabel was only 15, so a little too young for that. I didn’t find them in Illinois, Indiana, (prior residences) or Ohio (where Mabel got married in 1911). In 1920, their oldest grandson, Walter (age 7), is living with them in Chicago, but they are alone in 1930, shortly before Morton’s death.

Kate Meintzer Warren Smith at the 1930 Meintzer reunion. Not the best scan, but it’s hard to get a good one from a group photo like that. I don’t really have any other photos of her, that I know of.

Now widowed, she continued to live in the Chicago area. My mom remembered as a teenager, Aunt Kate visiting, and hearing Kate Smith (the singer) on the radio. They all thought it amusing that “Kate Smith was listening to Kate Smith on the radio!” I believe there was also a time when she had moved in with my mom and her parents. Later on, Kate moved up to stay with Carrie, a half sister, in Rondout, Illinois. She was living there at the time of her death in 1949.

This week has taught me that even though I was familiar with these two sisters, there were still a lot of unanswered questions with them. Some details got filled in, but many more questions remain. It was good to take the time to fill in some of those gaps. Maybe I need to schedule a road trip to research records not available online to fill in the rest?

#52Ancestors


1“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1863, p. 7, no. 20, Marie Elisabeth MEINTZER, 20 December 1863; accessed 7 August 2019.

2“New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), citing Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, NARA Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. Records of the U.S. Customs Service; Record Group 36, Roll #437. National Archives, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Entry for. Elisa MAINTZER, entry number 496, line 9, list number 661; accessed 8 August 2019.

3“États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1865, p. 3, no. 5, Catherine MEINTZER, 11 March 1865; accessed 7 August 2019.

4“Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 11 August 2019, citing Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics,1903 Wayne – 1904 Chippewa, film number 80, record # 935. Morton N. SMITH (38) and Catherine WARREN (37).

Easy

“It’s so easy . . .”–Linda Ronstadt (1977)

No, I’m not writing about falling in love, and I’m not related to that Linda! This week’s prompt lodged the song into my head, and I just couldn’t shake it . . .

There are ancestors we think will be easy to research and track down: those with distinctive names, for instance. Unfortunately, an unusual name is no guarantee of being easy to find, because it’s so frequently misspelled. In addition to the “i-less” version of Meintzer (Mentzer), I’ve run across:

  • Mintzer
  • Menzer
  • Mentcer
  • Menzer
  • Menser
  • and so on!

Even less “complicated” names, like Mike’s Kuklers, have a dizzyingly wide variety of spellings, as vowel and consonant sounds swap at will:

  • Cukler
  • Kukla (minus Fran and Ollie!)
  • Cookler
  • Keckler
  • Geckler
  • that’s just the tip of the iceberg . . .

So if neither the unusual names nor the simpler names are easy, is anyone easy? The answer is no. Yes. It depends.

Clear as mud, right?

I’ve discovered searching becomes “easier” when I know more about a person or the family. That seems really obvious, but it’s trickier than it sounds! Just because I know lots of details, doesn’t mean I can use them all for searching. Sometimes I need to, sometimes I don’t. How to decide??

When too many search parameters are used, the person I’m looking for is often eliminated because one or more of the details is:

  • Missing
  • Unreadable/misread
  • Too specific
  • Not specific enough!
  • Way out in left field
  • Flat out wrong (yes those last 2 are technically different!)

in the record I am looking at. A search using fewer fields reduces the odds of someone not making the cut.

I finally found Mike’s 2nd great grandparents by searching for their 3-year-old son¹ with just his name, age, and county. It was a long shot that paid off. I had no idea where they lived in Detroit in 1870, so a page-by-page search would have taken forever.

Searching with less, I ended up with a relatively short list of kids, from whom it was easy to pick out the misspelled, sound-alike, surname. Reading with my ears is very important!

