You are probably expecting to read about someone who shares my birthday, or has a birthday close in date to mine. With 5000+ people in my tree, finding a shared or near birthday shouldn’t be difficult. There are only 365 days (366, counting leap year), so you have to start doubling up fairly quickly. If that’s what you are looking for, though, you will be disappointed!
When I began my genealogy life (Start), I soon learned that three of my eight great grandparents—all on my dad’s side—were born 100 (or 99–a little fudge factor, there) years before me:
Frank Haas/Haws: born 3 March 1858, Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He was the first or second child in his family born in the USA. I can’t quite nail down where his sister, Dorothy was born, but I’m sure for Frank. He stayed on the family farm (The Old Homestead) until he retired. None of his sons continued on as farmers.
Dorothea Harry : born 26 March 1858, Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She was the second youngest child of Peter Haré/Hary/Harry and Elisabetha Bullea/Boullie. You met Dorothea’s mother in Travel, as she carried one child and kicked the other as they walked to the farm. Dorothea moved to the Chicago North Shore to work as live-in help for one of the families. That was not uncommon for the time, and one of the few ways a girl could find a way out of rural Wisconsin. That allowed her to meet Ignatz!
Ignatz Schweiger: born 13 May 1859, Niederhoefen, Bavaria, Germany. He was the 2nd youngest child of a cheese maker. He came to America about 1882, as a butcher. How he learned that trade, I’m not really sure, but the family’s life revolved around that, and later, the restaurant. Everyone in the family worked there at some point (Black Sheep), and it was how my grandparents met each other (Invite to Dinner). How he and Dorothea met, I don’t know, though I suspect it was at church. I doubt that either one had much free time.
As a teenager, the fact that I born 100 years after these direct ancestors caught my eye, and connected me to those great grandparents a little differently than the other seven. I obviously never met them, and my dad knew only two of them, but somehow they just seemed closer.
The generational gaps from them to me were a little wider than typical. In genealogy, if we’re trying to decide when a parent’s birth might have occurred, we start looking 20-25 years before the birth of their oldest child. But this descendancy follows:
middle and younger children to
middle children (Ed & Victoria) to
youngest (Dad) to
so we have 29 to 37 year gaps. Getting those to come out evenly to 100 is a little tricky—like when the cash register rings up with an even dollar amount, instead of stray cents. It’s not impossible, but seems to happen rarely—certainly less often than one in 100 transactions!
So is there any great significance to the last two digits of their birth years matching mine? Not really. It’s one of those serendipitous things that pops up in family trees—coincidences that have us wondering if they are accidental. None of my immediate cousins can make this same claim–not even with the other great grandparents. One of my children, though, was born 100 years after a great grandfather on my mom’s side, while another was born between two great grandmothers—so 99 and 101 years later. That’s something I never even thought about until just now.
Should I cue the Twilight Zone or X-Files music, yet? No, but I will probably continue to try and notice when these quirky coincidences happen. Maybe life isn’t as random as it sometimes seems.
Why didn’t all the kids receive the same education?
I had a plan worked out for this week . . . and then I went walking Thursday morning. A different topic popped into my head, so it was back to the drawing board. Or blackboard? Since I didn’t actually have anything written, it’s not like I wasted any time, but it was a mental re-boot, nevertheless.
I love the 1940 census because it’s the only one (available now, at least) that recorded the amount of schooling a person had. It’s an interesting detail, especially for the older relatives. I knew my paternal grandmother, Victoria Schweiger (Invite to Dinner), graduated from 8th grade. I’ve seen her class’s graduation photo in the 25th Anniversary book for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Winnetka, Illinois. I discovered her younger brothers had more schooling, though. Was that a gender bias, or just a change in values and opportunities? I decided to try to find out.
