Aug 28, 2014

The Sophomore Slump -- Is Family History Getting You Down?

I've been doing genealogy for about two years now, pretty seriously, and I guess I'm moving from being a brand-new beginner to a category like "experienced beginner" or "thinks she knows her way around but still has a lot to learn."  Along with the elation I've felt when something clicks into place -- I find my great-grandmother's actual birth surname -- I've experienced many other emotions along the way.  Do any seem familiar to you other semi-new researchers?

1)  Frustration:  You know there's got to be a record of your grandfather's mother somewhere.  She existed, why can't you find any kind of record?  Your great-grandfather lived in one city, but died about 130 miles away -- what was he doing there?  Why did he die there, not at home?  Unlike a brand new researcher, you know where to look, you have multiple places to look, and you come up with nothing.  Just one example of the many, many ways you'll feel frustrated.

My mother's birthplace, Bremerhaven, Germany

2)  Disappointment:  You discover the certificate number for your great-grandmother's death record in the New York City online archives and hope it will reveal the names of her parents.  You pay your $15 and wait and wait for that envelope to arrive.  When it does, you can't stop the butterflies as you slit it open -- and under both "father's name" and "mother's name," it says . . . "---------" 

3)  Overwhelm:  Sometimes it can seem like Just. Too. Much. to accomplish everything on your family history list.  As you go back in time, the playing field expands from four to eight to 16 to 32 to 64 people (your 4th great-grandparents), and chasing them all down seems impossible.  How will you ever get there?  How can you reach your genealogical goals?  (And why isn't anyone else in your family interested enough to help you??)

The Hug family in the 1892 New York Census

4)  Boredom:  Plain old boredom.  Paging through records, cranking that microfilm machine over and over and over again, searching for that elusive ancestor one more time on Ancestry and Family Search, just in case they've gotten more records online, trying every spelling variant in a database search (Schulze, Schulz, Schultz, Schultze, Shulte, etc. etc. etc.).  At times, you ask yourself, why was I doing this again???

5)  Sadness:  Two years ago, I went to the spring workshop of the Sacramento German Genealogy Society (always a wonderful day).  Dr. Roger Minert, the master genealogist who's written so many books and helped so many people, was the main speaker and lectured on several fascinating topics during the day.  One thing he said I found impossibly touching; in talking about his ancestors, he said, "I can't wait to get to Heaven to talk with all these people!"  I'm sadly not a believer, but the sentiment was so stunning that I couldn't help but be affected by it.  What a wonderful idea!  For me, there's so much sadness that I didn't spend more time talking with and listening to my elders, that I can't see the faces of ancestors who lived in the 1700s (or 1800s -- I don't have a lot of pictures), that I will never be able to tell their true stories in the way I would wish to.

 The mental institution in Goettingen, Germany, where my great-grandfather died

Wow, this is depressing, right?  We should quit genealogy and take up needlepoint or woodworking, right?  No!  We all have these feelings from time to time and have to just ride them out, but the excitement and joy outweigh any negative feelings that come with doing this important work.  Step back from time to time and look at what you've accomplished.  When I started, I knew this much:

Not a lot, just what I remembered from talking with my parents and grandparents.  Here's a small piece of what I know now:

I know this image is tiny, but there's no way to do it bigger because it expands so hugely.  I've fanned out only two parts, one the ancestors of Joseph Ortmann and the other the ancestors of Sophie Bellmer.  Everywhere you see a little green arrow to the right of a name, that can be expanded too -- even some of the 6th great-grandparents on the far right.  The earliest ancestor I've found is one of Grandma Sophie's -- Gerd von Glaan (1598-1689).  And that is confirmed, because I got the information from an Ortsfamilienbuch (record of the families living in a town over time) from Bremen, Germany.

So I rejoice over these things, and each find spurs me on to do more, despite any negative emotions I might feel -- the payoff is just too great.

The Armchair Genealogist recently published a list of tips to get you going when the work has gotten you down.  You might have a look to see if it will get you out of the sophomore slump.

Aug 27, 2014

I'm going to RootsTech! Woo-hoo!