The two sets of 2nd great grandparents on my dad’s side, in Manitowoc², were found the old fashioned way, cranking reels of microfilm by hand (pre-internet). They lived in a rural area, with fewer families, but both their last names were recorded wrong! If I’d relied just on their names, I never would have found them!

Luckily, I knew their wives’³, as well as their children’s, names and birth years. Even when the surname didn’t look right, my eyes still picked up on the entire family unit. It slowed me down enough to take a closer look at the dads and realize they were the right ones. Without that information, those details, it would have been easy to miss, and difficult to make a case for those misspelled names.

Sometimes the small details keep me from chasing down a rabbit hole. Wrong occupation? Wrong location? It might be my person. Or not. People did change occupations and locations, but usually not as often as they changed their shirt. Does everything else fit? It may be fine, then.

Right wife, wrong kids? That always raises a huge red flag for me. While older kids move out, and younger ones are born, between one census and another, there is usually some carry over. A wholesale kid-swap is unlikely, but same-named, similarly-aged couples are more common than we think. I usually end up researching that family for quite a while to determine if they are mine. Most times it fizzles out.

Different wife, right kids? I start looking for the first wife’s death (or a divorce) and another marriage. I’ve found more than a couple later marriages that were a complete surprise! Fortunately, no bigamists. Yet.

So, easy? I don’t think it really exists in genealogy. Every once in a while there’s a situation when a new bit of information allows a number of other seemingly random pieces to suddenly fit together and make sense. I may delude myself into thinking it was easy, choosing to forget the blood, sweat, and tears; banging my head on the keyboard; and the wailing and gnashing of teeth (done quietly, so as not to wake Mike!); that transpired prior to that.

But then, its being easy wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying, would it?

#52Ancestors


¹1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, Wayne, 2nd precinct, 6th Ward, Detroit; Page 33; dwelling number 288; family number 292; line 5; Frank GUCKLER [KUKLER] household; accessed 4 September 2017. Frank GUCKLER [KUKLER], age 9/12; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713; digital image. Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers Town; Page 15; dwelling number 108; family number 113; line 10; John HORS [HOSS] [HAWS] household; accessed 2 February 2019. John HORS [HOSS] [HAWS], age 44–surname enumerated as HOSS, sometimes getting mis-indexed as HORS. Should be HAAS, HAASE, OR HAWS; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image. Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Two Rivers Town; Page 19; dwelling number 134; family number 139; line 10; John RINDER [BRUDER] household; accessed 2 February 2019. John RINDER [BRUDER], age 33; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1723; digital image. Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

Challenging

Rising to a challenge isn’t for everyone . . .

Minnie (Wilhelmina Carolina Christina) Moeller Meintzer is my maternal grandmother. She died shortly after I was born, so all my knowledge of her is second hand: from siblings, my mom, or older cousins. Fortunately for me, my mom’s brother, Gail, decided to write a book in 2016: Detours: A Memoir of a Railroad Man

While Gail focused on himself, obviously other people wove in and out of his life and story, his mother being one of them. I have always been aware of her cooking at Bartelme’s Inn and Briargate Country Club (Invite to Dinner), but he provided stories I had never heard, showing she had no difficulty in challenging someone, if need be. He graciously gave me permission to share those stories here (in my own words, unless quoted).

Minnie Moeller Meintzer, date unknown. Love the hat! The pendant watch was a gift from Christoph, while they were dating.

Al Capone had a “Wisconsin getaway,” as did most of the Chicago mobsters. His was in Couderay, in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.² Returning to his home base in Cicero, he’d have to drive near/through Northbrook.

This is the old Bartelme’s Inn in Northbrook. It originally stood at the corner of Shermer and Waukegan Roads, but was moved to 1776 Walters Avenue when it was acquired by the Northbrook Historical Society. The people in the parking lot are my dad (far right), my mom’s brother (middle), and her sister-in-law, Neva (far left Love). Photo taken by Ardyth.