Ignatz Schweiger and Dorothea Harry had eleven children:
Elizabeth Mary (Aunt Lizzy), b. 8 November 1886, 8th¹
Aloysious Francis (Uncle Al), b. 11 April 1888, H-4²
Clemence Mary, b. 15 October 1889, d. 25 March 1890
Ignatz Joseph (Uncle Iggy), b. 15 October 1889 (yes, a twin!), H-2³
Anthony George (Cemetery), b. 17 January 1891, d 28 September 1914
Anna Maria, b. 27 September 1892, d. 27 October 1893
Victoria Barbara, b. 2 December 1894, 8th4
Leo Mattheau (Uncle Leo Black Sheep), b. 24 December 1896, H-45
Sylvester Joseph (Uncle Syl), b. 25 September 1901, H-47
Frederick Hugh (Uncle Freddie), b. 17 July 1905, H-48
I located the 1940 census records for the eight children alive in 1940, and recorded their education levels above, at the end of their lines. Uncle Al gave me fits, because the Ancestry indexing mangled both his first and last names, as well as his wife’s. I finally tracked them down, and have submitted corrections!
Unfortunately, Anthony died before 1940. The rest of the boys (except for Uncle Iggy) graduated from high school. The oldest daughter, Lizzy, and my grandmother, Victoria, graduated from 8th grade, but Rose received two more years.
A bit of gender bias seems evident. Was that the way my great-grandparents thought, or was it simply the “norm” for that time and place? This is one of those frequent times when I’d love to be able to ask my great grandparents some questions. Or even my grandmother—I’m sure she could have provided a decent explanation. What kind of questions do I have?
Why only 8th grade for Lizzy & Victoria? As far as I know, they were pretty smart women. Were they needed to work in the butcher shop/restaurant? Did Lizzy and Victoria simply mis-remember how many years? They’d been out of school for 30+ years, and maybe it wasn’t that big a deal for them, anyway. Or had opinions changed enough by the time Rose reached high school, so girls were educated longer?
Why only 2 years for Iggy? That seems a little odd. Was something going on with the family that he dropped out early? Did they need help in the butcher shop/restaurant, so he stepped in? Maybe school just wasn’t his thing. I’m having trouble finding him in the 1910 and 1920 census (not with the family), and WWI draft, so I’m not sure where he was or what he was doing. He was a lodger in the 1940 census, and I noticed that the 15 year old young lady from the line above also had 2 years of high school. Remember, the pages microfilmed (and digitized) are copies of the “field sheets” written by the enumerator. Was he simply “on a roll” and filled in H-2, when it should have been H-4? Maybe.
Is there any way I can answer those questions? I don’t know. I might be able to contact the high school and request their records. But which school? New Trier High School is the current public school—but is that the one they would have attended? Or was there a Catholic high school they would have gone to? They attended the Catholic grade school—would they have been able to afford a Catholic high school?
Maybe Lizzy and Victoria DID attend additional years, but thought the question asked about graduating from high school, and answered it incorrectly? My dad had mentioned that both his parents only an 8th grade education, so I really don’t think that’s likely—but maybe.
Unfortunately, Ignatz and Dorothea died before 1940, so I don’t know their education levels. It seems that they tried, as much as possible, to see their children well-educated, though. I think that legacy has mostly continued through the succeeding generations. Thanks, guys!
¹1940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield, e.d. 16-339; sheet 22A; household number 468; line 27; Elizabeth LEVERNIER household; accessed 31 August 2018. Elizabeth LEVERNIER, age 53; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 782; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
²1940 U.S. census, population schedule, New Jersey, Bergen, Westwood Borough, e.d. 2-376; sheet 1A; household number 2; line 4; Aloysius F. SCHWEIGER household; accessed 31 August 2018. Aloysius F. SCHWEIGER, age 51; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 2316; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
³1940 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, e.d. 72-313; sheet 2A; household number 27; line 40; Louis BRZEZINSKI household; accessed 30 August 2018. Igantz SCHWEIGER, age 51, lodger; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 4554; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
41940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Lake, Deerfield, e.d. 49-107; sheet 14B; household number 301; line 49; Edward HAWS household; accessed 30 August 2018. Victoria HAWS, age 45; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 828; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
51940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Wilmette, e.d. 16-297; sheet 6A; household number 95; line 16; Joseph RAU household; accessed 25 June 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 43; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 782; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
61940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Wilmette, e.d. 16-297; sheet 6A; household number 95; line 15; Joseph RAU household; accessed 25 June 2018. Rose RAU, age 40; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 782; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
71940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Chicago, e.d. 103-1214; sheet 8A; household number 160; line 19; Sylvester SCHWEIGER household; accessed 31 August 2018. Sylvester SCHWEIGER, age 38; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 958; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
81940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Lake, Highland Park, e.d. 49-19 sheet 61A; household number 398; line 14; Fred SCHWEIGER household; accessed 31 August 2018. Fred SCHWEIGER, age 34; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 828; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
When the prompt list came out at the beginning of the month, I was REALLY glad this was scheduled at the end of it! I had absolutely no idea what I could write about. Here we are, weeks later, and I’m still clueless.
