Jul 31, 2014

A Perfect Moment

Continuing the practice of interspersing my own memories with tales of my ancestors -- this serves the purposes of both The Book of Me and Throwback Thursday:

With every passing year, my memory grows ever more frail.  While I was teaching, I would regularly reach for a word that was obviously nowhere near the tip of my tongue . . . and it would be gone.  Old friends will say, "Remember when we . . . " or "It was so funny when . . . " and I'll have no idea of what they're talking about.  I will say to my Loved One, "Did I ask you whether you put the garbage out, or did I just think it?" and half the time I've only thought it.  (The other half, I have said it but have no memory of it whatsoever.)

At the same time, some memories are so wonderful that they persist forever, memories of an absolutely perfect moment in your life.  This comes from about 1971 (of course I have no exact memory of the year).  I was visiting the Berkshires -- my boyfriend lived in New York City, and I in Boston, so we would meet in the Berkshires at his  mother's house on some weekends.  We went to a farewell concert of the Youngbloods at Tanglewood (I think it was Tanglewood).  But here's what I remember precisely:  It was a glorious day, sunny and warm.  We were relaxing on a blanket with our friends.  We had picked up sandwiches from Take Out Alice (the Alice from Alice's Restaurant had by that point closed her restaurant and opened up a takeout place) -- they were pot roast sandwiches, on rolls that were dusted with flour on the top, and horseradish -- I have never forgotten the taste of that sandwich, eaten outdoors on a beautiful day.  And of course, we had the preferred drink of the time -- Mateus Rose (we were so sophisticated).

 Me, then.

And when Jesse Colin Young began singing "Sunlight," the moment became a perfect one that I would never forget.  The boy I was with  (I know he was a man, but from this vantage point, he was a boy) --  I was crazy about him, the delicious sandwiches and (faux-)wine, the beautiful day and that song . . . it all combined to create a moment that I will remember until I leave this earth.

Listen to it through your headphones, it's gorgeous.  What's one of your perfect moments?

Jul 30, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Costume Party!





1.  My grandfather, Gustav Berneburg, and his first girlfriend.
2.  My mom and dad, Walli and Bill Ortman.  Doesn't my dad look a little like John Travolta in Shampoo?
 3.  Not sure who are under the top hats, but one may be Dad.
4.  My sister, Deb Dill, as the Queen of Hearts at one of her daughter's epic Halloween parties.

Jul 28, 2014

Was This Grandpa's Other Wife? Maritime Monday

My grandfather, Gustav Berneburg, went to sea, starting at the latest in 1907 when he was 22 years old.  Before that, he had been a stone-setter and a machinist and probably other things as well.  But somewhere around 1907 he went to work for Norddeutcher-Lloyd (North German Lloyd) and began his first of many trips across the ocean.

 Poster stamps from the time my Grandfather worked for NDL

North German Lloyd was the largest shipping company in the world.  They started out with three steamers in 1857 and by 1898 they had 259 ships traveling around the world.  I know that early on he went between Germany and the Far East; I have a postcard sent to him on the S.S. Buelow by my grandmother.  He first shows up in New York ships' manifests over the years 1923 to 1927, we see Gustav coming in and out of New York many times:

  • 1923      Nov.11
  • 1924      Jan. 1
  • 1925      April 9, May 8, Sept. 3, Oct. 2, Nov. 6, Dec. 2
  • 1926      Jan. 8, April 2, June 4, July 30, August 27
  • 1927      March 24, July 7, Aug. 27, Sept. 9, Oct. 22, Nov. 20

The ships didn't actually dock in New York; they went to Hoboken, New Jersey, just on the other side of the Hudson River.

 Vintage postcard showing the Hoboken docks of NDL

It wasn't a fun job.  This passage describes the lot of stokers, the men who shoveled coal into the furnaces.  This was one of the jobs that Gustav had:

"Distressing at all times is the lot of the poor fellows who man the stoke hole. On the Furst Bismarck, for instance, there are twenty-four furnaces, manned by thirty-six brawny and half-naked stokers. Suddenly from somewhere in the darkness comes three shrill calls upon a whistle, and instantly each furnace door flies open, and out dart hungry tongues of fire. With averted heads and steaming bodies, four stokers begin to shovel furiously, while two others thrust their slice-bars through each door and into the mass of fire and flame. Burying their lances deep in the coals, they throw their weights full upon the ends as levers, and lift the whole bank of fire several inches. Then they draw out the lances, leaving a black hole through the fire into which the draft is sucked with an increasing roar. Three times they thrust and withdraw the lances, pausing after each charge to plunge their heads in buckets of water, and take deep draughts from bottles of red wine. But this cooling respite lasts only a moment at best, for their taskmasters watch and drive them, and each furnace must do its stint. It is fair, however, to say that everything that can be done to lessen the hardships of the stokehole has been done by the steamship companies." [Quotation from Gjenvick Archives]

On one ship's manifests, he shows up on a list of "Deserters."  This doesn't necessarily mean that he abandoned his ship -- men signed on for a particular length of time, and if they wanted to leave early, the company would list them as deserters so they wouldn't have to pay them for the rest of their contract.  The notation is dated January 5, 1924; interestingly, on Gustav's obituary it notes him having come to the United States in 1924 and staying permanently.  I do know that there was a time of several years that he lived apart from his family; at the same time he was working for NDL again and went back and forth to Bremen many times, and of course saw his family (my mother was conceived in late 1925, probably).  The rest of the family came to America in 1928.

 Grandpa and "the boys" on board ship.  Grandpa is far left in the first pic and right standing on deck in the second.