One of those trips back, Capone and his men stopped at Bartelme’s to eat. The old German man working as waiter rushed into the kitchen, scared to death, asking Minnie for help. She couldn’t get any information before Capone walked in. Minnie asked what was going on.

Capone said, “I’m trying to tip our waiter for the good job he did, but he won’t take the money,” which was a $100 bill.

Meintzer, Gail F. 2016. Detours. Green Bay, Wisconsin: Written Dreams Publishing, p.23.

Apparently the waiter was worried that Capone would shoot him afterwards, if he accepted the tip. Minnie didn’t have time for this nonsense; she had a kitchen to run! She had Capone give her the money. When he did, she handed it to the waiter.

Then she looked at Capone and told him, “Now get the hell out of my kitchen.” And he did.

Ibid. p. 24.

The incident challenging Capone may not have been the first, but it definitely wasn’t the last time Minnie challenged someone!

Briargate Country Club, Deerfield. Christoph ran the concession between 1939 and 1941. That included him bartending at the 19th Hole, and Minnie cooking. Her pies were legendary. They lived in a house on the property.

Just like country clubs today, Briargate Country Club hosted golf outings, sometimes capped with dinner afterwards for the participants. One time the arrangements included steak dinners for 225 people after the event.¹ [p. 36-37] Minnie ordered 250 steaks from her supplier, just to be safe. Any extras would be used up later that week.

Unbeknownst to her, the chairman for the event sold more than the 225 tickets he had contracted for, without letting anyone (particularly Minnie!) know. As the dinner orders came in, steaks were served. And served. She ran through the 250 steaks she ordered, plus some that she had on hand. The chairman couldn’t be found to explain the problem, so finally she had to send out ground steak patties to get the customers a meal.

THAT got his attention, as those golfers who received not steak dinners complained to him. He stormed into the kitchen to chew her out, but she turned it back on him. She told him she’d already served more than he’d contracted for, and she was doing her best to get meals to everyone. She wanted to know why there were orders still coming in. He fessed up that he’d sold more tickets.

Minnie really let loose, then, informing him that IF he’d said something to her in the afternoon, she would have been able to increase her order. There would have been no problem at all! As it was, he was going to pay the agreed upon price, even for the dinners that weren’t steaks.

By all accounts, my grandmother was a loving and caring person, but she was more than capable of challenging someone, if the situation warranted it!

#52Ancestors


¹Meintzer, Gail F. 2016. Detours. Green Bay, Wisconsin: Written Dreams Publishing.

²Kirby, Doug. 2019. “Couderay, Wisconsin: The Hideout: Al Capone’s Northwoods Retreat Closed)”. Roadside America. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/7404.

Reunion, addendum

Fortunately, somebody else knows all the things I don’t!

So I’ll say it here—I have the best cousins in the world! They jump in with help and feedback on any and everything. It’s wonderful, even if it’s them sometimes telling me I made a mistake!

This time, it was Ellen, pointing out the photo of the Riverview Town Hall in the PDF file I footnoted in this week’s blog. I was uncertain, but her dad (who is to the left of my uncle, in the reunion photo) said the photo on page 2 was the Town Hall. I guess the family was posed along a wall towards the back, out of view of the interesting parts of the building! It’s a beautiful building—too bad it’s gone.

Is it terribly important that we know what the building looked like? It was just the background for a group photo. Maybe not, but since the building is gone, all we have left is the collective knowledge we retain and document for posterity. If that isn’t done, that information eventually disappears.

So thanks, Ellen, for filling in “the mostly blue, but with a bit of yellow and red” piece to our family jigsaw puzzle. It wouldn’t be complete without it!


¹Gale, Neil. 2019. “Village Of Riverview, Illinois (Now: Des Plaines, IL)”. Living History Of Illinois And Chicago. http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/Village%20of%20Riverview,%20Illinois.pdf; p. 2

Reunion

“We are who we are because they were who they were.” -Unknown

Eighty-nine years ago, the Meintzer/Mentzer clan gathered together for the first family reunion. It was attended by at least 107 people. Yes, I counted heads! My mom is the 8-year-old girl with bobbed hair sitting cross-legged in the front row, 4th from the right. Her younger brother (age 4) was 4 to the left of her, in front of their parents, Christoph and Minnie Meintzer. Mom remembers attending this reunion as a kid.

