Comedy

“Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!”–Stephen Sondheim

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


Namesake

Once again, I’m thinking in reverse . . .

Rather than write about a person who was named after someone else, I’ve decided to focus on the inspiration for the name.

Growing up, I knew my dad’s oldest brother, Henry, better than any of my other uncles—or aunts, for that matter. He worked with my dad in the rug cleaning business, so I saw him five days a week, in the morning, the afternoon—or both! When I started on genealogy, I learned his middle initial was “U.” As a kid, I couldn’t imagine any name beginning with a “U,” but I soon learned it stood for Urban.

Robert Haws (left) and older brother, Henry Haws (right) over the holidays, some time between 2001 and 2008. After Aunt Mary died in 2001, Uncle Henry moved back to the Chicago suburbs, and the brothers became “partners in crime” once again. Dad provided Henry with transportation to appointments, and they’d enjoy lunch out.

Now, back when Uncle Henry was born, the Catholic Church was very particular about children being baptized with saints’ names. There are eight Pope Urbans, with Urban I being a saint, and II and V being “Blessed” (a step below sainthood—they need more miracles!). There are also a couple “local” St. Urbans, so I can’t really pinpoint which might have been the one he was named after.

During a visit to Sacred Heart Church in Winnetka, Illinois (near Glencoe, the Schweiger stomping ground), I found Henry’s baptism record in the church register. The names were all Latinized, but it was clear that Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Urban Levernier were his godparents. NOW his having Urban for a middle name made sense! Lizzie was the older sister of his mother (Victoria), so Urban was an uncle by marriage.

Urban Alexander Levernier was born 25 January 1887. He was at least eighth out of thirteen (perhaps more) children. The 1900¹ census showed the entire family; parents Honorius and Barbara [Happ], and all the kids, ages 7 months old to 25. His father farmed, with the help of the three older boys, but “Ervin” (yes, his name is often creatively spelled!) was still attending school.

By the 1910² census, his father and sister, Emma, had died (they were both buried in St. Mary cemetery, Highland Park). A brother and two sisters had moved from home (presumably married). Barbara was widowed, head of household, and listed as a farmer. She also said she had 13 children, 12 living. The additional four children included in the 1900 census count were ignored. Urban and his brothers (Matthias, George H., and John) were working on the farm.

Urban married my grandmother’s sister, Elizabeth Schweiger, 23 April 1912, at Sacred Heart Church, in Winnetka, Illinois. When Urban registered for the WWI draft³ in 1917, he was living in Shermerville, but farming for himself in Northfield. It may not have been his mom’s farm, because in 1920,4 he was on Seltzer Road, in Northfield, just down the road from his brother Matthias. Matthias and the two youngest siblings were living with their mother, Barbara—presumably still on the original family farm.

The 1930 census5 placed him on Pine Street, in the town of Glenview. He moved his family into the home in June, 1925:  

Mr. Urban Levernier is the purchaser of the M. Grenning, Jr., house on Pine St. He expects to take possession about June 1.

Glenview” 1 May 1925, Newspapers.com: accessed 9 June 2019, record number: 71504029; citing original p. 13, col. 4. The Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

In ten years, his occupation changed from farmer to “contractor, trucking.” From other documents and family stories, I know that he had a “black dirt business.” That’s probably what the census description is referring to.

Shortly before Christmas, 1934, Urban died under unusual circumstances:

Irvin Levernier, 48 years old, was found shot to death early yesterday in the yard of his home at 1153 Pine street, Glenview. A shotgun lay beside him. The police said they believed the death a suicide, but a coroner’s jury returned an open verdict.

“Shot to Death in Glenview ,” 23 December 1934, Newspapers.com: accessed 6 June 2019, record number: 354863040; citing original p. 2 col. 4. Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

An “open verdict” means the coroner’s jury confirms the death is suspicious, but is unable to reach any other verdicts open to them. That margin of doubt was sufficient to allow for Urban to be buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery, not far from his sister’s grave. If his death had been ruled a suicide, that would not have been permitted in 1935.

Funeral card for Urban Alexander Levernier, 1887-1934. Burial was in Sacred Heart Cemetery, Northbrook.

Urban died before I was born, so I have no first-hand knowledge of him. One thing I know, is that he liked to fish! Ramones1234, at Ancestry.com, shared two photos of Urban, demonstrating that:

Urban A. Levernier, as a somewhat younger man. I don’t know the date, or who the children are, but he clearly made his catch that day! Photo credit Ramones1234.
Urban A. Levernier, 1934. This was earlier in the year in which he died. Only one fish this time, but he seems pleased with it, nevertheless. Photo credit Ramones1234.