You already heard about my witches (Misfortune), so that’s old news. To my knowledge, there are no horse thieves, bank robbers, con men, suffragettes, or “working girls” lurking in the tree, either. Was/is everyone perfect? Certainly not! But several factors conspire against me:
Neither side of the family tended to air “dirty laundry”–and especially not around the kids! Apparently, at 60 I’m still a kid . . .
Some situations probably qualify . . . but they still have people attached to them. Maybe not the direct person, but close, nevertheless. These aren’t necessarily my stories to tell, particularly if someone might be hurt by it. Off limits.
So what to do? Who to write about? My brain kept looping back to my Granduncle Leo (middle, above). He was a younger brother to my grandmother, Victoria. I don’t like the label of “black sheep” for him. Maybe a little gray. But mostly, he was a guy who, for whatever reason(s) seemed to have a tough time of it. I’m choosing him, but hope you remember it’s not the best fit, and he wasn’t a bad guy.
This photo is the clearest, and you can see he was fairly good looking . . . and had a much better hair deal going on than most of his brothers! Unfortunately, I don’t really know much about Uncle Leo. I never met him. I never heard his name until I started doing the family tree (Start). Even then, it was with a shake of the head and a, “We don’t really know what happened to him,” said with regret, not shame or disappointment in him. Most relatives who knew him personally aren’t alive to talk about him anymore. Dad and his brothers are gone. My mom doesn’t recall ever meeting him. My dad’s cousin Fred, almost 86, and smarter than two of me put together, probably knows the most. Much of what I know about Leo, I learned from Fred in the first place. I’ll try to link what I’ve heard with the little bit of paper trail I could find. Paper trail, first.
He was born Leo Matheau Schweiger on Christmas Eve, 1896, the eighth child out of eleven, with two of his older sisters dying before he was born. He was baptized either at the new Sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka, or at the family’s former parish, St. Joseph in Wilmette. Older and younger sisters were baptized at each place, but I don’t know about him. He grew up above the family butcher shop, later a restaurant, on Park Avenue in Glencoe. Presumably he attended Sacred Heart Catholic Grade School, like his older siblings, but he continued on to complete four years of high school¹ like his younger brothers. He would later develop Type II diabetes, like his mother and sisters, Victoria & Rose (not sure about the other siblings).
My timeline for Leo includes:
1900 census, age 3; in Glencoe with parents²
1910 census, age 13; in Glencoe with parents³
1918 WWI draft registration, age 21; in Glencoe with parents, working for a livery company (probably a driver, like below)4
1920 census, age 23; in Glencoe with parents; chauffeur, garage5
1935–on 1 April, living with his sister, Rose Rau (according to 1940 census) ¹
1936–in December he applied for a Social Security number 6
1940 census, age 43; in Wilmette with his sister, Rose; clerk, drug store.¹
1942 WWII draft registration, age 45; living in Glencoe; clerk, drug store. Contact person is his sister, Elizabeth (not Rose!)7
On the whole, it’s not a bad timeline–except for the noticeable gap in 1930–technically 1920-1935. I cannot find him anywhere in the 1930 census. He’s not living with his mom and the other unmarried siblings or his married siblings. A very fuzzy search (first name, first 3 or 4 letters and a wildcard for “Schweiger,” and a range for his birth year) in the 1930 census turns up nothing. I swapped in his middle name. Still zip. His Social Security Number yielded nothing, either.
