Jan 29, 2014

The mystery deepens --

Well, how things can change in one little day -- first I woke up this morning thrilled to discover the birthplace of my great-grandfather, and very shortly thereafter, I learned something disturbing about the circumstances of his death.

I belong to a group on facebook that is made up of people interested in family history in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen).  I joined because Grandpa Gustav Berneburg was born in that region, in Hannover, and I mentioned the other day that someone is helping me look for records there.  But since Goettingen, where Max Langer's death notice came from, is also in Lower Saxony, I was so excited with that news that I posted something about it to the group and included a link to the story on this blog.

I was startled, to say the least, when a very short while later a group member (a very, very nice and knowledgeable man) came back with a full translation of that very-difficult-to-read document.  Brace yourself, because the news is a little shocking.  Here is his translation (I've reorganized the words in English a little bit):

"Göttingen, January 31 1896. To the Registrar signed below was sent by the Board of the District-Lunatic Asylum in Göttingen the following written report: 

"Maximilian Joseph Langer, labourer, 55 years 6 months 8 days old; Catholic religion; residing in Geestemünde, Lehrer Chaussee Nr. 92 (42?); born in Oberglogau in the province of Silesia on the 21st July 1840; married to Wilhelmine, nee Schulze, of Geestemünde, son of the Oberglogau couple (deceased), master weaver Anton Langer and Barbara, nee Kura; died in the District-Lunatic Asylum in Göttingen at the twenty-ninth January of the year 1896 at two o´clock past midday.  The Registrar Borhut"

Wow.  I was really taken aback by this and have been thinking about it all day.  My cousin and I were only recently talking about family secrets and how important it seemed to the older generation to keep them -- someone who drank a bit too much, a baby born a little too early -- but someone dying in a lunatic asylum is a very big secret, isn't it?  I never heard a hint of such a thing.

Of course, I'm trying to imagine why he was there, but that's not what's really bothering me -- it's imagining someone I'm related to living in that kind of facility in the late 1800's.  My very brief research today told me that for psychiatry, it was a time of "enlightenment"; in the modern facilities, the chains were removed from patients, the bars from windows, and so on.  I believe this . . . hospital . . . was affiliated with a university, so I'm hoping that it was a modern facility following the new philosophies.  But still . . . 

The man who gifted us with the translation suggests that this might be the building itself:



Landeskrankenhaus (County hospital)

The mystery still remains, why there?  The document gives his address as Bremerhaven, which was 180 miles away from Goettingen -- wasn't there a facility near home he could have gone to?  They were far from wealthy people; surely they couldn't have paid for expensive treatment.  I wonder if we'll ever know.

On a brighter note, I did a quick search for Anton Langer and found these two possibilities, both of which are in the right time frame 23 years or so before Max was born:


Do we have the names of EDC's great-great-great grandparents here?  I'll follow up.  They seem like real possibilities, because Neisse, or Nysa, is only 30 miles or so from Oberglogau (Glogowek):



Well.  Big news.  I'll keep you posted on developments.

Success? Yes!!

In a previous post, I mentioned I was communicating with an official in the Stadtarchive in Goettingen, Germany, where EDC's great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer, appears to have died.  This is mysterious, because Goettingen is some distance from Bremerhaven, where as far as I know, all Langer/Berneburg family life occurred in the 1890's and early 20th Century.  His wife, Wilhelmine, died in Bremerhaven, so the mystery is, what was he doing in Goettingen?

The official has been extremely helpful in giving me information to decide whether to order the death certificate, which is unusual to say the least, because it's a "marginal note" instead of a normal certificate.  When I asked whether it contained his place of birth and/or his parents' names, she decided to go ahead and make a scan of it and send it to me.  Wow!  (Note:  German officials are known for being, well, official and going by the book, so I was very surprised that she took the time to make the scan and send it.)

So!  Here's what I got!

Death certificate, Maximilian Joseph Langer

Yay, right??  Um . . . no.  The scan isn't great (and the original probably isn't much better), and guess what, it's written in that old script that makes it very difficult to read.  Here's a closer look:


Well, all is not lost.  I can make out enough of the most important words to know that 1) this is definitely "our" Max Langer, and 2) it contains his birthplace and the names of his parents!  Look closely -- 



It says, "Maximilian Joseph Langer, 55 years, 6 months, 8 days old," at least I think that's what the first part says.  The next word I can make out is "Geestemuende," which is where the Langer family lived, and where he had lived for many years (again, what was he doing in Goettingen??).  Next comes the information that he was "born in Oberglogau, Silesia, on the 21st of July, 1840, and married to Wilhelmine, born Schulze, in Geestemuende," and finally we get the information that his parents' names were "Anton Langer and Barbara, born Kura."  I'm just blown away.  

There's a story in the parts I can't make out, I know there is, and I'm going to figure it out somehow.  I'm dying to sit down today with the book I have on reading old German script and get busy, but I have classes to teach tomorrow and lessons that have to be planned, so it will have to wait.   I will definitely send the 18 Euros, however, for a copy of the original document, since that is likely to be easier to read.

