Family Legend

To prove or not to prove . . . that is the question

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Family legends are tricky things. They lack a certainty that gives you confidence in them. Like a jet trail in the sky, they start out impressive, but soon dissipate, spreading wider, developing gaps. Once the plane is out of sight, we can’t be sure if that’s what it really was, or if it’s just some cirrus clouds, faking us out.

I’ve touched on legends before–Christian Meintzer and his “dual with Napoleon” (Colorful), most recently. Today I’m switching over to Mike’s Kukler family. It’s a rather mundane claim. I am unable to confirm or deny it, though, so I have to park it in the “legend” category for now.

I first heard about this in 2004, at a reunion picnic up in Michigan. I was showing Mike’s uncle the charts and whatnot I’d put together for their family tree. He mentioned that he was told there was a Civil War veteran on the Kukler side. This was the first I’d heard of it in the 24 years I’d spent as a married-in to this family! Of course, in the middle of a city park, in 2004, I had no way to try and research anything. I scribbled notes and started looking when I got home.

First stop was the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors database. The results were short and sweet: only one Kukler, first name Frank, who fought with the 155th and 156th Indiana Infantry. Now, Mike’s family is from Detroit, so Indiana is a stretch. The states share a border, but in the 1860s, the distance is farther than it seems now. Nevertheless, people move around more than we sometime know, so I felt I should follow up.

I learned the Indiana State Archives stored the actual Civil War muster cards on the east side of Indianapolis. I dropped children off at school, and headed there, hoping to find something useful. I located the muster card (not really telling me too much) and three pages of  information about the regiments from Indiana. Frank Kukler mustered in on 22 March 1865, and mustered out on 4 August, 5 months later. I even spent $2 to print out the information, since it wasn’t available online!

Mike descends from a long line of Franks:

  • Francis Charles Kukler (grandfather) 1891-1972
  • Frank J. Kukler (great-grandfather) 1869-1942
  • Frank Kukler (2nd great-grandfather) 1845-1893

While his 2nd great-grandfather would be possible (he’d be 20 in 1865), we don’t know specifically when he arrived. We know he was in Bohemia in 1857 for daughter Ann’s birth, and in Detroit for son Frank J.’s 1869 birth. But the son in between (Wenzelaus/Venson–you met him in Same Name) has conflicting locations for his 1860/61 birth. There’s no evidence that the family settled in Indiana before Detroit. I also checked some of the aberrant spellings for their surname, and those all came up dry.

Could it have been a collateral Kukler, rather than a direct ancestor? Possibly, though Frank was the only Kukler to show up on the search. So could it have been a relative of one of the wives (different last name)? That’s a thought. Frank (b. 1845) was married to Anna Plansky/Palinsky (and I’m sure many other variations!). I’ve thrown a number of those through the Soldiers and Sailors search box with no success. So if she had brothers emigrate, apparently they didn’t serve, or I can’t find them.

Maybe it was a father to one of the female ancestors? Frank J. (born 1869) married Magdelena Schmitt. She was born in Michigan in 1870, as were four older siblings, beginning in 1857. Unfortunately, Joseph Peter Schmitt (her father) is a horrible name to search for! There are 678 Schmitts in the Union, and he sometimes got misspelled as Schmidt, as well as Smith! Narrowing to Michigan cuts the Schmitts to 4, but no Josephs. Schmidts number 3900+, with a mere 40 in Michigan. No Josephs there, either, though there is a Peter and a Peter R. The Smiths are just scary–50,000+ on the Union side, with 36 Josephs, and 17 Peters when you narrow it down to Michigan. Unless I can find additional information, that’s really more soldiers than I want to try and tackle!

I also looked in the 1890 Veterans Schedules. Of course, to show up there, you had to live that long! I found three Cucklers in Meigs County, Ohio (southeast), no Plansky variations. We won’t talk about the Schmitt/Schmidt numbers . . .

At this point, the best I can hope for is finding a DNA match for Mike, who knows more about this story than I do. He does actually have a “Polansky” match with  shared matches to known relatives! And there are other shared matches to both of them, with different surnames. I need to make time to contact Polansky and some of the others to see where they fit on the nether regions of Mike’s tree.

So for now, we file this story in the “legend” slot. NOT that I don’t trust Mike’s uncle–I just don’t have any solid proof one way or another. I will keep looking as databases are updated with new information. And I’ll flesh out the other Kukler lines I find in Michigan and nearby, just in case they connect back to ours. Maybe some luck from Mike’s Irish side will rub off on the Bohemian side? I can only hope!

#52Ancestors

Same Name

Just pick a name and stick with it, please!

Most everyone this week will be writing about:

  • family names carried down from one generation to the next
  • families where all the brothers named their children the same, so it’s difficult to determine which of the cousins did what. I’ve got at least one of those . . .
  • people with the same name in the same town, roughly the same age, and how they sorted out who belonged where. I’ve got those, too!