Meintzer/Mentzer reunion in the summer of 1930. Exact date unknown but the infant cradled in the back row (held by the 5th adult from left) was born 2 June 1930. Seven of the nine children of Christian and Sophia Meintzer attended (middle of the 2nd row), as well as some extended family.

The photo resurfaced — that I know of, at least — in the early 1980s, when my mom and Lois, my godmother, decided we needed a family reunion. Unfortunately, my grandfather and his siblings had all died by then, so we needed to rely on the next generation to fill in the details of location and people.

Mom recognized some of the people, but not all. The nine siblings left a lot of kids between them, many of them still alive in the 1980s. With “crowdsourcing” (was that a thing, yet?) we managed to identify 93 people. That’s actually not too bad!

The reunion took place in the town of Riverview, just south of Des Plaines, Illinois. First settled in 1833, Riverview consisted of farms as well as industries accumulated over time.¹ [p. 1] By the mid 1880s, the town had a train station, post office, and a Town Hall (the building in the background of this photo). Over the next few years, additional industries were proposed, but either didn’t get off the ground or didn’t last long. The residents petitioned nearby Des Plaines to annex Riverview in 1925.

The Town Hall was on the northwest corner of Illinois & Everett, but was demolished in 1941.¹ [p. 5] I’ve been unsuccessful in locating other images of it. The building had an auditorium upstairs, but I’m unsure whether the reunion was held inside (coming outside for the photo), or if there were also picnic grounds around it.

In 2019, only a handful of people are still alive who attended this reunion, making it unlikely we will nail down the remaining faces. This week I spun off a “working file” from Family Tree Maker, containing only the people who were related and alive in 1930. I had it create a chart of everyone in the new file (whittled down to 159), then colored in the boxes for the identified people, and saved it. I’m hoping that seeing families with one or two members AWOL will help us put names to faces. I’m not going to list all the names in the blog. If you are family, and want the list, email me and I’ll gladly share it.

What I find notable about this photo (aside from all the men wearing ties!) is that extended family was also present. In Northbrook and the surrounding area, there were two families with names pronounced the same, but spelled differently. There were the Meintzers with an “i” (my people) and the Mentzers without an “i” (distant cousins). In the 1930s, the connection between the two was still well-known. My grandfather, Christoph Meintzer, knew that Christian Mentzer, four years older, was his 2nd cousin. Today, I don’t think many people realize there was/is a connection between the families, though I try to point it out whenever possible! It’s an important connection to keep.

Emigrating from Alsace in 1881, my great-grandfather, Christian, did not settle in the area north of Chicago accidentally. He moved his family to a place where he had 1st cousins he’d never met in person. In 1842, his uncle, Johann Philippe Meintzer, sailed on the Franconia from Le Havre.² Phillippe settled in Northfield and started working, eventually saving enough money to acquire land. He married Helena Weiman. They had at least four children (if there were more, I haven’t found them).

Descendant chart showing the 3 who immigrated to the Northbrook, Illinois, area. They are shaded yellow. Johann Philippe Meintzer Mentzer (far left) arrived first. The next arrival was Henri George Meintzer (far right), who arrived in 1871, then my great-grandfather, Christian (center), in 1881.

In 1871, Henri Georg Meintzer (another nephew of Philippe’s) arrived from Berg, staying for a couple years before moving back east to Ohio. That family remained in Ohio, and was “lost” to us until the last decade or so. Why Johann Philippe came to the Chicago area, I don’t know, but the other two most likely arrived there because of him. It’s helpful to know someone in a new area. Even though the cousins didn’t “know” each other, they were still family, so there’s still a connection. It’s possible the families had kept in contact by mail, though I’m unaware of any letters to document that.