My Uncle Henry wasn’t the only person named after Urban. As I was looking through my database, I found:

  • a living grandson of Urban, with Urban for a middle name (son of daughter, Lucy)
  • George “Urbie” Levernier (son of brother, George)
  • Richard Urban Levernier (son of brother, John)
  • Caroll Urban Beinlich (son of sister, Lucy)

It’s entirely possible other, more recent descendants have kept the name alive in the family. I’m not as caught up with that family as I should be. Even though Urban died relatively young (age 47), he left a naming legacy that reached forward several more generations.

#52Ancestors


¹1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield Township, e.d. 1176; Page 2A; dwelling number 75; family number 78; line 21; Honory LEVERNIER household; accessed 7 June 2019. Ervin LEVERNIER, age 14, January 1886 (written over 1887 and 13); NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 294; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield, e.d. 63; Page 4A; dwelling number 40; family number 41; line 9; Barbara LAVERNIER household; accessed 7 June 2019. Irvin A. LAVERNIER, age 23; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 238; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³Urbin LEVERNIER, serial no. 1162, order no. 61, Draft Board 1, 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. 1504100. accessed 7 June 2019

41920 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Northfield, e.d. 137; Page 6A; dwelling number 99; family number 99; line 7; Urbin SAVERNIER household; accessed 7 June 2019. Urbin SAVERNIER, age 33; NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 358; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

51930 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glenview, e.d. 16-2236; Page 4A; dwelling number 73; family number 75; line 33; Urbin LEVERNEIR household; accessed 7 June 2019; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 528; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

 

Road Trip

Are we there, yet?

I’ve had more than my share of road trips, racking up 50 states, and 32 countries so far. When my dad was a kid, though, road trips were were much rarer. It’s likely that until he joined the Navy, he traveled only between Wisconsin and Illinois!

He was born in Wisconsin, not too far from his paternal grandparents, Frank Haws (The Old Homestead) and Anna Bruder Haws, but that would soon change.

His family returned to Illinois not long after my dad was born. They appear in the 1922 city directory, living in Glencoe¹ with Victoria’s recently widowed mother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger (Back to School). By 1925, they had moved to a rental house (25 East Webster) in Highwood,² while my grandfather, Edward Haws, built their house on Rosemary Terrace, in Deerfield. They now lived a long way from Dad’s paternal grandparents, so couldn’t see them often.

Once, though, on a trip to Manitowoc or Door County when I was a teenager, Dad reminisced about his trips up there when he was a kid. It was Ed, Victoria, and 4 kids piled into the family car. I’m not sure if it was a Model A or a Model T, but my money is on the Model T, being a more reasonably priced car. Dad said they always had at least one flat tire on the trip—maybe more!

If I’d thought about it at the time, I’d have pressed him for more details, and written down the answers. Ah, the foolishness of youth!

Frank Haws and Anna Bruder Haws outside their house at 508 Birchwood Drive, Francis Creek, Wisconsin, after he retired and sold the farm. They are with 6 of their grandchildren: my dad (little guy on right), his siblings (George & Henry next to Frank, and Marie next to Anna), and two of their cousins: Paul and Lorraine, I think. I’d estimate the year to be 1926 or 1927, based on my dad’s size. That’s a couple years earlier than the 1929 date I have for Frank and Anna moving from the farm, but that year is estimated from Frank’s obituary—not necessarily the most accurate source! Dad looks 5 or 6 in this photo.

This week’s prompt jogged my memory, so I started thinking about those trips up north. According to Google maps, it’s 164 miles from Deerfield to Manitowoc, and takes 3 hours 47 minutes on non-interstate roads. The roads in the late 1920s/early 1930s were not as good as roads today, and the cars slower.

The top speed for a Model A was 28 MPH; 40-45 MPH for the Model T. I’m sure neither car drove those speeds on the roads of that era, but let’s be generous! If the Model T went 30 miles per hour, that’s a 5 hours and 28 minutes trip, minimum.

Then there’s stopping for gas, bathroom breaks—4 kids, remember?— lunch at a “roadside park,” slowing down for towns, plus time to fix a flat tire. We’re looking at an all-day trip, each way. If they went up to visit, it probably wasn’t for a day, or even a weekend; a week is more likely, maybe two.

I suppose Ed could have driven Victoria and the kids up, and gone back home to work during the following week, then come back for them, but that’s a lot of driving for him. Besides, most of his siblings lived in the area, so it would have been one of his few chances to see them.

As frequently happens when checking the facts for a blog post, either I find something new, or I unearth a detail I’d forgotten about. This week was no different! I’ve always known they spent time in Highwood—my dad remembered (and talked about) living there before moving into the house in Deerfield. I just assumed that was the only other place they lived in. So I was surprised last fall to discover them at Dorothea’s house so soon after dad’s birth! I always thought Dad lived in Wisconsin for at least a couple years.