So, what about that gap? I don’t have a solid answer for that. Uncle Leo would drop contact with the family for a stretches of time–maybe that was one of them. When I emailed Fred with questions about the blog for Aunt Rose (The Maiden Aunt) he related this story:
“Leo deliberately separated himself from the family in about 1940 was found on “skid row” with a bad diabetic wound, she was contacted by the welfare agency. She and Joe took Leo in, nursed him back to health, and found him a job. Unfortunately, a year later he disappeared once more and never was found again. “
The 1940 census has Leo in Rose & Joe’s house in 1935 and 1940, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was continuous. He applied for a Social Security Card in 1936, so he was working. Maybe something happened after that point. The rest of Fred’s story fits, with Leo getting back to Rose & Joe before the census. Why he’s moved out by 1942, I don’t know. Was there a falling-out with Rose? Other stories I heard implied Leo had problems with alcohol. Was he not following some “house rules” regarding behavior and self-care? If he moved out simply to be independent, why wouldn’t he have used Rose for his contact person? Maybe I’m reading too much into it?
I doubt we will ever know what happened to Uncle Leo, and that’s a shame. From everything I heard, he sounded like a really nice guy–when he was taking care of himself and making better choices. I don’t know what demons distanced him from a family that kept trying to be there for him. I hope he’s remembered–and knows he’s remembered–for his good points–not his shortcomings.
¹1940 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Wilmette, e.d. 16-297; sheet 6A; household number 95; line 16; Joseph RAU household; accessed 25 June 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 43; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 782; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
²1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 1172; sheet 11B; dwelling number 188; family number 193; line 97; Ignatz SCHWEIGER household; accessed 2 April 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 3, December 1896; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 293; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
³1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 57; sheet 9A; dwelling number 168; family number 169; line 27; Ignaty[z] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 29 April 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 13; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 239; digital image, Ancestry.com) (https://www.ancestry.com).
4“U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.ancestry.com), Leo Matthew SCHWEIGER, serial no. 107, registration no. 9, Draft Board #3, Cook County, Illinois; 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. 1504112; accessed 20 November 2017. Registered 5 June 1918.
51920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 119; sheet 27B; dwelling number 543; family number 561; line76; Ianatz [Ignatz] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 26 June 2018. Leo SCHWEIGER, age 23; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 361; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
6“U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007”, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 29 June 2018, citing Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007, (index only); dated December 1936. Entry for Leo Mathew SCHWEIGER, SS no. xxx-xx-xxxx.
7“U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942”, database, (https://www.ancestry.com), Leo Matthew SCHWEIGER, serial no. 1183, 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 9 June 2018. Registered 27 April 1942.
The remains of my family are scattered throughout the Midwest. Big cemeteries (Ridgewood in Des Plaines, IL, or Ascension in Libertyville, IL), little cemeteries (Columbus, in St. Clair County, MI), and everything in between. One of my favorites, though is Sacred Heart Cemetery, in Northbrook, IL. It’s not the smallest one, but still very quiet and quaint. It’s on Lee Road, just north of Dundee. The I-94 Edens Spur turned Lee Road into a dead-end road (irony!), keeping it quiet. A single drive takes you inside, with a keyhole loop at the end, so you can turn around.
While Catholic Cemeteries manages all the Cook County, IL, cemeteries currently, originally each church kept up its own. This cemetery was attached Sacred Heart Church in Winnetka. Sacred Heart was a spin-off from St. Joseph’s Church in Wilmette. St. Joseph’s parish had grown, requiring another church to take care of the parishioners further north. St. Joseph’s Cemetery was also filling up, so it made sense for the new parish to start its own cemetery. At that time, Northbrook (which was really Shermerville) was out in the boondocks, so presumably land was cheap and available. It made sense to put the cemetery out there.
My great-grandparents, Ignatz Schweiger and Dorothea Harry (Invite to Dinner, Valentine, The Maiden Aunt) purchased Lot 2, Block 6, Section 2 in the cemetery. They were among the original families to start up the new parish, so I don’t know if they simply got in on the ground floor, or purchased it after they had a need. My earliest memory of it was when my grandpa, Edward, was buried. I was only seven, and don’t recall much, but I think it was a drizzly–or at least overcast–day. Fitting for a funeral.