So now to the question posed in the title.  One of the places Grandpa traveled to more than once was Japan.  Amongst all the photographs of Germany, New York, and Minnesota is a mysterious photo of a Japanese lady:

No one knows who this is, but clearly she was important to my grandfather.  And my mother said that in the midst of an argument once, my grandmother took a photo album decorated with mother-of-pearl that Grandpa had brought back from Japan and threw it in the garbage.  Circumstantial evidence, to be sure, but could he have had another wife/another life in Japan?  We'll never know, but if your surname is Berneburg and you're Japanese, email me, okay?

Oh, and my mother fished the album out of the garden and hid it.  I have it now.

Jul 27, 2014

The Slapdash Genealogist: Getting Organized

Following my post of the other day, I promised myself I would start getting my research more organized.  I think I'll take stock of where I am and where I need to go to keep filling my tree out.  So let's start at the left or top, depending on which view I'm looking at, and work my way across.

Joseph Ortmann:  This is my great-grandfather's line, and I'm doing pretty well on it.  I have the direct male line from my father now going back 7 generations, to 1690, which is remarkable because only a short while ago, I had nothing past the level of Joseph.  I need to be sure I've entered this most distant ancestor in places like Family Tree DNA, which has my brother's Y-DNA.  I haven't really followed Joseph's mother's family back more than two generations before him.


Joseph's wife, Anna Christina Schwietering, is someone I have to work more on.  I have the Schwieterings going back six generations, to the early 1700s, but it's not really confirmed.  I think the first step on this is to order her death certificate from New York to be sure I have the right connections to Germany.  Anna's mother's line is pretty much the same as Joseph's -- only goes back a generation or two.

Great-Grandfather George Siegler, I'm happy to say, now goes back two generations in Lohr, Germany, because of the kindness of a fellow genealogist who devoted a bit of time to my family when she was in an archive.  I have a lot of work to do on this line.

George's wife, Mathilda Hug, had a gorgeous, extensive branching of the tree (with many fascinating posts on this blog) until I discovered that the Wilhelm Hug I had coming from Baden-Wuerttemberg was not in fact my Wilhelm Hug -- my Wilhelm Hug came from Hannover, not Baden, and the only thing I know now is his father's name, Adolph Hug.  This came from his death certificate, which I got from New York City.  I should order Tillie's death certificate too.

Andreas Berneburg, my great-grandfather on my mother's paternal line, is a mystery.  I can find records of his children being born and christened (except for my grandfather Gustav and his brother Willi), but nothing about his own birth.  A question is whether he was born in Hannover or somewhere in Hessen -- that's something I have to pursue.  I'd like to get someone to go to the Hannover archive and look up records; also I can email the lady at the Reformed Church who did so much for me and ask her if she could go back farther in time to find my grandfather's birth record and Andreas' marriage record(s).

Hermine Kleemann/Johanne Schmidt -- now, this is a mystery.  Which one was the birth mother of Gustav?  Family history says his mother was Hermine Kleemann, but it appears she and Andreas were never married.  On his death certificate, it says that Johanne Schmidt was his mother, but I'm not sure I buy that.  If he was in fact illegitimate, he might have stated Johanne was his mother just to simplify things.  Here again, someone going to the archive or the secretary at the Reformed Church might be able to help.

I've made a lot of progress on Maximilian Langer, my Grandmother Sophie's father, great progress in fact where his mental illness and death are concerned.  But I haven't been able to locate records beyond his father, Anton Langer.  They lived in Oberglogau, Silesia, which is a little tricky to investigate because it's now part of Poland and some of the Polish sites that might be helpful don't have English translations.  (As rusty as my German is, I have *no* Polish whatsoever.)  I do have some microfilms from the FHL in Salt Lake that I will continue searching in, as soon as I can get back to our local branch, this week, I hope.

Grandma's mother, Christiane Wilhelmine Luise Schulze was a huge mystery until very recently, when I discovered her birth name was not Schulze but Bellmer.  Having found that out from the Bremen Ortsfamilienbuch, I had an easier time of going back farther, so that at this point I have my direct maternal line going back 6 generations, to Adelheid Wellbrock, b. 1767.  I have men in that line going back 10 generations, to 1598!  A facebook friend in Germany has said he will go to the archives in Bremen to look for Wilhelmine Bellmer's birth record, to see who is listed as her father, and also to look for marriage information for Sophie Bellmer and Christian Schulze, who may have adopted Wilhelmine and given her his surname, which is what she went by.  We don't know if Christian Schulze was her biological father or not, but there could be significance in the fact that Sophie Bellmer gave her the name Christiane.

Well, actually, that was very helpful, to see where I am with each branch, starting at the great-grandparent level, and seeing the things I need to do to keep going.  It's helped me to feel a little more organized, anyway.  And this morning I actually clipped something with Evernote!

Jul 26, 2014

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ahnentafel Roulette

Every Saturday night, Genea-Musings hosts "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun" for those of us whose lives are so boring that we're not out on Saturday night :)  ; tonight's topic is "Ahnentafel Roulette" (what is that??)   I've copied the questions below -- I'll take a shot at answering them.

1.   My great-grandfather Maximilian Langer was born in 1840.  I divide by 80 and round to the nearest whole number, and I get:   23

2.  It took me a while on Family Tree Maker to figure out how to do an Ahnentafel report, but I found it, and the person I get is Matilda Hug Siegler, my great-grandmother.  She was born in New York City in 1878, and she died in Brooklyn, New York on April 8, 1932.  

3.  Here are four facts about her:
  •  She was the youngest of the eight children of William and Sophia Hug; her siblings were Adolph, Henry, Lena, Charles, Minnie, Mary, and Amiel.
  •  She was married to George Siegler in 1894; he was 25 and she was 16.  I suppose her parents were tired of having kids around the house and encouraged the relationship!
  •  She bore three children:  Mary, born in 1895; Nicholas, born in 1899 but unfortunately did not survive the first year of his life; and Dorothy, born in 1911, making a 16 year difference between the two sisters.  I absolutely remember my grandmother (Mary) telling me there was a 12-year difference between them, no doubt wanting to shave a few years off her age.
  •  Matilda, or Tillie as she was called, passed away at the young age of 53.  I'm not sure of the cause yet but have written away for her death certificate.