While he told stories about Grandma Schweiger’s house, I always thought they were from visits there. Indeed, he may have had no memory of ever living there. Regardless, when I found and documented the 1922 directory listing, I didn’t really think about it, or fit it into a timeline for the family. I was hurrying to harvest as many records as I could, and didn’t mentally process it properly.

Thank goodness I decided to enter it in my software, anyway, instead of blowing it off! I could have easily dismissed it as, “Oh, that’s Dorothea’s house, I don’t need to record that.” That would have been a mistake—I’d be missing dots I needed to connect.

So, what had started as an innocuous road trip story, ended up filling in more dates and places in my dad’s, grandparents’, and great grandparents’ timelines. That’s always a good thing!

#52Ancestors

__________________

¹”U.S City Directories, 1822-1995″, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), citing R. L. Polk & Co. Evanston City and North Shore Directory, 1922-1923. Entry for Edw. HAWS, p. 630, accessed 7 September 2018.

²”U.S City Directories, 1822-1995″, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), citing Polk’s Waukegan City Directory, 1925. Entry for Edw. M. HAWS, p. 685, accessed 7 September 2018.

Out of Place

“Being lost is worth the being found.” -Neil Diamond

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ancestors and family members end up “out of place” for a wide variety of reasons. It seems mine have have used a good many of them. Sometimes it makes them difficult to find; other times it makes them impossible to locate!

Sometimes we don’t know to look somewhere else until we find their children’s birthplaces. The Kranz brothers (grand uncles, Ed and Adam) hid out farming in Iowa for about six years (In the News). Without later census records showing the Iowa birthplaces for some of their children, I’d never have thought to look there, though. The rest of their lives had been spent in the Chicago area.

The census isn’t always a help, though. I still haven’t located Uncle Iggy Schweiger in the 1920 or 1930 census records (Bachelor Uncle). It just occurred to me that his brother, Leo (Black Sheep), is also AWOL in the 1930 census. Had the brothers thrown in together for a time? Maybe. There’s no family lore to support that, but it might be possible. Of course, Uncle Leo decided to mix it up a bit, by breaking off communication with the family some time after 1942. That is definitely a time-honored way of being “out of place.”

Residing in a different, but nearby, town also makes people hard to find. I knew Jacob Meintzer (my 3rd great grandfather’s brother in Ten) existed, and had a houseful of kids. He wasn’t living in the same town as his brother, though, so it wasn’t until I accidentally ran across him in a neighboring town in the Alsatian census that I could piece him together, better. Whether he emigrated with his family to the Odessa region of Russia is still up for grabs, as is the possibility of later generations emigrating to the Dakotas. His line is still a little bit lost.

A fairly complete database of Civil War soldiers and sailors exists (with that name), so you would think Mike’s Kukler ancestor (Family Legend) would be there. Nothing found under Kukler, nor any of the other surnames married into that line. The military records coughed up a different Kukler — Frank E. — serving during/after the Spanish American War. I have no clue who he is and if/how he connects. So I have someone not where I’m expecting him and another who shouldn’t be in the records. Brilliant!

Sometimes we find someone out of place, but we don’t know the “why” that goes with it. Case in point: Christoph (Grandpa) Meintzer in Arkansas in the 1910s (So Far Away). There’s more to that story, but I don’t know what it is. Without his postcard from Arkansas, I wouldn’t even know there’s a story I’m missing.

Sometimes the “why” shows up later. I was puzzled by the marriage of John Joseph Carmody & Mildred Fitzgerald (Mike’s grandparents) 100 miles away from Port Huron, in Bay City, Michigan. They weren’t teenagers sneaking away from parents. They weren’t traveling to a place with easier marriage requirements. As I learned more about John Joseph’s involvement with transporting harness racing horses (Unusual Source), it made more sense. Numerous newspaper articles and ads had him busy during race season, shuttling the horses around. Of course he wasn’t in Port Huron! Getting married “on the road” may have been their only option, other than waiting until racing season was over. Two days after their wedding, it was announced in the Port Huron Times.

. . . Mr. Carmody went to Bay City this week to attend the race meeting and from there with his bride will go to Alpena.

“Carmody-Marshall,” 15 July 1921, Newspapers.com: accessed 20 September 2018, image number: 209880537; citing original p. 2, col. n.g, para. n.g, entry for Mrs. Mildred B. Marshall and John J. Carmody. Marriage license application notice below it in the column

Then there are the times when I lose my ancestors though my own fault — temporarily, at least — as I did when I misfiled the death certificate of my great-grandfather, Carl Moeller (Youngest). I came across it accidentally while looking for something else, but it was a wake-up call to me, reminding me I need to clean up my physical files. If I don’t know what I have, I don’t know what I need to look for, plain and simple.

Carl and his wife, Elfrieda Jonas Moeller, also ended up “out of place” through the fault of someone else on the Family Search tree (Challenge). Another user had incorrectly picked up Carl & Elfrieda as their similarly-named relatives, dragging my grandmother and her siblings into the whole mess. It took hours, but after confirming that the people they had blended with them were not correct (Drat! Those people had parents’ names!), I moved people around until the connections were correct. I hope they stay that way!