I love that this reunion photo shows the two families together. The fact that they left Alsace separately, and reunited in the United States is cool! I need to make time to bring the Meintzers without and “i” line forward to current relatives, so my tree is more complete. Add that to the to-do list!

Please see an update to this post here.

#52Ancestors


¹Gale, Neil. 2019. “Village Of Riverview, Illinois (Now: Des Plaines, IL)”. Living History Of Illinois And Chicago. http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/Village%20of%20Riverview,%20Illinois.pdf; p. 1 and 5.

²National Archives and Records Administration, Castle Garden web site (castlegarden.org), http://www.castlegarden.org/quick_search_detail.php?p_id=8712262. Philipp MEINTZER–age 40.

Legend

Just because we can’t “prove it,” doesn’t mean it isn’t true . . .

One of the enduring genealogy myths is that of the “three brothers.” It generally goes along the lines of three brothers emigrating to America, each one heading in a different direction once here, with one of them never heard from again. While it conveniently explains brick walls in our trees, there’s really no basis in fact. Yet, it persists!

My Meintzer line does have three brothers, but only one ends up in the United States. That would be my great grandfather, Christian (Colorful). The next younger brother, Heinrich (1834-1909) remained in the Alsatian village of Dehlingen. His descendants continued to live in the area, with some still living in the family homestead.

The youngest brother was Philippe. He never married, and died relatively young. The legend surrounding him is that his mandatory military service was done in Rome “at the Pope’s.” Supposedly he walked to and from Rome, and later died from a disease he got while there.

The parents of the three boys were Christian Meintzer (born in Volksberg in 1806) and Catharina Christina Isel (Jesel), born in 1809, in Dehlingen. There is a four year gap between Christian and Heinrich, and six years between Heinrich & Philippe. It’s possible Christina may have had miscarriages in those intervals. We know she gave birth to a daughter, Christina, 3 February 1840, who lived only 4 days before dying 7 February. The “tables décennales ” (10-year tables—an alphabetized index of a decade’s worth of births, deaths, and marriages) don’t point us to any other children for this family.

But back to Philippe. We find his birth documented in the civil records the day he was born, 13 December 1841 (no. 29).¹ I can’t post the image here, but the link will take you to that image on the “Archives Departmentales” (Department Archives) of Bas-Rhin website. You need to click the “accepter” button towards the bottom to accept their terms of use and see the image. It’s in French. His parents are listed, along with their ages, birth places, residence, and occupation. Similar information is recorded for the required two witnesses, with signatures for them, as well as the maire (mayor) who recorded the event. No real surprises are in the entry.

The only other vital record in the village was for his death, 28 April 1871 (no. 6).² Philippe didn’t make it to his thirtieth birthday. His occupation was “cultivateur” — one of many terms that could be used for someone working in agriculture. He was not married, and his parents’ names and ages confirm we have the right man. Both parents were still alive at that time. His father, Christian, and brother, Heinrich, also had the occupation of “cultivateur,” and reported the death to the maire.

No mention was made of Philippe’s cause of death—or for any of the other deaths on the page. That’s consistent with what I found with Elisabetha Weidmann Meintzer’s death record, and that of her son, Christian, Jr. (Cause of Death). Apparently it still wasn’t considered important to record, six years later. It’s very inconvenient! You would think the civil authorities would have been more concerned about something like that. It seems he arrived home and was able to work for at least a period of time. If he arrived home so sick he couldn’t work, I doubt they’d have included an occupation for him.

Supposedly, France has excellent military records. Unfortunately, they aren’t easy to locate if you aren’t on-site. Some are coming online, but it’s random as to which Departments have them digitized. It takes time. All young men were required to serve in the military. According to the French Military Records³ site, young men needed to register between their 20th and 21st birthdays. Looking at my great grandfather’s (Philippe’s oldest brother) discharge papers, Christian served about 3 years—from 1854-1857. That doesn’t mean he didn’t report between 1850 and 1851, they simply may not have needed him right then.