A while ago, I wrote about wanting to plan a trip to Salt Lake City to go through the massive collection of records at the Family History Library (what Ed calls the Mother Ship for genealogists).  Well, next February there's a RootsTech conference, and I think the stars are aligned for me to go early, spend a couple of days in the library, and then attend a great conference.  I'm excited!!

It sure looks like a lovely place to spend a little time, and in February it should be nice and cool (with snow?).  The trick in going to the library is to know what you're looking for before you get there, to have a list of things you want to look at and head straight for those without being distracted.  Because you can browse what I think is pretty much their whole catalog on Family Search, you can have all your ducks in a row before you get there.

And, I will hope to meet some of my online genealogical friends there -- yay!

Aug 26, 2014

Brick Wall After Brick Wall --

I've done a lot of work in the past couple of weeks, especially on the Langer line from Silesia.  Still, I have so much to do, I thought I'd take stock in terms of the places I'm stuck and think about what to do.  So here goes --

1)  I'm pretty confident that I've identified the Anton who is father to Maximilian Langer; he was born on 19 May 1804, to George Langer and Theresia Schyszpin in Oberglogau, Silesia.  But I'm not completely positive, so I'm ordering the death records on microfilm.  I'm not sure they'll help, but they might.  Otherwise, I'm kind of stuck for now on definitely identifying Anton's parents.

2)  I'm stuck on Sophia Hug, Grandma Mae Ortman's grandmother.  I find only one record of her at all, as the mother of Lina Hug (Grandma's great aunt), on a birth certificate; on that record it says "Sophia Huskemeyer Hug." I can find almost no references to anyone named Huskemeyer anywhere, so it's frustrating. I think I'll order the birth certificate of another of her children to see if I can confirm her maiden name.  I ordered her death certificate from New York City, but sadly it doesn't include her parents' names.

3)  I've had a little breakthrough on Grandpa Berneburg's line; with the help of a wonderful and generous German researcher, I now have a copy of his father Andreas' birth record.  This lists his parents as Johann Claus Berneburg and Clara Elizabeth Denhard.  I now know where they originated (in Hesse, not Hannover), so with some microfilms from the FHL in Salt Lake City, I might be able to get further.

4)  I'm stuck on Grandpa Berneburg's mother, though.  His birth certificate and death certificate say that his mother was Johanne Schmidt, but the family history written by his son says his mother was Hermine Kleemann.  This is a mystery, because Grandpa was the second of four children, and does it seem likely that he would have a different mother?  But I completely trust Uncle Eric, who was the family historian and in my experience knew everything, but Hermine has proven to be quite elusive.  I'll keep looking.  This one intrigues me.

5)  There's a bit of a mystery about Grandma Sophie's mother.  We already established that she (and her mother and grandmother) were illegitimate, but at some point she took the name of Christian Friedrich Englehardt Schulze, and I haven't come up with anything about him yet.  There's a good chance he is her birth father, since he's Christian and she was named Christiane . . . we'll see.

Other than that, I'm golden!  On one branch I get back to 1590, on others into the 1600's -- I'm giving myself a pat on the back for all the progress I've made.  I'm thinking about going -- hoping to go -- to Salt Lake City in February for a conference, with time to spend a couple of days at the Library, hoping to clear up some of these mysteries.  

In the meantime . . . still having fun. 

Aug 23, 2014

The search for Anton: a microfilm orgy

In a little more than a week, I've spent 11 hours at the Family History Center looking at microfilms from the Catholic church in Oberglogau (Glogowek), Silesia.  I've come up with about 12 different Langer families, and while I don't yet have them connected so that I know who is who's brother and which kids are cousins, I think I have definitely identified the family of my great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer.

As I mentioned in another post, I went through the birth records -- at this point, from 1774 to 1839 -- looking for Langer births.  Then I went through the marriage records, and while I didn't find all the wedding records, I did find a couple.  But the matched-up families are the most helpful.