I remember knowing my great-grandmother's name from an early age, because my grandmother (her daughter) would include it in a humorous story about the funny names from her childhood:  Matilda Hug, Frank Footer and his sister Doodle, and Stella Hamburger.  I thought that was very, very funny when I was 10. 

So there you have it, my contribution to Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.  And it was fun! 

 Genea-Musing's Questions:

1) What year was one of your great-grandfathers born?  Divide this number by 80 and round the number off to a whole number. This is your "roulette number."

2) Use your pedigree charts or your family tree genealogy software program to find the person with that number in your ancestral name list (some people call it an "ahnentafel" - 
your software will create this - use the "Ahnentafel List" option, or similar). Who is that person, and what are his/her vital information?

3) Tell us three facts about that person in your ancestral name list with the "roulette number."

4) Write about it in a blog post on your own blog, in a Facebook status or a Google Stream post, or as a comment on this blog post.

5) NOTE:  If you do not have a person's name for your "roulette number" then "spin" the wheel again - pick a great-grandmother, a grandfather, a parent, a favorite aunt or cousin, yourself, or even your children!  Or pick an ancestor!

Surname Saturday: Siegler

The Sieglers are a relatively short branch on our family tree, but we're hoping to extend it soon.  Here's their history so far:

So Mary/Maria/May/Mae Siegler was Grandpa Bill Ortman's mother.  Her father was George Siegler, who was the first one to come to the United States; his birthplace was in Lohr, Bavaria, Germany.  His father was Nikolaus Siegler, who was born in 1825, and his father was Balthasar Siegler, birth date unknown but likely in the 1700's.

What does the name "Siegler" mean?  According to the Dictionary of Family Names, it means "occupational name for a maker of seals and signet rings, or for an official keeper of a seal, from an agent derivative of Middle High German sigel ‘seal’."  So the name "Siegler" is an occupational one; originally, the "Siegelbeampter" in Germany was a person attached to a royal house who was responsible for having papers signed and then giving them the official seal.

Our Sieglers originated in Lohr, Bavaria.   The next picture shows the distribution of the name "Siegler" within Germany, and Lohr is just about at the place where the darkest red is shown, which indicates the highest concentration of Sieglers in that area.

From Geogen 3.0

What were the occupations of "our" Sieglers?  George, who came here while still a teenager, worked at various jobs; Grandma Ortman always said he was a barber, and indeed, the 1900 census confirms that.  He also worked as an enamel inspector, a porter, and an "assorter" in a factory.  George's father, Nikolaus, was a stone mason in Lohr, and of Balthasar, we don't know.  We do know that the father of the woman who married Nikolaus was a stone mason, so perhaps Balthasar was as well.

Siegler has many variations as far as spelling goes:  Sigler, Siegeler, Ziegler, and so on.  

Just as an aside, I love the name "Balthasar." It was the name of one of the Magi who visited Jesus in the manger, and it means "Protect the King."  Nice name, right?

Jul 25, 2014

Confessions of a Slapdash Genealogist

I'm going to out myself.  I'm a slapdash genealogist.

I know I should have an organized genealogy research plan, but I don't.  I flit from one branch of the tree to another, stopping here, stopping there.  I am easily distracted, and I find myself thinking, "Oh, I was going to look up X" or "Did I ever order that death certificate for Y?"  and I leave what I'm doing and go chase that other bit of information for a while.  Maybe I get back to where I was . . . maybe not.

I also don't write down what I've done, and this can have consequences in that sometimes I find myself re-researching in a particular source, duplicating the energy I've already expended in that area. 

I haven't found a good way to record what I'm doing.  Lorine McGinnis Schulze over at Olive Tree Genealogy has written a number of informative posts on using Evernote; I've tried Evernote, really I have, but for some reason I just can't get into using it.  Caroline Pointer at 4yourfamilystory.com suggests using Microsoft One Note for organizing your work.  I haven't tried that one.

A pile of antique books.

From Wikimedia Commons:  Timeless_Books.jpg was originally uploaded on 2008-09-29T00:14:12Z by Forrestjunky.

Lisa A. Alzo, writing for Family Tree Magazine, offers a "Sample Family History Research Plan" -- it seems very thorough, but when I look at the detailed steps, there's nothing that I wouldn't do anyway, over the course of time.  Why do I need to write it all down first?  Family Search offers a number of forms to organize your work.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers offers two versions of a research log template, one for Excel and one for Google Drive.

How do you organize your research?  Are you meticulous about documenting your process?  What app or apps to you use to help you stay organized?  I will take any advice I can get!

Jul 23, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Ancestral Homes

A few of the ancestral homes I've been able to find --

My mother's birthplace -- on the 5th floor

 90-42 DeSarc Road, Queens, where Gustav, Sophie, Eric and Wally Berneburg lived

An artistic depiction of where the Sieglers lived, early in Jamaica, New York

Following one trail

In a recent post, I asked about the strategies others use for creating a story from a small number of facts you have for a particular ancestor or ancestral line.  A number of people recommended making a timeline, which is something I haven't done.  So to get a running start with my 39 new ancestors, I'll start with the earliest one and go down his particular line.  (Feel free to skip down to the table at the bottom.)

"um 1598" or about 1598, Gerdt von Glaan is born, no birthplace recorded.

In about 1630, his son, Christoffer von Glaan, is born in Vollersode, Kirchspiel Hambergen.  No mother is recorded, and a note says Gerdt von Glaan (age32) was not married or his marriage was unknown.