In my typical, contrary way, I’m doing the direct opposite. You are going to meet my husband’s great-grand uncle, Wenzelaus Kukler. Or Venemi. Or Venson. Or something else entirely different, I don’t know!

I first met up with him in the 1870 census. I was trying to find my husband’s great-grandfather, Frank J. Kukler. Frank was born in Detroit, before the 1870 census (I didn’t have an exact date at that time), so the family should be enumerated in Detroit in 1870. I couldn’t find them. If you think “Kukler” has a simple spelling, guess again. It can have:

  • C or K at the beginning
  • U, O, or OO for the vowel–sometimes an E
  • K or C or CK for the next /k/ sound
  • LER or LA at the end (anyone remember Kukla, Fran, and Ollie? I’ve found the family with a KUKLA spelling!)

That left variations of Kukler, Cukler, Kookler, Cookler, Kuckler, Cuckler, Cucler, Koockler, Coockler, Coocler, Kucler, Kukla, Cukla, Kookla, Cookla, and probably some I’m forgetting. No matter how many ways I searched for the parents, Frank and Ann[a], nothing came up. Finally I gave up on them, and searched for the baby with first name and age only: Frank, born 1867-68, Wayne County, Michigan. While those may seem like ridiculous search parameters, I was banking on it being 1870. The smaller population might make it workable. I’ve found ages for baby/children tend to be more accurate in the census than for adults. There’s not much difference between a 31- and 33-year old, but a HUGE difference between a 1- and 3-year old! Usually the kids’ ages were right.

Scanning down generated the list I could quickly dismiss most of the surnames. Then it jumped out at me: GUCKLER! Say the names to yourself–with an accent–and you’ll see how one could be mistaken for the other. I clicked over to the image, and there were: Frank and Ann from Bohemia, right ages, along with little Frank, and two older siblings, Ann and Wenzelaus.¹ Both boys were born in Michigan.

Giddy with the thrill of victory, I looked for them in 1880, returning to the standard spelling. Frank and “Annie” were easy enough to find. Ann (daughter) is AWOL, so either deceased or married, and there are two more, younger, children. Somehow, though, Wenzelaus converted to Venson² (incorrectly indexed as “Venemi”–not helpful!), and now it says he was born in Bohemia! There’s also a lighter (pencil?) notation by his name–“Pulansky” From other records, I’d found Anna’s maiden name is “Plansky” or “Palinski,” so that is very close. Had he been born out of wedlock, so had his mother’s maiden name? Maybe. Does it matter whether he’s born in Michigan or Bohemia? Yes! It changes which years I need to look for them on a passenger list.

1880 is the last I see of him. It doesn’t help that the 1890 census was destroyed, leaving a 20-year gap to 1900. State census records are almost non-existent for Michigan. The one year that had pages for Wayne county . . . didn’t include the city of Detroit. So what happened to Wenzelaus? Take your pick:

  • He died after the 1880 census. Ok, that’s a given. How about–He died before the 1900 census?
  • He chose a more “American” first name (I’ve looked at name lists to see if there was one that Wenzelaus typically translated to–no luck).
  • He started using the Plansky/Palinsky/Pulansky surname.
  • He moved away–out of Detroit, or out of state.
  • All of the above, or any combination!

I started going through the Michigan databases at FamilySearch with really loose parameters: Pulanski (FamilySearch is pretty good about pulling in variant spellings), born 1860-1862. I found some records that fit people I already knew, but nothing for him. I noticed a couple guys with Walter and Vincent for first names. If you were going to Americanize Wenzelaus, those might be good choices–but those guys weren’t who I needed.

I looked through death record databases. Marriage databases. I redid the searches with the Kukler surname. Still nothing. I even tried doing a nationwide search, but with the uncertainty of his name(s), and a nondescript occupation from 1880 (“laborer” is as generic as it gets!), he could be anywhere, doing anything.

At this point I’m stymied. Every online tree I’ve seen with him has nothing other than the two references I’ve found. It’s like aliens abducted him. He’s a loose end, and if you haven’t noticed by now, I don’t really like those. I’ve found entries for the family of his younger brother, Frank J., in the Detroit city directories. That was decades later, though. Maybe a more thorough search for additional (earlier) directories would find Wenzelaus? Or whatever he was calling himself. It will require a vague, surname only search, for each of the spelling variations, and lots of browsing through pages.

Wish me luck!


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

²1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, Wayne, Detroit, e.d. 305; Page 57; dwelling number 585; family number 618; line 27; Frank KUKLER household; accessed 4 September 2017. Venson KUKLER, age 20 (incorrectly indexed as Venemi); NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

#52Ancestors