Here are my notes:

Many notes on many people!  In the middle of the third page is Maximilian's family:

I'm positive that this is the correct family unit, because on Maximilian's death certificate, his father is listed as "Anton, Master Weaver," and this Anton is identified as a master weaver.  There's one puzzle in here that I hope to solve by looking at death records and a few more birth records -- the mother of the first three children is 1)  Johanna, 2) Anna, and 3) Johanna.  I'm going to take a wild guess and say that those are all the same person; surely Anna could be a nickname for Johanna, or a mis-hearing on the part of the priest.  But Maximilian's birth record states that his mother was Barbara Kura, not Johanna.  This could be a mistake, or Johanna could have died -- it was common at the time, if a wife died, for the man to marry her sister.  I'll look further at the birth records to see if Anton and Johanna or Barbara had any more children after Max, and I'll also look at the death records to see if Johanna did pass away. 

So which of the families in my notes is Anton's birth family?  That's a good question.  Let's just take as a starting place the fact that his first child, Carl, was born in 1833.  If we guess that Anton was the typical age of between 20 and 30 when he married, we have several possibilities:

1)  Parents:  George (weaver) and Theresia Schiska, b. 19.5.04.  This Anton would have been 29 when Carl was born, 36 when Maximilian was born.

2)  Parents:  Joseph (master miller) and Marianne Dembie, b. 31.10.08.  This Anton would have been 25 when Carl was born, 32 when Maximilian was born.

3)  Parents:  Joseph (master miller) and Marianne Dembie, b. 19.7.18.  This Anton would have been 15 when Carl was born, 22 when Maximilian was born.

#3 seems unlikely, because of the age Anton would have been when Carl was born.  #1 is certainly possible, as is #2.  #2 is odd, though, because the same parents as #3 had two sons born 10 years apart, both named Anton.  While this is not terribly unusual, it could mean that the Anton born in 1808 died at a younger age.  Which do we choose?  I can't make a definite decision until I finish with all the records, but I'm going with #1 at this point, because George Langer was a weaver.  Would it make sense that his sons would go into the family business?  At the same time, this Anton was the last of five boys, not the first -- would the youngest son go into the family business?  I'm reading up on guilds to try to find out.

Aug 21, 2014

Not Charlemagne, But the Village Idiot . . .

The last few days have been somewhat disheartening but also fairly amusing, if you want to look at it that way.  What I've done is  1) make a record of all the Langer births in Oberglogau from 1774 to 1819 (I still want to go from 1818 to 1840, when Max Langer was born); 2) looked through all the marriage records for Oberglogau from 1774 to 1832.  My goal in this was to match the children up with parents from the birth records, and then, because the marriage records would typically include parents' names, be able to take a stab at sibling relationships (e.g., if the records for Anton Langer's and Joseph Langer's weddings both showed Jacob Langer as a parent, they would likely be brothers).  Ultimately, I'd like to figure out which Anton was Max's father.

Well, it was a plan.

As I related in my last post, I was pretty successful in putting the children together with the parents.  So the other day, I went back to the Family History Center to look at the marriage records, hoping to get further with putting the families together.   This is what the records look like:

Ignatius Langer marries Elisabetha Jokel

The records are in Latin, so that requires me to become familiar with the way Latin records are recorded.  I've gotten some help and think I can puzzle it out, though from time to time I have to ask about the meaning of a particular Latin word.  (Why didn't I take Latin in high school?  My dad thought I should.)

So, I found a number of weddings, but not all of them, and I'm kind of stuck on putting the siblings together, and figuring out which Anton is Max's father.  I found out that not only were the Langers weavers but also master millers, gardeners, and potters, which was interesting. I was disappointed by finding some of the records like this:

There were also whole pieces of pages missing at points when I really expected to find one of the Langers -- frustrating!

So what was amusing?  Well, besides the three prostitutes that showed up in the birth records, the profession of one ancestor was listed as "mendicanus."  While that can mean an itinerant worker, one person on the German Genealogy page on Facebook found a definition on Rootsweb that said that "mendicant" was the lowest rung of society and was equivalent to the village idiot.

Everyone hopes that their genealogical research will lead to someone noble and respectable -- George Washington, Charlemagne -- but ours seems to be heading in the opposite direction.  Three prostitutes and the village idiot -- we seem farther and farther away from that lofty ancestor!