Around 1630, Anna Fincken is born.

June 10, 1673, Christoffer von Glaan (age 33) and Anna Fincken (age 43) are married.   Little is known about Anna other than the year of her death.

1677, Christoffer (age 37) and Anna's (age 47) daughter, Anna von Glaan is born.

About 1677, Harm Jachens is born.

1682, Gerdt von Glaan is on a militia list; he is 84 years old and identified as a "Halbbau," or "half-farmer" (small plot farmer). 

1682, Christoffer von Glaan is on a militia list; he is 52 years old.  

August 1689, Gerdt von Glaan dies at the age of about 91, in Vollersode, Korschspiel Hambergen.

1691, Christoffer von Glaan is on a militia list; he is 60 years old and identified as a "Halbbau."

November 7, 1709, 32-year-old Anna von Glaan marries Harm Jachens (also 32) in Lesum, St. Martini.  The family has moved to where it will reside for many years.

27 km or 17 miles -- not so far . . . *

1709, Heilwig Krudop is born in Marßel, Kirchspiel Lesum

About 1711,  Dierich Jachens, Anna and Harm's son, is born, in Burgdamm, Kirchspiel Lesum 

December 1712, Anna Fincken (age 82) dies in Vollersode

1713, Christoffer von Glaan (age 83) dies in Vollersode, Kirchspiel Hambergen.

3 Nov 1735 Heilwig Krudop (age 26) marries Dierich Jachens (age 24)

January 7, 1737, Peter Otten is born

3 August 1737  Anna Jachens is born, daughter of Heilwig and Dierich

Between 1739 and 1757, Harm Jachens dies, age unknown.

Sept. 23, 1743  Dierich Jachens dies, in vor Burgdamm, Kirchspiel Lesum, at the age of 32.  His occupation:  Koethner.

Oct. 3, 1757  Anna von Glaan (age 80) dies in vor Burgdamm, Kirchspiel Lesum

Nov. 15, 1759, Anna Jachens(age 22)  marries Peter Otten (age 22), a farmer and day laborer

About 1767, Adelheit Anna Wellbrock is born

May 12, 1768, Johann Harm Otten, son of Anna and Peter, is born

Dec. 1777, Heilwig Krudop dies, age 68.

December 1786, Anna Jachens dies, age 49.  She died of dropsy, which is a kidney problem.

August 20, 1792, Peter Otten dies, age 55.

About 1800, Anna Margrete Otten is born to Adelheit Anna Wellbrock and Johann Harm Otten; they never married but had three children.

August 14, 1806, Johann Harm Otten dies, age 38.

February 15, 1810, Gevert Bellmer is born.

May 1, 1835, Sophie Bellmer is born to Anna Margrete Otten (35) and Gevert Bellmer (25), a ship's carpenter.  They were not married.

Dec. 12, 1842, Adelheit Anna Wellbrock dies, age 75.

December 24, 1859, Christiane Wilhelmine Luise Bellmer is born to Sophie Bellmer; no father is recorded.

November 23, 1868, Anna Margrete Otten dies, about 68 years of age.

August 3, 1882, Gevert Bellmer dies, age 72.

Date of Sophie Bellmer's death is unknown.

So what does all this mean?  At first, I'm not sure; it's just a bunch of names and dates.  Then I tried plotting it out as a chart:

 It's a little wonky, but still good enough.  Eight out of 12 ancestors made it to the age of 65 or older -- that's pretty good, and it flies in the face of our notion that people in the olden days died young.  Not in my family!  I also see that except for a move at one point of about 17 miles, this branch of the family stayed put for almost 200 years -- Christiane W.L. Schulze did move away to Bremerhaven, probably in the 1870's or so, but up until then, they were farmers and they stuck to their land. 

So now where to?  I'm going to stop and ask for advice.  What would you make of such a timeline?

*Map. Google Maps. Google, 20 July, 2014.

Jul 21, 2014

A Short Update

You never know what you'll learn from a birth certificate or death certificate.  Today I got the death certificate of my great-grandfather, George Siegler, from New York City.  Amidst all for information was a little tidbit that made me stop and think.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a post about "Grandma's House," which in our case was an apartment at 19 Cox Place in Brooklyn.  I included in the post my out of proportion drawing of the apartment, which was of the type called "railroad" or "shotgun," in the sense that you could stand in the living room and fire a shotgun and it would go out the window in the kitchen, at the other end of the apartment.  Here's the drawing:


I think my grandparents occupied the first bedroom, and my dad, as a young man, the second bedroom.

So what was the tidbit I got from Great-Grandpa's death certificate?  At the time of his death in 1944, his home address was recorded as "19 Cox Place, Brooklyn."  So in that year, when my dad was 19 years old, his grandfather was living with them.  Where did Dad sleep?  With his grandpa?  On the couch in the living room?  

Having been there as a child, I can assure you with confidence that the rooms in this place were very small -- just enough room for  a bed and a dresser.   It would be a tight squeeze with three people living in the place, but with four, it would have been very uncomfortable.

Here's the thing -- when I look at census records and so on, I'm surprised at how many people are living in the same place, sometimes not only the family but a grandparent, the spouse of one of the adult children, a grandkid or two, even a boarder.  It seems that as time has gone by, our need for space has grown, to the point that today a nuclear family (parents and 2.5 kids), will buy themselves a 3000 or even 4000 sq ft home, if they can afford it.  We need "personal space," "alone time," "a room of one's own," that our ancestors would not have been able to comprehend.  

A question:  Have we gained something? Have we lost anything?  How will our lives evolve in the future?

Jul 19, 2014

Help, Please: And Then There Were Thirty-Nine!

