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.
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.
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.