Aug 19, 2014

Hours in the Dark: 50 Years of Langers

So, I've spent six hours over two days looking at microfilm at the local Family History Center here in Santa Cruz.  I ordered some microfilms from Salt Lake City, and the bad thing is that once they arrive, you have to go through them . . . Here's where all the excitement takes place:

It's a little cave-like room, no windows, no ventilation.  And once you get everything set up for the microfilm,  you turn off the lights and it looks like this:

You sit in front of this machine in the dark for hours and hours, turning the crank and watching the microfilm go by on the white shelf.  You're looking at pages like this:

Sound fun?

So the microfilm I've spent six hours on is records of baptisms from 1777-1839 for the Catholic church from Oberglogau, Silesia (now Glogowek, Poland). These records are in Latin, not German.  I have the birth record of our great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer, and the names of his parents, Anton Langer and Barbara nee Kura.  I believe the top entry in the picture above is Max's father, Anton, but as you can see, it's barely legible.  I believe I can make out that his father's name was Joseph Langer (which makes sense because Max's middle name was Joseph), and his mother, Marianna Dombien.

Here's one little glitch, though -- on the right-hand side, under Anton's name and the mess underneath it, there's a little notation that I think says "+ 1 Marz 37," though the "37" isn't clear.  I really hope it's not a 37, because when there's a little notation with a cross, that means the person died on that date.  If this Anton died in 1837, he can't be Max's father, because Max wasn't born until 1840.  We'll keep working on it, though.

I decided my game plan -- instead of working backwards, I decided to work forwards from 1777 and see what Langers I could find.  Maybe I could put them together as a family.  It was a small village -- how many Langers could there be in the town?

Well, after six hours going through 42 years of records, I have 50 babies baptized with the surname "Langer."  What I'd like to do is go through the records and see how they group into families, so that's what I started working on when I got home today.  So far, I have them sorted into these groups, from earliest to latest:

Joanne (Johan) Langer and Candida Barthuselin:  Franciscus (1777), Thomas, Joseph, and Candida

Jacobo Langer (blacksmith) and Beate Buzanotzyn?:  Anton (1780)

Jacobo Langer (blacksmith) and Barbara Pilsarzykin?:  Matthias (1783), Marianna, Josepha, Francis, Maria Magdalena, and Joana.

Wolfgang Langer (iron smith) and Beate Hermanin:  Francis (1782), Josepha, Anton, and Susanna

Francisco Langer (stocking maker) and Regina Nowakin:  Elizabeth (1782) and Candida

Francisco Langer (stocking maker) and Catherina Kolanzin:  Francis (1791) and Josephus

Georgius Langer (weaver) and Theresia Schyszpin:  Joanes (1792), Francis, George, Joannes, and Anton

Anton Langer (potter) and Susanna Wyciskin:  Carolina (1801), Joseph, Francis, Jacobus, Philipine, Barbara, and Ludwig

Joseph Langer (master miller) and Marianne Dembie:  Ignatz (1806) Anton, Hedwigio, Hedwiga, Ludwig, and Anton Carl

We also have a few seemingly random groups that only appear once, with only one child, like Wenceslas Langer and Johanna Posprisnia ?, child Francisca; and Domenico Langer and Francisco Raslin, child Auguste Amalie. I'm not sure what to do with these.

Finally, we have a few baptisms that seem rather startling -- Joanna (widow), child Ciprianus; Appolonia, child Mattheus; and Veronica, child Carolina -- in each case, the child is labeled "illegitimate," and there is a notation of "ex scorto," which means, sadly, that each of the mothers was a prostitute.  If I have the energy to go farther back in time, I'd like to see if I can figure out where these women came from -- were they born in the town or did they come from somewhere else?

I want to go back and finish the last 19 years (1820-1839) and see what I can add to the families, and then I think the next step is to look at the microfilm that has marriages from 1724 to 1920.  If I can find the married couples, it should give me information about their parents, and then I might be able to figure out the relationships among the different family groups:  Is the Joseph Langer that was born to Joann and Candida the Joseph who starts his own family with Marianne Dembie in 1806?  The marriage records should fill this out for me, I hope.