When I poked a hole in the brick wall that had been keeping me from ancestors of my great-grandmother Wilhelmine Schulze, I suddenly wound up with 39 new members of my family tree!  And that's not including all the siblings, just the direct line of parents and children.  It seems that they were mostly farming families that stayed in the same place for centuries, so there's a long history of these ancestors in the Ortsfamilienbuch for Bremen-Lesum.  Here's my question now:

What do I do with all these people??

What I have is a very complicated and extensive pedigree for this branch of the family, but genealogy is meaningless to me unless it is held together by stories.  I'm not the kind of genealogist who is happy with a long line of names and dates that ultimately prove I'm descended from Charlemagne (I'm not); I want to get to know the living, breathing people and be able to show what their lives were like.  I don't need a lot in terms of facts or clues to weave a story, but I need something.

This is not even the whole branch -- the arrows on the right lead to more people!

So how do I go about working with all these people, finding the traces that will allow me to tell their stories? I'll share my ideas about how to get more deeply into this branch, but I would love it if you would add your ideas about how to get to know them and how to tell their stories.  What works for you?  What resources have you used?

1.  I get to know the area where they lived.  I look up the history, I look for pictures that I can include (with permission), I try to imagine what it was like to live in that physical place. I try to find a picture of the church my ancestors attended, of the baptistry within the church where they might have been christened.

St. Martini's Church in Burg-Lesem, where a number of my ancestors were married/baptized

2.  If I come up with significant historical events from that time, I try to see what connection might exist between the ancestors and those events.  In this way, I was able to imagine an ancestor on another branch joining his community to welcome Marie Antoinette as she made the journey from Austria to Versailles to be married, stopping at a monastery for the night in my ancestor's village.

3.   I scrutinize the dates, looking for clues about relationships, raising questions and making inferences from the clues; for example, I had no idea from oral family history that my great-grandfather was dead by the time my grandmother was 10 and her sisters younger than that -- once I knew that, I had to imagine how my great-grandmother kept going, with no husband and three children to support.  Of course, some questions I develop are unanswerable:  why did my grandmother leave her infant daughter with her in-laws when her first husband died?  Without letters or other evidence, we're on pretty thin ice.

4.  If as in this case, I'm lucky enough to have found my ancestors through an Ortsfamilienbuch, I mine it for every tidbit of information that I can -- in this case, there are lots of notations about various people (if a couple was married or not, other names the person might have gone by, occupations, and so on).  I will be working my way carefully through each person I came up with in the coming weeks.
 Historical building in Burg-Lesum

5.   If I can discover an occupation for an ancestor, I will find out all I can about that particular line of work in that historical time:  the life of a chimney sweep in late 1800s Germany, the economic problems faced by Silesian weavers in the early 1800's.  

6.   I follow the trails wherever they may lead -- when I learned my great-great grandfather died in a mental institution, I investigated that institution and the director, learned a great deal about him, and even ordered a book he wrote in the late 1800s, a history of that particular institution.  I painstakingly translated parts of it (my German is very rusty and certainly not up to academic writing!) and thereby learned that the conditions in the institution were quite humane rather than horrifying, as I had been imagining.

Can you tell that I like to do research?  

I'm sure there are other rabbit holes I go down, in pursuit of my elusive ancestors, but I'd love to have you add to the list -- what kinds of research do you do to humanize those people that start out as names and dates?

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun! 19.7.1914

Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings has posed some questions tonight about where your ancestors were 100 years ago:

19th January, 1914

Interesting question!  Let's see where the "Ortburgs" were at that point.  We'll start with the Ortmanns and go from left to right on the family tree. 

Great-grandmother Anna Schwietering Ortmann was living in Queens at 1807 Catalpa Ave., having moved there from New Jersey when Great-grandfather Joseph Ortmann passed away in 1911.  She shared her apartment with daughter Anna M. Ortmann, who was 39 at the time.  The census says that Anna M. was an "operator" -- a telephone operator, maybe?  

Grandfather William J. Ortman, Sr., was 20 years old, and I'm not sure where he was living.  Maybe in New Jersey, which didn't have a 1915 census, as New York did.  In 1910, he had been a clerk in the automobile industry; perhaps in 1914 he still had that job.

Great-grandfather George Siegler lived at 920 Yarmouth St. in Woodhaven, Queens, with his wife Tillie Siegler and their two daughters, May, age 20, and Dorothy, age 3 (yes, those ages are correct).  George was an "enamel inspector," May was a "shirtwaist operator," and Dorothy was just enjoying her life.  They also had a boarder, a Frenchman named Charles Marcot, who worked at an agate factory.

Crossing the pond to Germany,  Great-grandmother Wilhelmine Schulze Langer Boesel lived in Bremerhaven with her second husband, Wilhelm Boesel, a locksmith.  The only one of the girls likely to have been still living at home was Lina.

Grandfather Gustav Berneburg and Grandma Sophie had been married for five years and had a son, Eric, who was three.  Grandma was several months pregnant with Otto, who would be born in Feb. 1915.  I believe they were living in Bremerhaven, and Grandpa was working as a machinist.

So interesting to do this and to think about what they were doing on this very day 100 years ago!   It kind of brings them to life.  Thanks, Randy.

Jul 18, 2014

Sorting Saturday: Rage against the mother!

My mother (God love her, I loved her, etc. etc.) was *this* close to being a hoarder, except everything she kept had a logic to it, and nothing overflowed onto the floor or took over a room or left you with only a tiny path to walk.  Nevertheless.  She had lots of storage space in her home, and she made use of every inch of it.