How do I avoid “out of place” situations? I can’t, unfortunately. But I can try to resolve them by:

  • Keep looking. Seriously, persistence sometimes pays off!
  • Search smarter. Use different spellings. Look for the kids. Use age and only the first name. Breaking out of the routine is sometimes effective.
  • Go page-by-page. Sometimes old-school and brute-force is the only way that will work.
  • Go on-site. Some records are not available online, so going in person is what needs to happen.
  • Give it a rest. New databases come online regularly. Sometimes I just need to tackle a different problem and give them a chance to show up.
  • Try a new database. Coupled with the one above, I think I’ve finally managed to acquire death and potential birth dates for Mike’s great-grandfather, Andrew Carmody. I wasn’t finding him in the others I searched.
  • Document everything. If I don’t know what I have, I don’t know where my gaps are.
  • Read every word for the evidence I have. Sometimes there are clues there that are more hidden. Picking just the low-hanging fruit may leave me missing the best!
  • Blog about it. Focusing on one person or family forces me to really look at what I know, and what I don’t know. I notice the gaps I have, and go in search of facts to fill them. Sometimes I find the answers I need, but if not, I still have organized my knowledge, and left myself a summary of where everything stands with that individual or family.
  • Read and watch. Blogs/newsletters/books and webinars. There are a whole lot of smarter/better genealogists our there. I’d be foolish not to learn from them. Sometimes it’ll be an entirely different approach, and other times they are telling me something I already know — but totally forgot about, and needed to be reminded of.

There’s no magic wand for any of this, but my “out of place people” don’t always have to stay lost.

#52Ancestors


Bachelor Uncle

Maybe? Maybe not?

Ignatz Joseph Schweiger was one of my grandmother’s older brothers.. Sometimes he shows up as “Ignatius” in records. He was born 15 October 1889, and had a twin sister (Clement Mary) who died 5½ months later. We find him in the 1900 census¹, an eleven-year-old schoolboy, and in 1910, 20 years old², with an occupation “Teamster, Street.” I don’t know precisely what that job entailed, but in 1910, it’s likely to be a horse and wagon, rather than a motorized vehicle.

Prior to 1913 (Al was married and in New York by then). Uncle Iggy is on the left. Photo credit: Fred Schweiger.

Even though Iggy and Al (Unusual Name) were working full time in 1910 (Sylvester and Fred were still in school), it would seem all were pressed into service at the family restaurant, probably on the weekends.

Uncle Iggy died in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 9 June 1964; within my lifetime. He was brought back to Northbrook and buried in the Schweiger family plot (Cemetery), with his parents and some of his siblings. While I recall hearing about him (trust me, “Iggy” is a name a kid remembers!), I’m sure I never met him in person. But I’d always heard that he was my grandmother’s unmarried brother.

I’m not sure why he decided to move away from the family, to Milwaukee. It wasn’t that far away from everyone else–a couple hours, maybe? I’m sure he could have found similar work in the Chicago area, if he had wanted. From everything I’ve heard, he was a nice enough guy, and as you can see from the photos, he came back to visit the family. Whether it was for a 4th of July picnic . . .

4 July 1929. Uncle Iggy is to our right of the cute kid (my dad!) with the tree growing out of his head. Not sure of the source for the photo.

Or a visit from his brother in New York . . .

Iggy is 2nd from the right. Dorothea died 29 October 1932, so obviously this is before then. Photo credit: Fred Schweiger.

Or a family picnic when my grandmother’s three sons (and son-in-law) were safely home from the service . . .

23 June 1946. Iggy is in the back row, with the tie and suspenders!

In September, when I wrote about the education levels of Iggy and his siblings (Back to School), I tracked all of them down in the 1940 census. Highest education level was a question on that one. He was easy enough to find, living as a boarder with a family in Milwaukee. He was still a “team driver,” this time doing “city work.”

As I checked the other columns, a surprise jumped out at me. The marital status column had a “W.” Widower. Huh?? Had there had been a marriage I didn’t know about?

The census information was provided by the head of household, who, I learned from Iggy’s 1942 WWII draft registration4, was also his boss! Now, census records can have errors for a variety of reasons:

  • Sloppy handwriting (this page is very neat)
  • Careless copying (census pages are created from the “field notes” forms filled out. But only 2 other entries on the page had a “W,” so I doubt the enumerator “lost track” of where he was. Iggy was also on the last line.
  • The person providing the information not knowing. “Widower” is not the choice I would default to if I didn’t know someone’s status. I would think “single” would be the more likely assumption to make, if you saw no signs of wife or children. This was also his employer, so may have known him better than a random landlord might.
  • The person involved (in this case, Iggy) telling someone a status that involves the least amount of explanation. Again, “single” would generate fewer awkward questions to answer than “widower,” “divorced,” or even “married” when there’s no wife or children around.