Looking at microfilms is not as easy as finding records online!  But at some point it's necessary.  If everything goes well, I'll be able to show that, maybe, Joann and Candida are our great-great-great-great grandparents, and we'll be way back into the 1700's.  I hope it works out!


Aug 18, 2014

So many memories --

I created a bit of a monster on a German genealogy page the other day; I asked if anyone knew the origin of the word "schnabels," and it turned into a memory-fest of all the things people recalled from having grown up in a German household.  At this point, the post has 185 responses, and everyone agreed that it was great fun to remember all those little things that were part of our German-American childhoods.  A number of them were relevant to me, so here they are, in no particular order:

1.  "Schnabels."  Most everyone had a word like this, though there were variations -- "schnivling" and "schnippel," for example.  In our house, "schnabels" were the little broken pieces at the bottom of the bag, as in "are there any chips left in that bag, or is it all schnabels?"

2.   Being called a "Weisenheimer" or a "Schnickelfritz."  I remember "Don't be a Weisenheimer" well.

3.    "Putzing" as a verb meaning to fritter away, to dabble, to do light housecleaning (it comes from the German word "Putzfrau," or cleaning lady).  We were told to "quit putzing around" and get busy at whatever we were supposed to be doing.

4.    "Pass auf," as a way to say "watch out," "be careful," or "watch your step."

5.    Your behind was either a "heiney" or a "popo."

6.    Grandma's quirky English:  "Make the door closed," "close the light,"  "I put you some cereal in your bowl."

7.     A game with very small children was "Hoppe Hoppe Reiter."  It was a nursery rhyme that went like this:   
                          Hoppe hoppe Reiter
                          wenn er fällt, dann schreit er,
                          fällt er in den Sumpf,
                          dann macht der Reiter... Plumps!

You would bounce a little child on your knee like riding a horse and then when you said "Plumps!" the child would fall between your legs.  (Still holding on to them, of course!)

So, did I get an answer to the origin of "schnabels"?  I think I did.  A "schnabel" is a bird's beak, and I can imagine it was supposed to create an image of a bird picking at things with the beak - the little schnabels.

I loved this walk down Memory Lane of our childhoods, and so did everyone who participated in the thread.  It was wonderful.

Aug 17, 2014

The Dream Genealogy Trip

Last night's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun got me started thinking about my dream genealogical trip to Germany.  I figured out the route:

It's not that long -- 10.5 hour drive overall.  But of course I wouldn't be driving it in one day but rather stopping along the way to visit relatives, archives, and so on.  I think the flight to Bremerhaven would go through Charles De Gaulle in Paris because at this moment in life, I need to fly premium economy.  Then I'd rent a car and go the rest of the trip, then I guess go back to Bremerhaven if leaving the car at Frankfurt would be too expensive.  I'm thinking $6000 or so should about cover it (the premium economy is expensive!).

When could I do this?  In 2015, we're going to a family reunion kind of thing in Minnesota, and if it's at all possible, I'd like to take my sister on a genealogy cruise to Alaska (serious fantasy -- don't know if it's workable).  Maybe in 2016 it would work, in the spring?  We'll see.  Ed and I still have to get to Paris before we cash in our chips, lol.  It's hard to squeeze all this in before it becomes too hard to get around!

So, wish me luck in working it out.  I'm really psyched to have it happen.

Aug 16, 2014

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Bucket List

Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings has posed the following question for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

What is on your Genealogy Bucket List?  What research locations do you want to visit?  Are there genea-people that you want to meet and share with?  What do you want to accomplish with your genealogy research?  List a minimum of three items - more if you want!

1.   I want to nail down all 32 of my great-great grandparents.  At this point, I have 14 of 16 great-grandparents, and 12 of 32 of the great-great grandparents.  This will give us a pretty good picture of where we come from!  I would also like to be able to tell the story of these people, not just the names and dates.