My mother was Martha Stewart before Martha was Martha Stewart.  She sewed beautifully (she taught sewing at Singer in New York City), she knitted and crocheted, and whatever craft came down the pike, she did it:  macrame, sandcasting, bargello, Ukranian Easter eggs, batik, tie dye, weaving baskets out of pine needles (seriously), decoupage -- you name it, she did it.  And she did it beautifully.  Our home was full of beautiful things she made, along with paintings, so many Christmas decorations, appliqued beach cover-ups . . . I could go on forever.  She was creativity embodied.

Our mom.  She *loved* to laugh.

My mother was ill for some time before she succumbed to cancer, and her friend Bonnie would come over and say "Walli*, let's go through a drawer today," knowing that there were so many drawers, so many shelves and closets and boxes that someone would need to tackle when she was gone.  And each space was packed to the gills.  I know that Mom tried to deal with the stuff, but it was too hard at that point. I understand.

So, some time shortly after she passed, I came back to do something with it.  Her stuff consisted of a high dresser and a low, wide dresser in one bedroom, a full wall closet in that bedroom, a full wall closet in another bedroom, a large hall closet, and whatever she could fit into the rafters above the garage.  It took me most of a week to deal with it:
  • a drawer full of nothing but squares of fabric cut for patchwork quilts, some of which were from dresses my sister and I had worn 30 years before
  • enough balls of yarn to fill 6 or 7 large garbage bags
  • half-finished suits she had started to make for our dad before she decided she didn't really want to do that
  • beads, feathers, acrylic paints, little containers of sand (one of which was from her 1949 honeymoon in Bermuda), magazine clippings, 32 different colors of thread, clay and glaze (she had a kiln in the garage), crochet hooks of every conceivable size, pompons, glitter, bells, buttons, zippers of various colors and lengths, drawing paper,  sewing patterns going back to the 50's, watercolor paints, rocks, ribbon . . . 
. . . and a partridge in a pear tree.  By the time I was through, there was something like 30+ large garbage bags full of the remains of my mother's incredibly creative life. 

What was I to do with it?  I will be honest and say I was mad.  Mixed up with all the sadness and misery of her passing was this little selfish person inside me crying, "Why to *I* have to deal with this??  Why did you leave me with this mess to clean up??"  And of course the immediate guilt that accompanied  those feelings --

In the end, it all got done.  A minivan came from a senior center and squeezed everything in and took it away.  

I also went through her more personal stuff, makeup, body lotion, hair care products -- all the things we use and leave behind.  I took one thing that was special to me, an empty purse atomizer of her perfume, Shalimar.  It's in my top dresser drawer even today, and now and then -- not too often, because I don't want to use it all up -- I take it out and inhale the memory of my mother.  She was one of a kind, and we kids all miss her every day.

*her name was Waltraud.  She went by Walli. We got mail addressed to Mr. Wally Ortman.

Jul 17, 2014

Family Recipe Friday: Grandma Cooks

My grandma Sophie wasn't the kind that bakes pies and is all warm and fuzzy; my grandma Sophie was a tough old gal who lived with us from the time I was three or so and my sister was a new baby.  She was never the type to say "I love you" (I believe she never said that to her daughter, my mother, not once in her lifetime), but she would show us in various ways.  One way we loved:  she cooked.

Sophie Langer as a young woman

She didn't cook every day, though; we had to wait until our Dad was out of town on business, which he often was.  Why didn't she cook when my dad was home?  Well, my dad had a vexed relationship with both his mother-in-law and his German heritage.

When I think about it, I get it -- from the time my folks were 26 and 27, they had a mother/mother-in-law living in the house.  I try to imagine that myself, as a newlywed or new mother, and I just can't.  My dad would have never said a bad word about or to my grandmother; that just wasn't his style.  He showed his unhappiness in pretty passive-aggressive ways, by saying he just didn't care for her cooking (and of course, his home was his castle and we ate what he wanted to eat) and by not letting us learn the German language, a decision on his part that I'm still unhappy about. (My mom and grandmother spoke German, or rather, my grandmother spoke German and my mother spoke English.)  Yes, like my mother, he had 100% German heritage, but having gone through World War II and other experiences, he felt the German stuff was better left behind, and we were 100% American.

 My favorite picture of my grandmother -- sorry it's so small.  Doesn't she look fierce?

So, when Dad was away, we insisted that Grandma Sophie cook, and she was happy to do so.  The only truly German dish she made was rouladen, delicious thin sheets of beef rolled up with bacon and onion inside (NO pickle!) and gravy.  It was soooo good.  Oh, and the Spaezle. I have never been able to duplicate her Spaezle, even though she showed me many times.

She made other things, too, odd things:  chow mein, jelly omelets, and something we thought of as German baby food.  In a time when "chow mein" meant opening a can of Chun King with a little can of crispy Chinese noodles on top (of a type I've never seen in a Chinese restaurant in my life) and making some rice, my grandma made delicious chicken chow mein.  Go figure.  

Her jelly omelets were guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and a good start to your day.  I still use her recipe for scrambled eggs or omelets -- half an eggshell of milk to each egg.  For the jelly omelets, she would spread the eggs very, very thinly in the pan, and when it was set, put some strawberry or grape jam in it and fold it up.  It was delicious.

The thing we thought of as "German baby food" I think is odd, because I just googled it and found only one recipe with the comment by the recipe's author:  "My aunt's recipe, She showed my mom to make it for me when I was little and sick. It may sound weird but it was so good!"  Yup, that's exactly right.  It's major comfort food.  You take cooked pasta and saute it in a pan in butter, and then add cinnamon and sugar to it.  Weird, right?  But it was delicious, and if I ever make it for myself, it takes me right back to those childhood days.

Grandma Sophie as we knew her, growing up -- 
There's no doubt about it:  we kids loved growing up with a grandma in the house.  She was so interesting!  She wore corsets that laced up!  She would pop out her false teeth!  She could make peppermints appear from her bosom on long car trips!  And whenever we'd have pizza, we'd pass the crusts down to her because she thought chewing on them was good for her jaws (even though she didn't have any teeth).