If you are moved to look up where Oberglogau is, you won't find it on a map of Germany any more -- it's now a town called Glogowek, in southern Poland.  When Max was born, it was part of Germany, or Bohemia, under German control.  I think this is also the region where Aunt Hilda was from, which is now part of the Czech Republic.  But here's a picture (of course).

The town hall in Glogowek, Poland (from Wikipedia)

Oberglogau is noteworthy for two things:  1) Ludwig von Beethoven finished his fourth symphony there, and 2) during WWII it held a Stalag (work camp) for British and Commonwealth prisoners.  Since that did not have a good ending, I'll leave it to you to look up, if you're interested.


Oberglogau Castle (where Beethoven stayed), by millotaurus 1

 So!  Very, very slowly, we move back in the past of the Ortman/Berneburg clan.  This breakthrough on the Berneburgs, though partially still a mystery, really excites me.

Jan 25, 2014

Cross your fingers!

We may have a breakthrough on the Berneburg side -- cross your fingers!  I recently discovered that there's a facebook group for "Genealogy for Lower Saxony," which includes Hannover, where Grandpa Berneburg was from.  It's a group of nice, helpful people, some in Germany, others elsewhere.

One very nice woman will actually go to archives for you!  So she has all the information we have on the Berneburg family and will be getting back to us at some point.  Again, keep those fingers crossed!


When I look at this map, I see that Bremen and Bremerhaven are included -- I'll have to ask whether anyone in the group is able to do a search up there.  More to come, I hope!

Update on Maximilian Langer:  I heard back from the lady at the Stadtarchiv in Goettingen, and she has the death certificate from 1896!  She says, though, that it's not a regular certificate but some kind of "marginal notation," so I'm trying to get more information on it (e.g. does it include his birthplace, parents etc.) before I fork over 18 Euros for it.  More to come on that too --

Jan 9, 2014

Oh the Frustration -- Part 3

So on we go with the Berneburg/Langer frustrations.  Next up is Great-Grandpa Maximilian Langer, Grandma Sophie's father.  My aunt's notes say that he was born in "Schliesen," or Silesia, which once was part of Prussia but now is in Poland, down by Czechoslovakia.  Silesia is a province, however, not a town, so that information is missing.  Looking at both German and Polish record sites (and puzzling out Polish is difficult, believe me!), I find nothing.  The nice elderly man from Bremerhaven who helped me a little gave me the information that Maximilian was born "about 1855," and died "before September 11, 1909," but I can't read the scanned documents he sent me, so I can't confirm that (and he's not responding to my emails).  Now, September 11, 1909, I happen to know, is Grandma and Grandpa Berneburg's wedding date, so I'm guessing he looked at some kind of a wedding record and saw that Grandma's father was "deceased," so he must have died sometime before that.  But I think it was also the elderly man who gave me the information that Max had died in Goettingen, fairly far from Bremerhaven, where his family lived, so this is a mystery too.

I did something about this mystery -- I sent an email to a person whose name I'd been given at the Standesamt (City Registry) in Goettingen.  She said she found nothing in the record about his death, but now that I look at her email again, she may have looked only in 1909, which is a very narrow window.  Now that I look at the family history pages, I see his death year listed as 1896, so I may go back and inquire again for that year.  It would still be a mystery of how he wound up in Goettingen, if that is the case.  She also says he was born in 1843, rather than 1855, which the nice elderly man found in the Bremerhaven archives.

A group of child chimney sweeps

One thing we can do, however, is learn a little bit about his life as a chimney sweep.  I found a very interesting article you might want to look at:  "The Poor Life of an Apprentice Chimney Sweep."  Many people were apprenticed to the trade as children -- I wonder if that was the case with Max?  It makes me think of the song "It's a Hard Luck Life," from Annie.

I guess that other than going to Germany (hey, that's an idea), the only thing to do is to write to each and every one of these archive offices, asking for death certificates, as I did with Joseph Ortmann.  That might give me the information I need about birth dates, parents, and so on.

And so we press on!

Jan 6, 2014

Oh the frustration -- Part 2

So on to more frustration with the Berneburg/Langers.  Let's think about EDCM's great-grandmother, Christiane Wilhelmine Luise Schulze (Grandma Sophie's mother).  I've had no success in searching for her name, no birth records, death records, and so on.  From the history my aunt wrote, Wilhelmine (as she was known), was born in Bremen, Germany, on December 25, 1859.  She was one of five children, two of whom died as infants, leaving three sisters:  Marie, Sophie, and Wilhelmine.

Even though there seem to be records from Bremen in the database -- it comes up with quite a few possibilities -- I can't see that any of them could be her (though I rejected a possibility for Joseph Ortmann that then turned out to be true).  None of them has a birthdate of Dec. 25, which would kind of jump out at you.