2.    I would like to make a genea-trip to Germany.  Unfortunately, that would have to include quite a few places:  Erkeln (Ortmann relatives), Muenster (cousin Michael), Hamburg (cousin Karl-Heinz), Bremerhaven (Langer/Berneburgs), Bremen (Bollmer/Schulzes), Hannover (Berneburgs/Hugs), Eltmannishausen (Berneburgs), Goettingen (great-grandfather Max Langer), and Lohr in Bavaria (Sieglers).  Could I do that all in one trip??  I don't know.

3.    I would like to really understand the DNA thing.  I've been tested a number of places, as have my brother and (soon) my sister, but I'm not sure I understand the results and so far haven't made too many connections from it.  It will take some concentrated attention on my part to understand and be able to do chromosome comparisons and so forth.  I really would *like* to understand it, though!  And I hope that my brother and sister will not have the same weird mutations that I have that make it very unlikely that I will find a match any time soon.  They may have inherited  more "normal" genes.

So there you have it.  I could go on, but I think these are the top three things on my genealogical bucket list right now.  Thanks, Randy -- always fun things to think about. 

Aug 15, 2014

"Speak, Memory": Or Not?

This morning I inadvertently sparked an amazing discussion in my German Genealogy group by posting a question about the word "Schnabel," which in my house was the word for the broken little pieces at the bottom of the bag, as in "Are there any potato chips left, or is it all schnabels?"  I've never been able to track down the source of that word.  This simple question led to a large number of people sharing childhood words and customs, and many delighted exclamations of "Oh yes!  I remember that too!"  And this got me thinking about memory and its role in family history.

Ideally, we would have all sat down at some point with our elders and noted down all the things they remembered about their childhoods.  Did we?  Probably not.  But did we ever note all the little things we remember about our own childhoods, since that will be family history sooner or later? (Later, please, if I get a vote.)  If you're like me, by the time you're in your sixties it feels as if so much is lost in the sands of time -- what was that person's name?  Where was it we went to get those amazing onion rings?  (This is a question I ask myself.)  Even though it might feel that we're "losing" information and memories, scientists will tell us that long-term memory is 1) unlimited in terms of the number of entries it can record, and 2) permanent, in the sense that entries in long-term memory do not fade.

So what's the problem?  Access.  As we age, it becomes harder to access those memories, which becomes a problem when we finally sit down, upon retirement, with all the time in the world to write down all those stories . . . that now we can't remember.   We retrieve memories or information in four ways:

1.    Recall (simple access without cues)
2.    Recollection (reconstructing memories, using cues)
3.    Recognition (remembering by re-experiencing) and
4.    Relearning (just what it says -- relearning makes remembering easier)

It's the "recall" part I have trouble with most often.  I often feel frustrated when I'm talking with someone who remembers so much better than I -- I wish I could remember things that well!

What can we do to help ourselves remember?  Well, for one thing, the conversation I had with my genealogy group this morning was wonderfully stimulating -- at this point, there are 100 responses to my original question, and they're still coming in.  By sharing memories, cues are created, and any number of the responses had a "Yes!  I remember!" quality to them.  Other people have happily said that they never knew the meaning that particular word their German elders used, but now they did.  I had enough memories stimulated that a blog post on the subject soon will follow :)  If you can engineer a discussion with a number of people that you aren't related to but who share your ethnic or national background, you can bring many things to the surface.

By putting yourself back into certain experiences, recollection can be facilitated.  Eating the foods of your childhood, listening to music, reading a story book will bring back the memories around that subject.  I have an empty purse-size container of Shalimar perfume that had been my mom's -- if I take a whiff, I am transported back to watching my mother get ready to go out, putting on her makeup, doing her hair, choosing jewelry . . . and my sister and me saying, "You look so pretty, Mommy -- "

Finally, this should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway -- when a memory flits through your mind, don't let it go by!  Make a note of it, on your cell phone, on a scrap of paper, anything that will let you recapture it when you have a moment to write down the full memory.  This is precious material!  And we should do all we can to preserve it.

Aug 13, 2014

Documents, documents!