So I decided to try and track down a confirmation one way or another for this supposed marriage. It’s entire possible he had a short-lived marriage (lots of women still died from childbirth complications) that either no one knew about, or they just didn’t talk about, because it was upsetting. If enough time goes by, it can just be forgotten about.

His 1917 draft registration (hard to find because his name was spelled wrong!) lists him single, and in Milwaukee. That’s usually a help in locating 1920 records. But no, I cannot find him in Milwaukee, or anywhere else:

  • He’s not in New York with his older brother.
  • He’s not with his parents.
  • He’s not with either married sister (in Illinois OR Wisconsin).
  • “Fuzzy” searches (first name OR last name, with a wider birth year range) netted nothing

After 3 days of beating my head on the wall (or keyboard), I decided to contact my cousin, Barb. I was hoping she had run across one or both census records. Many hands make light work, right? More like misery loves company. Talking (texting) it out, gave me other search ideas. For 1930, I looked up the family he was boarding with in 1940 — just in case he was still there. Nope. I located his 1917 and 1940 addresses, trying to determine the enumeration districts for 1930. I paged through two different districts, hoping to spot him. Again, no luck. None on Barb’s end, either.

Since I had this blog to write, further searching needed to be deferred. Why can’t we find him in 1920 and 1930?

  • We’re looking in the wrong place. He’s in Milwaukee in 1917, and 1935 (from the 1940 census), but he could be elsewhere in between.
  • He was missed by the enumerators. Twice? Somewhat less likely, but people DID get left off.
  • His name is mangled. I tried searches to bypass that, but may not have found the correct work around. And I searched page-by-page in 2 districts.
  • He was abducted by aliens for a decade and a half.

You may wonder why I’m obsessing about census records, when I’m trying to figure out a possible marriage. I did look for marriage records and found nothing. But not all of them are available online, so not finding a record doesn’t tell me why I’m not finding it. Not online, or never happened? On the other hand, the census always reports married state, and it’s a fairly complete record set. Finding him there might help me determine if the 1940 “widower” is accurate or not, and suggest if I should keep looking elsewhere, or give up. Yes, it could be wrong, but it at least gives me a clue.

I also searched Newspapers.com for records in Illinois and Wisconsin. I hoped for a marriage announcement, or maybe an obituary for the “mystery wife.” I found Iggy only as a survivor in his mother’s and his sister’s obituaries. I didn’t find one for him, nor do I have his death certificate. My experience is that death certificates are less likely to be accurate in the areas NOT directly recording the death. That information is provided by doctors or other people involved with the death event; the other data is provided by whomever. Especially in the case of a single person not living near other family, that will be a friend, neighbor, employer—whoever happens to be available—not necessarily someone who knows!

So I’m left, once again, with an incomplete story, and inconclusive answers. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to resolve it, as “proving a negative” is really tough to do. Unfortunately, none of the people best able to answer it (Iggy, his siblings), are alive. Even the next generation (my dad, his siblings, and cousins) has only a handful still alive, and they would have been babies at the time of the marriage, or not even born!

In the meantime, we’ll have to simply enjoy our memories and photos of Uncle Iggy, and save our questions of what the truth is for when we catch up with him. 

#52Ancestors


¹1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 1172; sheet 11B; dwelling number 188; family number 193; line 94; Ignatz SCHWEIGER household; accessed 4 March 2019. Ignatz J. SCHWEIGER, age 10, Oct 1889; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 293; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Glencoe, e.d. 57; sheet 9A; dwelling number 168; family number 169; line 24; Ignaty[z] SCHWEIGER household; accessed 29 April 2018. Ignatz J. SCHWEIGER, age 20; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 239; 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).

4“U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942”, database, (https://www.ancestry.com), Ignatz Edward SCHWEIGER, serial no. 1071, order no. not given, Draft Board 14, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; citing World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Wisconsin. State Headquarters ca. 1942. NARA Publication M2097, 326 rolls. NAI: 623284. The National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. U.S.A.; accessed 4 March 2019.

Surprise

Genealogy provides a never-ending stream of surprises!

Give a vigorous shake to any family tree, and in addition to a few nuts, other surprises invariably fall out! Mine is no exception, and you’ve already read about a variety of “surprises” I’ve found through the years. But if you are hoping for a juicy, scandal-laced, DNA-based reveal in this blog post, your time is better spent elsewhere. This one is pretty mundane.

It’s September, 1946, and my mom’s cousin, Jeanne, is getting married. She is second youngest daughter of George Edward (Edward George) Meintzer (Next to Last), my grandfather’s older brother. The two girls (both still living!) are two years apart in age (Mom is older).