One of the problems is the name:  Schulze.  It's a common name, as you can see in this map of where the name comes up:


And if you add in the spelling variants -- Schulz, Schultz, Schultze, Schult, Schulte, and so on -- it seems as if every other person in Germany has that name. 

I've also searched on Wilhelmine's sisters, Marie and Sophie, and come up with nothing so far, even though I know the names of Sophie's husband and children.  So I started thinking about the names.

When you look at the names of Wilhelmine's sisters, it's interesting -- Grandma's full name was Sophie Bertha Marie, and Wilhelmine's two sisters were Sophie and Marie.  (It seems like she felt she needed to load Grandma up with all the names -- )  I wonder where the Bertha came from; could it have been Wilhelmine's mother?  The woman we were wondering about in the photograph we looked at?



Was her name Bertha?  I searched for that name -- and found that if Schulze was common, Bertha Schulze was common  as well.  I'll pursue it further, and see if I can come up with a connection.  And now I think we can identify the three middle-aged women as Wilhelmine, Sophie, and Marie Schulze:


I hope this is right -- but can I ever really know?  We'll see.

Jan 5, 2014

Oh, the frustration -- Part 1

Every genealogist feels frustrated now and then (or maybe all the time!), which is why it's so exciting when a breakthrough happens, as it did with EDC's great-grandfather, Joseph Ortmann.  While solving that puzzle (where he came from in Germany) is wonderful, I still experience big frustration on the other side of the family -- the Berneburg/Langers.

My (one and only) cousin, Marianne, sent me some wonderful pages that her mother, Hilda Berneburg, had put together on that side of the family.  It gives some great names and dates -- Grandpa Berneburg's family names, birth and death dates, locations, and so on.  I've copied all the information I can into the family tree on ancestry.com.

But, while it's wonderful on more recent history, it hasn't helped me get farther back.  After getting  this information on the Berneburgs in Hannover, I hit a dead end.  I don't think I ever wrote about the charitable foundation I discovered in Hannover -- the Berneburg Foundation!  I thought that these people must be related to us, so I sent an email to the director of the foundation, wondering if anyone would know the family history of the Heinz Berneburg who started the company that led to the foundation.  He sent me a very gracious reply, saying he didn't know, but he would pass my message on to the nephew of the founder, to see if he knew.  I never heard back from the nephew.  Here's why I think we're related:  first, the rarity of the Berneburg name, and second, the founder, Heinz Berneburg, made his fortune in street-paving, an asphalt-works, and so on.  Could it not be more than a coincidence that Andreas Berneburg, EDCM's great-grandfather, was a stone-setter? 

The Berneburg Foundation in Hannover

I think that Heinz Berneburg was of a younger generation than Andreas Berneburg -- Heinz started his company in 1889, and Andreas died in 1898.  I'm assuming that Andreas was older when he died, but then, maybe not, since Grandpa Berneburg was born in 1884.  In any case, the possibility exists that they could have been cousins, or Andreas and Heinz's father could  have been brothers -- something like that.  But until I break through with some actual records, this will all be speculation.

I wish the nephew had contacted me, but I guess when a multi-million dollar foundation is involved, he probably thought I was some kind of gold digger.  Oh well.

We have more Berneburg/Langer mysteries, but I'll save them for another day.

Jan 4, 2014

An interesting find --

I read an interesting article today in the Huffington Post about an archaeological find -- about 600 graves, many of which contain two skeletons, embracing (another article is here).  What interests me is that the find is near Novosibirsk, Siberia, just north of Altai Krai, where our U4 group turned northward (see this post on Siberia for a refresher).  While they can distinguish male from female, and adult from child, they are going to use paleogenetics to do DNA testing on the skeletons, to see what their kinship is -- are they parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister, or . . . ?  I will keep an eye on this story as it develops, because I am very interested in the results of the DNA analysis -- most of all, are they U4's?



My friend, Dawn Terrell, also writes an ancestry blog, Answering the Ancestors' Call, and her most recent post considers the connections between DNA and ancestral affinities -- that is, are we drawn to a particular culture or nation because of our genealogical history?  This idea intrigues me, and I started to think about some of the places and cultures I'm drawn to.  In Europe, it's Germany (of course), Italy, France, and England, but other countries -- Spain and Portugal, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, etc. -- not so much.  And while I (we) have a lot of connections in different places, the major ones are Germany, England, France and Italy -- interesting, no?  But the one that really intrigues me is that I have always, always been drawn to Russia in general, and Siberia in particular, and that is an old, prehistoric DNA connection.  I've read a number of books about Russia and Siberia, I love to look at photographs from there, and I long to visit places like Lake Baikal.  It's one of the oldest lakes on the planet (25 million years!) and contains 20% of the fresh water on Earth.


Lake Baikal has something called "turquoise ice" -- in March the ice crust cracks and blocks heave up that are a beautiful turquoise color:


Now, come on, am I the only one that would like to see that?  Oh, and it's also beautiful in the summer, too.

So here's the question -- a bunch of us share the same DNA -- am I the only one who has these longings?  Let me know!

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