Towards the center of the plot, Ignatz & Dorothea installed a tall monument. The family name is arched at the bottom of the front side, with Igantz and Dorothea inscribed above. On an adjacent side are listed Anthony G. Schweiger (my grandmother’s brother) and Paul J. Haws (my father’s oldest brother). Prior to starting on the family tree, I hadn’t heard of either person.
Fortunately, my dad was with me on that trip to Sacred Heart, and could fill me in. Anthony died age 23, after being kicked in the head by a horse. He graduated from Sacred Heart’s grade school, and when we find him in the 1910 census¹, he’s a driver for a grocery. Sometimes we find him as “Anton” in records. Other than these small snippets of his life, we don’t know much, so it’s nice he has such a solid remembrance.
Paul J. Haws is the oldest brother of my dad. He was born 24 November 1914, and died 3 1/2 months later, on 3 March 1915. Victoria laid him in the crib the night before, and when she went to get him up the next morning, he was cold. There was no hint of illness prior. Some time before she died in 1955, as SIDS was first being recognized, she mentioned to my mom that what happened with Paul seemed to be the same thing.
The other sides of the monument are not carved–flush to the ground headstones were placed for the others. Buried there are my dad (and Mom–at some point), his brother, Henry (along with his wife, Mary), and sister Marie. Their other brother, George, is in Wheeling Cemetery (despite the notation below. He decided he didn’t want to use those graves. Marie’s daughter, Pattie, is there, instead. My grandparents, Victoria and Edward are there, as well as Victoria’s unmarried brother, Iggy (Ignatz).
Besides baby Paul, Aunt Marie’s first daughter, Marilyn Victoria, is buried here. According to the plot card above, she and Paul were both buried in the southeast corner, so I guess they are in the same plot with Henry and his wife, Mary. With cremation urns, it’s not a big deal, I guess, and it’s nice they have company. I may see if the card can be updated, though, to include her name, as there is no marker. I’ve told my children, and some nieces and nephews, but they may not remember, and I don’t want her forgotten.
The family’s Sacred Heart plot is almost full of people, and certainly full of memories. The plot card reminds us that not everyone has a marker, so asking for the plot card information can be important. It sometimes has information not available from the cemetery websites.
¹1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 57; sheet 9A; dwelling number 168; family number 169; line 25; Ignaty[z] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 29 April 2018. Anton SCHWEIGER, age 19; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 239; digital image, Ancestry.com) (https://www.ancestry.com).
Maiden aunts are in short supply in my family. There might be one on Mike’s Nolan side, but I’m not positive. I don’t really know much about her, anyway. I have LOTS of widowed aunts, but with kids and grandkids, they don’t really fit the bill. There are a handful of uncles who never married, but most of their stories end with, “the last we heard, he was headed for St. Louis . . .” St. Louis seemed to be the Mecca of unmarried uncles, and none were heard from again.
So I’m going to go with my Aunt Rose Schweiger. She was born 21 February 1900, in Glencoe, Cook, Illinois. She was the 9th child (of 11) of Ignatz Schweiger and Dorothea Harry (also Haré, Hary, Harré), five years younger than my grandmother, Victoria. Rose’s middle name was Dorothea, after her mother. She was only 3 months old on the 1900 census,¹ and two of her older siblings had already died. Like my grandmother, she grew up working in the family restaurant.² By 1930, she was working as a bookkeeper, as her father had died, and the restaurant apparently closed.
She and Joseph Rau married 30 April 1932 at St. Joseph’s Church, in Wilmette, Illinois. They married when she was 32 years old, and he was 48. According to my mom, they “kept company” for a good long while before getting hitched–8 years, or so–causing speculation about if they would ever tie the knot. Obviously they did.
Yes, I know technically she is NOT a maiden aunt. However, not having children of their own gave her the opportunity to behave in more of a “maiden aunt” way. Rose and Joe were a doting aunt and uncle to their many nieces and nephews. My sister (below) had a doll bed made by Uncle Joe, and they would host other nieces & nephews, giving their parents a much-appreciated break. We’ve all needed that more than once!