Though they lived in the same town, Mom says she and Jeanne didn’t really see too much of each other, growing up. Their fathers had a good relationship, so there wasn’t a family rift. The families lived only a few blocks apart, and Mom remembers Jeanne’s older sister, Helen, babysitting for her a couple times. But Jeanne’s mom was Catholic, with the children raised Catholic, so the families attended different churches, possibly different schools. And you know how it is with kids — they don’t really want to hang out with younger kids — even cousins!

But, by 1946, everyone is grown up, with my mom married for almost two years! She and Dad arrive at Jeanne’s wedding, most likely with her parents. Also in tow is my sister, Carole, seven months old, cute as a button, undoubtedly enjoying her brief stint as “only child.”

Imagine my mom’s surprise to see Aunt Rose (The Maiden Aunt) and Uncle Joe Rau also attending! They are from my dad’s side: Aunt Rose is the sister of my other grandmother, Victoria. Why are they here at my mom’s cousin’s wedding? What was going on?

It turned out that the bridegroom was Uncle Joe’s nephew! Uncle Joe’s sister, Mary, was the mother of the groom. Who would ever anticipate that? Of course, it didn’t change anything — my dad wasn’t related to Jeanne’s new husband. The two of them were just related — one by DNA, one by marriage — to the same person (Uncle Joe). It was simply one of those random occurrences that pop up in families.

As so often happens, quirky little things like that are easily forgotten. When I began my research in my teens, Mom and I paid a visit to her cousin, seeing what she might know about the Meintzers. Jeanne brought out a thick binder with the genealogy of her husband to show me. Someone in his family had researched and put it together, and he obtained a copy. It was interesting, but it really had nothing pertinent for us. Of course, it showed Uncle Joe’s connection to Jeanne’s husband, which Mom had forgotten about. It also made my fledgling genealogy look puny by comparison . . .

Fast forward 35+ years . . . The “Great Photo Identification Project” was still underway. Mom and I were on a road trip to the Chicago area and stopped by to see Jeanne. It was just a “sit and catch up” visit, but the conversation turned to photographs and the difficulty in identifying some of them.

Carole Ann Haws, Rose Schweiger Rau, and Mary Rau White (previously unidentified) on 14 September 1946.

This photo of Aunt Rose holding my sister was one of the problem photos we owned. Aunt Rose was easily identifiable, as was Carole. The woman on the right proved to be a puzzle, though. From the corsages, we knew is was some “event” — we just couldn’t place it. So while they chatted, Mom mentioned it. Conveniently, I had an image on my laptop, and pulled it up to show Jeanne. She took one look and said, “That’s my mother-in-law!”

SURPRISE!

Say what?? How did Mom not remember it being from Jeanne’s wedding? I guess she was busy taking care of a baby, and didn’t pay attention to Jeanne’s new in-laws. At least the mystery was finally solved! And yes, the photo has been properly labeled.

What’s the take-away from this? First, it’s a good idea to be careful with what you say about whom. You never know who might be distantly connected to you — or to someone you know. And when DNA testing enters the mix, all bets are off!

Second, label the pictures! Now. ALL of them. Not just one copy, Every. Single. Print. If you label only one (that you have multiples of) and give it away, where does that leave you? Unlabeled again, that’s what! Just do it.

Lastly, write the stories down. It is too easy to forget about them, or forget to repeat them to others, so they know about them. We’ve all played “telephone” enough to know how that game turns out, and we know the effect it can have on our family stories (Colorful and Close Up)! Having the stories committed to paper at least locks them into a particular version. It may still be wrong (or not completely right — not quite the same thing as wrong), but at least there’s a more fixed starting point, and something concrete to either prove or disprove.

Most importantly, enjoy the surprises (good or bad) when they show up. They make our family history more interesting! That’s what keeps most genealogists coming back for more.

#52Ancestors

The Importance of Being Ernest–I mean, Aloysius

“Nostalgia has a way of blocking the reality of the past.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Nine days ago, I wrote a post about the name Alois/Aloysius (Unusual Name), and its appearance in our family. At the end I related a story about my oldest brother choosing it for his Confirmation name. Almost immediately I received an email from my sister-in-law (wife of middle brother) saying that he had Aloysius as a Confirmation name.

Had I mis-remembered the story? Entirely possible. It was not written down, just tucked away in memory. Could they have both chosen the same name? Maybe. Unfortunately, oldest brother, Bob, died in 2008, so he isn’t around to ask. How could I resolve this conflicting information?

When it got to a more decent hour, I called our mother (age 96!) on the off chance that she remembered. Now, she’s 96, wasn’t Catholic until she turned 70, and we’re talking about something that happened sixty years ago. I didn’t hold out much hope.

I was not mistaken. She did not remember who had which Confirmation name, though she remembered one of them had chosen Aloysius. She also confirmed that she didn’t care for the name, but didn’t remember telling anyone that. So perhaps I’ve mis-remembered that aspect of the story, and she was simply perturbed that the name was selected.