Miss u, Grandma Sophie.  Love u. 

What German specialities did your Grandma cook?  Leave a comment below!

Once you open the closet door (a mystery solved)

. . . the skeletons will come marching out, whether you like it or not.

I've solved the mystery of my great-grandfather, Maximilian Joseph Langer's illness and death.  To read up on the history of the mystery, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.  (Or search for Langer and read up from the bottom.  Or just read this.)

If you want to dig into your family history, you should be prepared to shovel up a few things that don't smell so nice.  When I was a girl, I used to fantasize about my great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer, thinking that because of his name alone, there must have been something grand about him.  Also, the fact that he was a chimney sweep enchanted me -- I clearly had no idea of what a chimney sweep's life was like, other than what I saw in Mary Poppins (it involved a lot of dancing and not all that much soot).  I imagined him big, but he must have been small, otherwise he wouldn't have succeeded in that line of work.

Well, the reality of my great-grandfather's life was somewhat less romantic.  The few city directories he appears in identify him as an "Arbeitsman," or laborer, which means he wasn't a licensed chimney sweep or a guild member, but rather some kind of assistant or apprentice, never to reach status in the guild.  By the time he would have been involved in that profession, it's likely that people wouldn't have been going down the chimneys much any more but instead were using mechanical means to clean them, but it was still a dirty job that could lead to all kinds of illnesses and job-related conditions.

A chimney sweep (not Max)

So what's the big mystery about Max Langer?  Well, to recap, he and Wilhelmine Schulze were married on the 26th of April, 1884, in Bremerhaven, Germany.  He was 44 years old; she was 25.  At the time, it seems that Maximilian was living with a possible relative of Wilhelmine, Conrad Schulze, who was 42 years old.  Though I haven't established the connection between Wilhelmine and Conrad, it's likely they were related, and maybe that's how Wilhelmine and Max met.

They were together for 11 years, from April, 1884, through December of 1895.  During that time, they had three daughters:  Sophie (1886), Hanni (1890), and Lina (1893). 

In January of 2013, I discovered that Maximilian died in Goettingen, some time prior to 1909 (the year of his daughter Sophie's marriage).  This was very strange to hear -- I wondered what would have brought him from Bremerhaven to Goettingen, 180 miles from his home.  Divorce?  Having to care for his aged mother?  I just didn't know.  I wrote to the City Archives in Goettingen to ask if they had a record of his death in 1896.

Max Langer's death certificate

The official found the record.  In the exchange of emails with the woman at the archive, I sensed that something was a little off -- it was hard to put my finger on it, but it seemed that she was reluctant to just tell me outright in an email the circumstances of his death.  She told me it wasn't a regular death certificate but a "marginal note" in the record book.  Finally, she just went ahead and sent me a scan of the document, at which point I could decide whether I wanted to order the official one or not.  A facebook friend helped me translate it, and this is what it said:

"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. 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.  No wonder she was reluctant to tell me -- my great-grandfather died in a "lunatic asylum."  Rather than answering questions, this raised more -- Why was he there?  What was wrong with him?  Why was he, obviously not a wealthy man, hospitalized at a university-affiliated hospital, almost 200 miles from his home?

 The asylum at Goettingen

In February of this year, I emailed the current institution to ask whether they had historical records that might tell me why my great-grandfather was there and what caused his death.  The woman I wrote to told me she had passed my email on to a colleague who could better answer my questions, and I would hear from him. I waited.  For five months.

In the meantime, I started researching the asylum.  I was haunted by the idea that my great-grandfather was in some kind of Bedlam-like institution, chained to the wall and so on.  But I found a history of the asylum written by its director, Dr. Ludwig Meyer and began painstakingly translating it.  I learned that Dr. Meyer was an extremely progressive psychologist, who believed in "no-restrictions" hospitalization, in making the hospital as much like home as possible, and in treating patients with respect.  I was relieved.

Finally, I thought I would try one last email to see if I could get a response.  My friend Harriett, who teaches German at U.C. Berkeley, helped me craft an incredibly polite second email that gently asked if a response from the colleague were still possible.  It was.

Today I received an email from the director of the hospital museum.  He tells me that my great-grandfather was admitted on December 5th, 1895, and died on January 29th, 1896, of "spätsyphilitische chronic inflammation of the nerve tissue s with its progressive destruction (dementia )," which means, dementia from end-stage syphilis.

Wow.   This sent me into a bit of a tailspin, but my impulse is always to find out more, to research.  So I did that, and learned that syphilis in the 1800's was very common, because there was no effective way to treat it.  But it was shameful, because it was often seen as God's revenge for engaging in inappropriate sex, so sufferers would often take pains to hide the lesions that would come and go.  

Of course, my first thought was about my great-grandmother Wilhelmine and her three daughters -- how was it possible that they had not contracted the disease?  Clearly, they didn't have it; they all lived to ripe old ages, 96 for my grandmother Sophie, for example.

I learned that there are four stages to syphilis:  the primary stage involves a genital chancre; the secondary stage involves a kind of generalized rash; in the third stage, the disease is latent or hidden for up to 20 years and the sufferer is not contagious; and the last, late stage is a catastrophic illness that results in serious physical effects, including paralytic dementia, brought on by nerve damage.

Since the age difference between Maximilian and Wilhelmine was so large (almost 20 years), it's easy to imagine that he contracted the disease some time before (maybe well before) their marriage.  He went through the first two stages and was in the latent period for at least the 11 years in which he and Wilhelmine were married and had three daughters.  Then he passed into the late stage and declined fairly rapidly, it appears.