Since I last posted, I've gotten a number of documents:  from the City Archive in Hannover, Grandpa Berneburg's birth certificate and his father, Andreas' death certificate.  Grandpa's is interesting but doesn't clear up any issues, but from great-grandfather Andreas we get a few bits of information -- his birthplace and his parents' names, which is exciting.  So now we have great-great grandfather, Johann Claus Berneburg, and great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Denhard, both of Eltmannishausen, a tiny town near Eschwege, in Hessen.  Today, I ordered death certificates for Matilda Hug Siegler and Sophia M. Siegler, her mother.

So at this point, I'm happy (and proud!) to say that we now have information on 14 of our 16 great-grandparents (I realized after I posted the pic that I knew who Matilda Hug's mother was).  It's taken quite a while, but here they are:

Ta da!  Hermine Kleeman might remain a mystery for a while; she's proving to be elusive.  And we have information on 12 of the 32 great-great grandparents!  That's exciting to me.

Yesterday I spent three hours in the Family History Library at our local LDS church.  That's three hours in a dark room looking at barely decipherable microfilms that I ordered from Salt Lake City.

 This is the kind of thing I'm trying to read!

It's very warm in there, and there's no air circulation or windows to open, so it doesn't take long for nausea and/or headache to develop.  However, I found records of 26 Langers in Oberglogau, Silesia, born between 1777 and 1797, and two Kuras (Maximilian's mother's name was Barbara Kura).  (That doesn't bring us up to the date of Anton Langer's birth; I have about 24 more years to get through to reach that point.)  It's a small town, and I'm trying to figure out who the different families were by looking at the birth records.  This is made somewhat easier by a naming convention whereby any child, male or female, was given the father's name as a middle name.  That will let me sort them out into family groups (I hope!)

So, I'm sorting through all this stuff and will let you know any interesting things as soon as I find them!

Aug 9, 2014

What's in a name? First Name Saturday

I want to talk about a subject I've thought about for a long time:  Names.

When I was pregnant with my son, I went into a kind of naming paralysis, because it felt as if naming someone was a huge responsibility with potentially huge consequences.  We've all heard that a girl named "Bunny" will never become CEO of a large corporation; I've always liked the name George, but could somehow in my mind hear a shrewish wife going "Geoooorrrge . . . " and that made me shudder.

I also have a deeply personal reason for anguishing over names:  I have always hated my name, because it was the cause of a great deal of misery in my childhood.  No one in Minnesota in the 1950's had ever heard of the name "Elise" -- my parents had actually never heard of it either.  But my mother saw an advertisement in a magazine that included a beautiful red-haired woman named Elise Gammon, so . . . I was named after Miss Rheingold Beer of 1951.  

My mother had seen her picture and torn it out of a magazine, because she liked the name and she thought that Miss Rheingold was so pretty.

I dreaded the first day of school, which always followed a particular progression:  1)  Teacher butchers my name; 2)  the kids laugh at her/me; 3)  the kids have great fodder for teasing me the rest of the school year.  Over time, I was called Ellis, Eloise, Elaine, Elyes (don't even know how to spell that one -- Like "Eli" with an s), on and on.  But the most hated one of all, the one that was the most likely and the one the kids just ate up:  Elsie.  Now, those of you who are still young will likely think, well, that's just one of those antique names like Sophie that reminds you of your great aunt . . . but those of us who were sentient beings in the mid-20th century will know that "Elsie" refers to only one thing:

Borden milk's "Elsie the Cow."  And since from about 5th grade on I was, well, a little cow-like myself, the nickname was so apt that kids just had to use it.  Add to that the fact that I'd been smart enough to skip a grade and that teachers were likely to say things like "Let's ask Elise -- she always knows the right answer," you can imagine what kind of a field day kids had.

At this point, the name is more common, so that some people get it right, but a fair number of people don't, and I am still called "Elsie" on a regular basis.  I try to keep the frostiness out of my tone when I reply, "It's Elise," but the apologies I get after correcting the person suggest I'm not doing as well as I'd like on that one.