But that still didn’t resolve the issue. I messaged youngest brother, Bill, to see if he remembered anything. He thought he had chosen Paul, and that Bob had Aloysius, but reminded me it was a long time ago! If he’d read the blog entry, that also might have influenced his answer, so I took it with a grain of salt.

I decided I needed to follow my mother’s advice and call the parish. Hopefully they had a record of the names. The woman I spoke with two days later was very nice, and I gave her as much information as I could: our names, my Confirmation date, and all our graduation dates. I figured she might need to search through registers, so waited patiently for an email reply. It arrived today!

The email¹ from the parish secretary included all our Confirmation names, as well as the dates. Bob (Aloysius) and Carole (Lucy) were confirmed on the same day (our parish held Confirmation every other year, doing two grades at a time). Middle brother (Warren) was Thomas! Bill had correctly remembered Paul, and I already knew Elizabeth for me.

While I feel slightly vindicated (sorry, Warren!), truthfully I wouldn’t have cared if the answer had been different. I could have just as easily been wrong. This isn’t a fact I track in the genealogy, much less being a “vital” data point. But since the question had been raised, I needed to follow up on it, verifying it one way or another.

But now that this mystery has been solved, I can move on to others!


¹Lara Krupicka, Hinsdale, Illinois [(e-address for private use),] to Christine Bauman, e-mail, 29 January 2019, “Confirmation Names”; privately held by Bauman [(e-address & street address for private use),] Greenwood, Indiana.

Unusual Name

Some names are in a class by themselves.

I’ve already used up my most unusual name: Venemi/Vensom/Vaclav (Same Name). But if I have to choose another one, I’m going with Alois. It’s a name we don’t see much of nowadays, and shows up in just one of my ancestral branches. It is related to the names Aloysius (AL-oh-ISH-əs), Louis, and Ludwig (as well as others) and means “famous warrior.” St. Aloysius is the patron saint of Catholic youth.

Alois Schweiger was my great-great-grandfather (father of Ignatz (Closest to Your Birthday), who emigrated from Bavaria in 1882). Alois was born in Niederhoëfen, Bavaria, 5 October 1821. He died there 13 February 1871, just shy of fifty years old. To the best of my knowledge, there were no others before him named Alois — though I don’t know names for his cousins, uncles, granduncles, etc. Some others could be lurking there.

Alois or Aloysius in the Schweiger line. Other siblings removed for simplicity.

Alois and his wife Marianne Hartmann had seven children. Their youngest son was Alois, Jr. Older brother, Ignatz, named one of his sons (Uncle Al) “Aloysius,” in honor of his father and brother, I suppose. Uncle Al in turn named his youngest son after himself and his grandfather. However, that son (Buddy) used a nickname for most of his relatively short (1917-1947) life, so I guess he wasn’t overly fond of Aloysius!

Uncle Al standing next to his brother, Leo (Black Sheep) before October, 1932.

When I started doing genealogy, and began looking for this name in records, I realized that MANY people were not familiar with either variation, so they became very creative with spelling. Sometimes the problem was with the more recent transcriber having trouble reading the handwriting and not knowing what the name was. Other times the issue was with the person writing it down in the first place. I’ve seen it written or indexed as:

  • Alice (for a man!)
  • Alvis
  • Aulis
  • Allwishes (SO wrong, yet works phonetically!)

I soon learned to look at names and think how they would sound and not worry about how they were spelled!

As I gathered information for this post (meaning of the name, patron saint, etc.), I decided to run a search at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch just to see what other Alois Schweigers popped up. There were way more than I anticipated! Most of them didn’t belong to me, of course, but it was interesting to see they mostly came from Bavaria (where mine came from), or very nearby — Baden, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland. Northern Germany did not show up very often as I scrolled through. Of course, the name is used with many other surnames, but checking with “Schmidt,” the results seemed similar.

So I wonder how much geography plays a role in naming patterns? Is it a coincidence that Beethoven (a Ludwig) was born in Bonn, considerably farther north? It would be an interesting topic to study. Or is it merely a function of what name is popular at a particular time? That’s how we acquired a generation of children named Brittany, Justin, and Jessica! While I have 24 Louis and 10 Ludwig people in my file, there are only 7 Alois or Aloysius entered (some of them distantly connected). Both are clearly outnumbered by more the traditional Louis and Ludwig!

Of course, the best story about the name comes from my mom. When my oldest brother was getting ready for his confirmation, Mom told him he could choose whatever saint name he wanted, but she really didn’t care for Aloysius. So what name did Bob pick? Aloysius, of course! Unfortunately, that detail doesn’t get stored in my database, so he doesn’t figure into the above stats. But that may well be our family’s most recent — and last? — use of this unusual name!