The Schweiger family spread out a bit–Uncle Al to New York, Uncle Iggy to Milwaukee. Even for those staying in the Chicago area, they fanned out from Highland Park and Deerfield, through Wilmette and Glencoe, out to Hinsdale, and south to Oak Lawn. Not huge distances, but far enough that making the effort to get together–especially with kids in tow–was difficult. Rose spearheaded the effort to make sure the family got together at least a couple times a year, for holidays, picnics, and the Knockwurster Club (yes, they had their own “club”!) business meeting, usually held in her basement. Clearly, she was a woman who understood the value of family and a good time!
But life was not just a party. She was well-connected to the family, stepping in to help when needed. Her brother, Leo (4 years older), had some personal issues to deal with, and withdrew from the family. When she was informed by a welfare agency that he needed care, she took him in, nursed him back to health, and found him a job. That lasted for a while, and Uncle Leo did okay. At some point he moved to the house of his older sister, Lizzy (1942 WWII draft registration lists her as the contact person), but unfortunately he disappeared again. Where he went, and what became of him, we don’t know. If he’d have turned up on Rose’s doorstep again, though, I’ve no doubt she would have welcomed him back. That’s just how she was.
When I first started working on my genealogy, some how-to authors advised that relatives who never married–or ones who married but had no children–didn’t need to be researched or followed. There were no offspring continuing the line, so there was no point. I never felt that way, though I couldn’t put my reasoning into words. Thankfully, genealogists no longer hold that position. We realize now that the unmarried aunts (and uncles) fill what would otherwise be a gap in our families.
They have the time and energy–and fewer distractions than their married-with-children siblings or cousins–to take on roles and projects the others can’t. They are sounding boards for our children (who will take advice from them they would never take from us!), care givers to aging parents, and sanity-providers when we need it the most. They are the whipped cream on a piece of pie. Yes, the pie tastes okay without it, but adding it makes it so much better. The family is better–and stronger–because of their presence.
¹1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 1172; sheet 11B; dwelling number 188; family number 193; line 98; Ignatz SCHWEIGER household; accessed 2 April 2018. Rosa SCHWEIGER, age 3/12, February 1900; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 293; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
²1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 119; sheet 27B; dwelling number 543; family number 561; line 79; Ianatz [Ignatz] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 2 April 2018. Rose SCHWEIGER, age 19, helper-restaurant; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 361; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
One person’s junk is another’s heirloom? Or vice versa?
When does something cease being stuff, junk, or clutter, and graduate to “heirloom?” Is it age? Monetary value? Who owned it? How “cute” it is? Its genealogical value? While it’s a question I’ve dealt with these last 40+ years of doing genealogy, it’s really hit home since September, 2009, when my dad died and Mom moved out of her house and into independent living. Suddenly I became responsible for dealing with/disposing of the salt cellars, soup cups, teacups, candlesticks, Mottoware, Hummels, and other antiques she’d acquired over the years. She had boxes in the basement that hadn’t been opened since 1977. It all wouldn’t fit in her 3 room apartment.
As I catalogued and photographed the items, I’d ask Mom if anything was special: anything that belonged to her mother or grandmother? Items that were wedding presents? I needed information so people could prioritize which items to select.
She seemed a little peeved that I “didn’t want all her pretty things.” Yes, they were pretty, but at 51, I was downsizing my OWN things–ditto for my older siblings! We could not absorb it all. Plus, for her each item meant more. They held memories of antique shows with her friends, or trips to Galena, IL, with its abundance of antique shops and tea rooms. Cute or not, we don’t share those memories.
Then she’d remind me that, “People collect this.” Inquiries at nearby antique shops met with no interest. No shops were buying, because no customers were buying. The stock market kerfuffle the year before pushed discretionary spending way down. Antiques are not necessities! The boxes came to my family room (no basement), but the market in Indy was no better, and I really had no time to make the rounds, anyway. I sent the spreadsheet and photos to my siblings, asking them to claim whatever they wanted. The volume reduced a little, so I repacked the boxes and moved them into Mom’s storage space. I figured when she died, I’d take them to the funeral, let people take what they wanted, and dispose of the rest. I figured wrong.