Lina was born in 1893, and Maximilian was admitted to the hospital in Goettingen in December of 1895, so in those few years, he must have gone rapidly downhill.  And why wasn't he put into a hospital in Bremerhaven, where he lived?  Because Dr. Ludwig Meyer, head of the asylum, had a special interest in the psychological effects of late-stage syphilis, and so Maximilian was undoubtedly sent there, not so much as a patient but rather as a research subject.  That confirmed my guess about why he was there.

Dr. Ludwig Meyer

He didn't last long -- he entered the asylum early in December and by the end of January, he was gone.  I wonder what his family -- especially the children, who were all still 10 and under, knew.  At the time, an ethical dilemma was being discussed about syphilis in the medical profession:  should families and even the patient himself be told what the actual disease was?  Was it cruel to add the burden of the stigma to an already suffering patient and his family?  Sometimes they even disguised the treatments, so the patient wouldn't know what was really wrong with him.  I suspect that if Max's children learned anything of his illness, it was much, much later.

One of the things I truly love about genealogy is the opportunities it gives you to learn about times and places you've never known about; what life was like in Jamaica, NY, in the 1800s; the Silesian weavers' revolt, one of the first labor uprisings in history; the ship line industry in Bremerhaven, and so on.  I never dreamed, though, that I'd be looking up syphilis and learning about its nightmarish end-stage. Family histories are full of surprises.

Maximilian Langer turned out not to be the grand chimney sweep of my imagination, but I've learned about a human soul who must have suffered much during his lifetime.  My friend who also does family history says that when you find out about an ancestor and write about them, you are both honoring them and helping them to rest more easily.  I like that idea.

So I say, rest in peace, Maximilian, from your great granddaughter.  I'm glad to have solved the mystery of your life and death.


Jul 16, 2014

Oh no! My ancestor was illegitimate!

What should I make of this?

In yesterday's post, I revealed that at least three generations in my matrilineal line were illegitimate:  Wilhelmine Bellmer/Schulze (b. 1859), her mother Sophie Bellmer (b. 1835), and her mother Anna Margrete Otten (b. 1800).  Since yesterday, I've had messages from a few people with knowledge in this area and I've read a few things myself.  We can imagine some of the historically known circumstances may have applied in these families, but first let's see what the particular situation was in each generation.

My great-great-great grandmother, Adelheit Anna Wellbrock was not married to her daughter Anna''s father, Johann Harm Otten, a "cottage farmer."  Adelheit, who was around 33 at the time of Anna's birth, seemed to have continued for some years in a relationship with Anna's father, Johann, who was around about 32 at the time of Anna's birth.  They went on to have two more children together, Hedwig and Beta, but then Johann somehow met an untimely death at the age of 38, cause unknown, the same year their third daughter was born.

Anna Margrete Otten, on the other hand, was about 35 when her daughter Sophie was born.  She revealed the name of Sophie's father:  Gevert Bellmer, a 25-year-old unmarried ship's carpenter.  It's very unclear how they came together -- perhaps on one of Gevert's shore leaves? -- but they didn't stay together; three years after Sophie's birth, Gevert married another woman and with her had nine children.  Sophie was given Gevert's surname and so was known as Sophie Bellmer.

18th Century peasants (French, but probably pretty similar)

Sophie Bellmer was around 24 when her daughter Wilhelmine Bellmer was born.  At this point it appears that she never revealed the name of Wilhelmine's father; she later married Christian Friedrich Engelhardt Schulze -- at least, I'm hoping to find that marriage record -- and Wilhelmine became known by the name Wilhelmine Schulze.  Christian Schulze stood up for Wilhelmine at her wedding, so perhaps they had a good father/daughter relationship.  Could he have been her biological father?

Here are some of the things I've learned about marriage customs and illegitimacy in Germany in the 18th and 19th Centuries:

1.   A significant percentage of babies were born out of wedlock in these years -- sources vary wildly in their estimation, from 1-2% all the way up to one-third of all babies being born were illegitimate, or at least conceived before the parents' marriage.  Humans will always be human, and there was very little reliable birth control 200 years ago.

2.  Because the upper class didn't want the world overrun with children of poor people, they imposed a "marriage tax":  Couples would have to pay 2-20 florins, or prove that they had a net worth of 100-200 florins, before they were given permission to marry, at a time when a day laborer would make .10 florins a day.  As a result, many couples didn't marry or waited until they had enough money to marry -- but in the meanwhile, they were still having children.

3.  In difficult economic times, fewer marriages would take place and the rate of illegitimacy would rise.  Certainly Germany had difficult times in the 1800's, so perhaps this held true.

4.  It wasn't unheard of for an unmarried servant to become pregnant.  Such pregnancies were often hidden, the baby was farmed out to a wet nurse, and the servant went on working for the wealthy people.

5.  Finally, in some cases it was not clear exactly at what point people were considered married -- any time from the engagement to the actual ceremony itself could constitute "marriage."  So children could be born out of official wedlock, but within the social practices of that community, their parents considered themselves married.

So what do we have in my family tree? I would guess that in the case of Adelheit and Johann, who was a very small farmer, they were unable to come up with the marriage tax.  Nevertheless, they lived together and had children together.

With Anna and Gevert, I don't know.  With the 10-year difference (and she being the older), was that a serious relationship, or something that just happened?  If Gevert made any promises to Anna, he certainly didn't keep them when he went ahead and married someone else.

With Sophie, my great-great grandmother, we don't have enough information to tell yet.  Until we find the connection between her and Christian Schulze, her circumstances will remain a mystery.

Well, I've learned an awful lot since yesterday and I hope this is helpful to you, too, if you come across any extra-marital incidents in your tree!

Here are a few references I looked at for this post:





And thanks to these facebook group friends who shared their knowledge:

Emily Allyn Moore
Karen Biesfeld
Jo Grussing
Joan Rutherford

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