Little did I know! Today I sat down to look into Sophie Bellmer, and suddenly everything blew wide open. I did find Sophie Bellmer in the Ortsfamilienbuch (family history record) for Lesum, Bremen, Germany, and look what else I found:
Click to enlarge
Here's the record for Sophie Bellmer, but I hope you can see what is in the next section: her daughter, Christiane Wilhelmine Luise BELLMER, not Schulze. Sad to say (but so happy I found it out), Wilhelmine was illegitimate, the daughter of Sophie Bellmer and an unknown father; at some point, Sophie must have married Christian Friedrich Engelhardt Schulze, who is listed on Wilhelmine's marriage certificate as her father, but we don't know whether he was her biological father or not at this point. I'm still trying to find him.
What we also get in this record is very significant -- Sophie's parents, Anna Margrete Otten and Gevert Bellmer, and guess what -- they weren't married either, so in addition to Wilhelmine having been illegitimate, her mother, Sophie Bellmer, was illegitimate as well. Intriguing, but we have no information other than that Gevert would have been about 25 when Sophie was born, and Anna maybe 35 (we don't have her exact birthdate). Three years after Sophie was born, Gevert married someone else, with whom he had nine children.
We get one step further back in the matrilineal line -- and find yet another disconcerting thing. Anna Margrete Otten's parents, Adelheid Anna Wellbrock and Johann Harm Otten, we not married either! However, it does appear that they were partners for some years, since they had three children together betwen 1800 and 1806, when he passed away a month before the birth of his youngest child.
So we have three generations of women in my family who were illegitimate -- Wilhelmine Bellmer/Schulze, Sophie Bellmer, and Anna Margrete Otten. Wow -- I'm kind of blown away by that. What is the explanation? What's even a possible explanation? I just don't know. But I can't refrain from saying . . .
Bad girls, bad girls, what'cha gonna do?
Sorry -- is that just too irreverent? I have many, many more ancestors to talk about as a result of this brick wall coming down, but this is enough for today. In pulling my thoughts together about the opening of this ancestral line, I can offer the following tips to fellow budding genealogists:
1. Ask for information from local archives. This episode began when I emailed the Stadtarchiv in Bremerhaven, looking for information on my grandmother and any other documents I could get. The treasure-trove they sent me was what brought the wall down.
2. If you're looking for ancestors in Germany, one of your first stops should be genealogy.net, which has an amazing collection of online Ortsfamilienbuecher (family history books from a particular city); because my ancestors were farmers living in the same location for centuries, I was able to mine 39 ancestors out of one Ortsfamilienbuch.
3. As soon as I began recording these ancestors on Ancestry.com, I began to get many "shaky leaves." Be careful with these -- while you can use the information they offer you as confirmation of other sources, beware of appropriating information from those family trees. Unfortunately, many inexperienced genealogists just copy large branches of someone else's tree without ever checking on whether the information is accurate. Yesterday, Lorine McGinnis Schulze (a relative?) over at Olive Tree Genealogy wrote a great post about this problem.
4. Also be wary of written family histories. When I started, I found it hard to believe that the history my Aunt Hilda wrote -- clearly dictated by my Uncle Eric, who had a mind like a steel trap where family was concerned -- could be wrong. But I've discovered at least two problems/inaccuracies, and it makes me wonder whether Uncle Eric knew the whole story.
4. Enjoy your successes!! I spent many, many hours trying to find information on Wilhelmine Schulze, including many hours of grunt work looking through Ortsfamilienbuecher for the wrong name. I won't say that I've cracked open a bottle of champagne, but I am certainly celebrating my success!
Have you had a great breakthrough? I'd love to hear about it!