She’s still here, turning 96 in April. In the fall of 2016, she moved to assisted living. Three rooms down to one, and no storage space. The boxes came back to my family room (photo below). Photos and spreadsheet were shared via Google Drive to siblings (again) and also to her grandchildren. More items claimed! Leftovers were shared with cousins. Some more distributed, but I still have a “wall” of boxes behind the living room couch to deal with. I’ve listed select items on eBay, but I don’t want the hassle and risk of shipping china and glassware, so am (unsuccessfully) looking for local options that don’t include Goodwill. Most “heirloom” items have found homes. I also sold some teacups and glass salad plates to the Sassafrass Tea Room, where they will be used and enjoyed.
One result of this whole process is the renewed vigor Mike has for reducing our possessions. He looks at our Christmas tree and asks, “Can we get rid of any of these?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” I really don’t buy ornaments, except one for each new cruise ship, so most of ours have a history. The kids’ ornaments have already been kicked off the tree, so there’s been reduction from that, but most of the ornaments have a story behind them.
My mom started buying me one ornament a year after my sister got married. Young newlyweds, and in graduate school, after buying the tree, tree stand, and lights, they really couldn’t afford ornaments! Mom decided one a year would be a good start for me. I made “glass icicles” when I was in high school mimicking the ones hung on our tree and made by my grandmother, Victoria Schweiger Haws. I DO have her originals boxed in the attic, but they are very fragile, and since the tree is full enough, I figure they will survive better, handled less. Later, we acquired the ornaments from Mike’s grandmother, Elizabeth Nolan Kukler. And some actually ARE his: two ornaments from the ones he & his roommate bought to decorate a tree at college, as well as Jeannie and her bottle, and his Raiders helmet. As Mom has downsized–and finally eliminated–her tree, I’ve taken in a few favorite ornaments from my childhood. Plus there are handmade ornaments from my niece, Julie: crocheted and starched snowflakes, or crocheted ice skates with paper clips for blades. She manages to find cute and clever designs.
Does our tree look like a magazine photo? No way! It’s very eclectic. There’s no theme. People who see it for the first time are surprised? awed? I’m not quite sure of the right word, but it usually involves a lot of looking, pointing, and realizing that there are ornaments way inside the tree, not just at the ends of the branches. Our tree has short needles. If not, there’d be no room for ornaments! I don’t know how people with long-needled trees do it.
(Mike just started an Amazon search for “artificial tree long needles . . .”)
You might say some ornaments could be gotten rid of. They are probably past their prime, but they are also among the very few items we own from those people. The color has faded, and they’ve acquired a bit of tarnish and corrosion; none of us are as bright and shiny as we used to be! I carefully tuck them inside the tree–not out of sight, but placed where they reflect the lights, illuminating the interior, while minimizing their flaws. You hardly notice the scratch on the finish or that the glass actually has a hole in it (it’s little, on the bottom!), or the splotch of the spray-on “snow” that was so popular in the 1960s.
I can tell you about every ornament on the tree. My kids know some, but not all, and have undoubtedly forgotten many. Realizing this, in 2017, while dismantling the tree, I photographed each ornament. The plan is to create a spreadsheet where I can list them, link the photo, and document the provenance for each. (Yes, I watch Antiques Roadshow!) At least they will have enough information to decide what they want to do with them, when the time comes. If they decide to drop them off at Goodwill, at least they made an informed decision–I will come back to haunt them, though . . .
So, back to the original question: what what makes an heirloom? I think it’s mostly the meaning we attach to it. So we have 2 challenges. One is to “thin the herd,” so the volume isn’t overwhelming (no, you’re not touching my ornaments!). The other is to make sure those who have to deal with our goodies, know why something was important to us. That just might make it important to them, too. Otherwise, it’s just “stuff.”