#52Ancestors

Conflict

Internal conflict isn’t always as easy to see—or deal with—as external conflict.

As genealogists, we are accustomed to hearing about the Loyalist (rather than Patriot) in someone’s Revolutionary War ancestry. There are countless examples of brother-versus-brother during the Civil War. Many researchers have discovered great grandfathers from different lines actually fought on opposite sides of various battles. None of those scenarios applies to me, as my ancestors were all way too recent. My conflict hit a little closer to home.

Growing up, I knew my dad and his brothers (and brothers-in-law) had fought in WWII. I was well aware of my predominantly German heritage, so even at a relatively young age I realized my dad and uncles had fought against the country their grandfathers had come from. Way back in my brain was the possibility that there could have been family still living in Germany. What did they do during the war?

When I started genealogy in earnest (Start), my parents arranged a visit to Uncle Syl and Aunt Stacia. He was my grandmother’s (Victoria) younger brother. It turned out he had dabbled a little with the family tree and had a treasure trove of information, mostly coming from Fr. Sylvester Hartman[n], an extended relation. The letter below accompanied several pages of Schweiger tree, reaching back to the 1630.

father hartmann letter_0001
Letter dated 4 April 1936 from Fr. Sylvester Hartmann to Stacia [and Sylvester] Schweiger. Copy obtained from them ca. 1975.
The letter was an eye opener!

It describes Uncle Syl’s 1st cousin, Anna (a 1st cousin twice removed to me), widowed, with two sons (first 3 lines of the letter). Then the kicker: “She obtained employment as a typist and stenographer in the German Labor Front, the official union of all the workmen of Germany, under Hitler.”

Oookayyy. Deep breaths. What was once only a possibility has quickly moved to a reality. Of course, Anna was merely office help—certainly not making decisions, formulating policy, or carrying out the resulting actions. She was simply a single mom, doing the best she could to put food on the table and a roof over the head of her family in a still-depressed German economy.

Still . . . she probably had brothers, and definitely a son who would soon be military age. Surely none of them escaped military service.

According to the Family History Center’s Wiki article on German compiled genealogies (Ancestor Certificates sub-heading), Ancestor Certificates didn’t seem to be a requirement until 1937. I’m not sure why Anna started doing genealogy before then. Maybe she was just interested, or maybe working within a pseudo-governmental position (even as office staff) she was asked to fill it out before the general population needed to? I don’t know. Our certificate was kept, however, and is still in the family.

The Schweigers were only one ancestral line. My maternal grandfather’s line (Meintzers) were in Alsace. They spent the war being German-occupied, probably trying to stay under the radar. That leaves two other lines—Harré (Harry) and Haase (Haws)—located in different parts of Germany. Were there still family members in those areas? How did they act during the war?

The questions spin around in my head endlessly:

  • Did they participate?
  • To what extent?
  • Were they willing or reluctant?
  • Did they leave or stay?
  • Were they victims, themselves? Or potentially so, causing them to try to be as unnoticeable as possible?
  • Did they realize what was happening in the work camps and concentration camps? Did that do anything to counteract? Or did they feel frustrated and helpless?

All of the questions leave me conflicted. It’s an uneasiness I can’t shrug off. It’s been years, and I still get a creepy feeling thinking about it.

They are questions I will never get answers to. The people involved are long since gone. Their reasons and rationals were buried with them.

Nor would I ask their descendants, if I located some. To what end? To make them feel bad about something they had no hand in, and may already feel bad about? To criticize and accuse the people they loved of doing something bad—or not doing enough to stop it? It hardly seems fair, or productive.

It’s very easy to look with the 20/20 vision of hindsight and say, “They should have done . . .” Or even better—to get on my self-righteous high horse, saying what I would have done in that situation.

You know what? I have no clue what I would have done. I’d like to think I’d have been that brave soul, smuggling Jews or downed Allied pilots to safety, or thwarting Nazi plans. Or maybe I would have simply tried to survive.

So I will live with this internal conflict. If one day I discover some distant relative was part of the atrocities—I’ll cope with that, then. In the meantime, I will hope for the best.

#52Ancestors

Closest to Your Birthday

What? 100 years isn’t close?

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.

    frank haws_0001
    Frank Haase/Haas/Haws 1858-1933. Photo came from one of the Haws grandaunts 40+ years ago. Taken before 4 May 1933 (Frank’s death date).
  • 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!

    HARRY Dorothea portrait
    Photo credit: I thought I got it from Barb. She thought she got it from me. I probably got it from Fred. THANKS, FRED! 

    Dorothea Schweiger_0001

  • 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.

    Ignatz Schweiger barb
    Photo credit–ditto. I know Ignatz is a year off, but it’s pretty darn close!

    Ignatz Schweiger_0001

    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 five. 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
  • youngest,

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.

#52Ancestors