So presumably Philippe reported between 13 December 1861 and 13 December 1862. He is, in fact, still at home for the 1861 census,4 but is missing in the 1866 census.5 The next available census is 1880—nine years after he died. While we are fortunate to have reproductions of my great grandfather’s discharge papers, with no descendants, I don’t imagine anyone thought it necessary or important to keep Philippe’s. Until I can manage a trip to Alsace, with a visit to the archives, I can’t pinpoint his service dates better than that. I see no reason he would have been able to escape the mandatory military service, however.

What about the rest of the story? When I think of “military” and “the Pope,” the Swiss Guard immediately springs to mind. Unfortunately, Philippe was neither Swiss, nor Catholic. That branch of the family has a long history of being Lutheran. I doubt the Swiss Guard would have made an exception for him!

Digging a little deeper, one learns there were other military forces associated with the Vatican. One difficulty is that some of them disbanded, or morphed into a different structure, so it’s difficult to nail down who he would have been assigned to. Wikipedia mentions (under the”Papal Military” heading) the Papal Army (1860-1870), containing Italians, Swiss, Irish, plus “artillery and dragoons” (not specifying where those men came from). An international Catholic volunteer corps (Papal Zouaves) was another group formed in 1861 to defend the Papal States. It had a strong French influence, despite the many other nationalities participating. That could be a possibility.

No, I haven’t forgotten that he wasn’t Catholic, but the Second Empire still favored Catholicism, so it’s possible he was sent to Rome, regardless of his beliefs. Unfortunately, unless or until I can obtain access to the military registers, I cannot be more specific than those suggestions. It’s possible there were other, smaller units that simply have been forgotten about.

What about the walking? The distance from Dehlingen to the Vatican is 725 miles. That’s 250 miles longer than the Camino de Santiago—which people walk regularly, and about 1/3 of the Appalachian Trail—another busy route. Google maps tells me it takes 249 hours on foot, so it might be doable in about a month? While an undertaking of that sort rarely crosses our minds, today, back then it was probably more common, particularly for the infantry!

While I am unable to confirm all the details of this legend, nothing I discovered left me with the impression it was impossible, or even unlikely. I can’t imagine my Alsatian cousins would make up a story like that, or get the story so wrong. Philippe’s brother, Heinrich, lived until 1909. While most of Heinrich’s children were born after Philippe died, or were very young, it seems like Philippe was talked about and remembered by that family. Here in the States, we didn’t hear the story of him until 1994, but obviously someone had kept his memory alive! For that, I am grateful.

#52Ancestors


¹”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de naissances (Birth Registers) 1841, p. 8, no. 29, Philippe MEINTZER, 13 December 1841; accessed 4 July 2019.

²”États-civil”, database, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin (archives.bas-rhin.fr), Dehlingen, Registre de décès (Death Registers) 1871, p. 3, no. 6, Philippe MEINTZER, 28 April 1871; accessed 4 July 2019.

³Morddell, Anne. 2010. “French Military Records – Les Recensements Militaires”. The French Genealogy Blog. https://french-genealogy.typepad.com/genealogie/2010/04/french-military-records-les-recensements-militaires.html.

41861 census of France, canton Saare-Union, arrondissement de Saverne, Bas-Rhin, p. 5, no. 39, family 48, person 215, Chrétien MEINTZER household. Chrétien MEINTZER, age 54; accessed 4 July 2019; digital image, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, (archives.bas-rhin.fr).

51866 census of France, canton Sarre-Union, arrondissement de Saverne, Bas-Rhin, p. 5, no. 40, family 50, person 213, Chrétien MEINTZER household. Chrétien MEINTZER, age 59; accessed 4 July 2019 [Philippe absent from home]; digital image, Archives Départementales du Bas-Rhin, (archives.bas-rhin.fr).