While I know three individuals with Valentine’s Day birthdays, my family tree doesn’t really have a lot of traffic on February 14th. Between births, deaths, and marriages for 5500+ people (granted, not everyone has dates for all 3, and some have none!), you would think there would be, but there’s only:
one birth–a married-in from Mike’s side
two deaths on my Meintzer side–a 2nd cousin, Arline Ehrhardt Jenkins Axtell, and Hans Adam Ensminger, a 1st cousin 8x removed (nephew of my 7th great-grandmother) and
1 marriage–a 2nd cousin on my dad’s side, Allan Heerey and his wife Mary
I don’t really have particularly good stories for any of them, and don’t know of any romantic proposals taking place on Valentine’s Day. So I started thinking about aggregate data again, and wondered how many couples in my tree were married for 50 years or more.
Being married for a long period of time is more than simply not getting divorced. Granted, that helps immeasurably, but you also have to keep BOTH people alive. That’s a little harder, and less in our control than the other.
Unfortunately, my Family Tree Maker software failed to help me. While it can generate a Marriage Report, I cannot make changes or additions to the information it provides. I get the bride and groom, a marriage date, and the current status of their marriage. Number of years isn’t an option. The Custom Report is no help, either, While “age at death” is a calculated value available for everyone, “number of years married” is not. It’s a little more complicated, since you have to look at the marriage date, see if someone has died, and if both, see who died first. Then you can do the math. Looks like I’m going to have to go about this old-school, relying on my memory. So cousins, if I’ve missed someone, please let me know! This is based on how I happen to remember, so not ordered by length of the marriage.
First up on the list are Robert & Ardyth Meintzer Haws (Dad & Mom), clocking in with 63 years. Mom’s brother, Gail, and his sweetheart, Neva, celebrated their 70th last year, and are still going strong. Dad’s oldest brother, Henry, and his bride, Mary, were going strong for 62 years. His other brother, George (who happened to get married the exact same day as Gail & Neva!), celebrated a 50th anniversary with his “better half”, Marge, before his too-early death at age 77.
My grandparents (Invite to Dinner), though, do not make the list. Victoria died in 1955, just before her 46th anniversary, and Minnie died in 1958, shortly before her 45th anniversary. Nor do great-grandparents Christian and Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (My Favorite Photo & In the Census), who were married only 47 years when she died in 1913. But since she was a 2nd wife, maybe they get bonus points?
Their oldest daughter, Sophie (married to Edward Kranz) was married for 54 years, and her daughter, Anna, was married to Walter Schultz just shy of 65 years. Anna was a huge help to me with family information and stories, and one of the times I visited her, she gave me a ceramic ornament given as a favor at their 60th Anniversary party. I think of her every Christmas, hanging it on the tree. Anna’s son, Walter, and his wife, Connie, were married at least 66 years when Connie died in 2014. That’s 3 generations! Many of Sophie & Ed’s other children also had long marriages:
son Emil and Evelyn: 51 years
daughter Lillie and Richard Jahn: 38 years
daughter Coila and Harry Frohn: 47+ years
daughter Mary Ella and Martin Reeg: almost 59 years
son Julius and Elsie: 57 years
daughter Louisa and Walter Ehrhardt: 60 years
daughter Minnie and Ed Ladendorf: 54 years
daughter Emma and Joe Poc: 41 years
daughter Martha and Louis Kanitsch: 39 years
Yes, some of them don’t quite make the 50 year cut-off, but it’s still a pretty impressive run for one family!
From my dad’s side, [Grand] Uncle Sylvester Schweiger and Aunt Stacia were married for 55 years, their daughter Marita married to Harry Nash for almost 60. And my dad’s cousin, Fred Schweiger and wife, Nancy just celebrated number 60.
Edward and Clara Duckart Goessl (Longevity) had another 2 years beyond the newspaper clipping in that post–with Clara spending another 25 years more, as a widow!
On the not-related-to-me side, Mike’s grandparents, Francis Charles Kukler and Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan, got married in 1919. They had 52 years together before Frank passed away. Not bad, given that they were 28 years old when they married!
And Mike’s Uncle Bob and Aunt Gloria are still going strong with 58 years under their belts.
So, is there a “long marriage gene”? Probably not, though looking at Aunt Sophie’s line, it almost makes you wonder! A lot of it is luck. Having good genes and a long life is a huge help. So is the ability to resist strangling your spouse–not always an easy urge to control! But it’s reassuring to know that sometimes we beat the odds on both of those.