So when it came to naming my son, I agonized.  Yes, I wanted to choose a name that was neither ordinary -- no Davids or Michaels for me -- nor trendy -- no Brandons or Ryans -- but one that was dead easy to pronounce, and that couldn't be made into fodder for teasing.  We ultimately agreed on "Devin," a Gaelic name that means "he who can put his highest thoughts into words," which is not a bad wish for an English teacher's kid.  And he was never teased about his name -- once in a while he was called Kevin, nothing too funny about that, and I heard that once in a while kids would call him "Devine," but again, not a lot of potential there.  Oh, he was teased about plenty of other things, but it made me happy it wasn't about his name.  And by the time he had a brown belt in karate, kids pretty much left him alone.

I gave him a middle name that followed the German custom of being hyphenated -- in German, your given name is hyphenated with your father's, so "Heinz-Otto" is the son of Otto.  Well, I had an inkling that this was going to be our only child, so I hyphenated his father's and his grandfather's names:  Carl-William.  Unfortunately, he doesn't share my affection for German customs, so he rarely if ever uses his whole middle name -- he's Devin C., not Devin C.-W.  Oh well. 

How do you feel about your name?  Are you happy with it?  At some point it becomes so much a part of you that you can't imagine yourself without it -- I can't imagine that if I'd been a boy, my name would have been Allen, and my son just thinks it's completely weird that we thought about naming him Wyatt.  Did you agonize over naming a child, if you have one?

Aug 8, 2014

I Remember Mama: 10 Things About My Mother

[Note:  I wrote this for "Matrilineal Monday," but accidentally posted it yesterday.  I took it down, but it's showing up on Feedly, so . . . Monday comes early this week.]

My mother has been gone for 25 years now; she passed away at Easter time in 1989 after a long illness.  I miss her and think about her every day of my life.  Here are a few semi-random remembrances of my mom:

1. My mother was 16 years younger than her only sibling; I guess that means she was something of a "surprise."  It was hard for her when she was a kid, because her parents were not only older than all her friends' parents (kids at school would say, "Your grandfather's here to pick you up . . . "), but they were from another country as well, and the two combined to make her life difficult at times.  For example, if she wanted to sleep over at a friend's house, they would say, "You have your own house, you don't need to sleep at anybody else's," showing how unclear on the concept of sleepovers they were.

Wasn't she cute?  Wearing her much older brother's hat --

2.  My mother loved winter sports.  I was on double-bladed ice skates almost as soon as I could walk, and every year she made a little ice rink out in the back yard (building the sides up with snow, flooding it with water), so we could skate every day.  When we moved to a house on a hill, every year she would build a saucer run with jumps and curves that all the neighborhood kids loved.
 Our backyard skating rink.  I'm the squinting one on the right.

3.  Every Christmas for many years, she would paint a scene on our big picture window in the living room.  One year, the Nativity scene contained a lot of black . . . and the window cracked.  Oops.

4.  The joke among the German-speaking members of the family was that my mother was "Hochgeboren," -- "high born," or of the nobility, because she was born on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Bremerhaven, Germany.
 My mother's birthplace, now a historically preserved building in Lehe, Germany

5.  She made all our clothes, something I didn't appreciate until many years later, when I had to clothe myself.  We would go to the department store, try on clothes to find the ones I liked, then she would duplicate them, exactly.  I'm ashamed to say that I still wanted the store-bought ones.  And the first time I paid over $100 for an outfit, I was wracked with guilt.

6.  She was the best mother-in-law ever -- she had a firm policy of never interfering in her adult children's lives, and she never offered her opinion unless she was asked.  This was undoubtedly the result of having had her own mother move in with us when my mom and dad were 26 and 27, respectively.  That wasn't always fun.

7.  Her name, which she hated with a passion, was Waltraud Marianna Berneburg, which caused her a lot of trouble during the Second World War, since there was no way she could conceal her German background.  She went by "Wally," later "Walli," and we would often get mail addressed to "Mr. Wally Ortman."

8.  In the early 1970's, a line of her sculptures, "The Littles," was brought out by Hudson Pewter.  They were collectibles and can still be found now and then on eBay. It's so strange to see my mother's work on eBay!
Again, cuteness.  I think she looks kind of bada$$ here, like she belongs in Our Gang.

9.  She loved to have fun, and her parties were legendary among her friends.  They would often include costumes and very silly games that led to much merriment, like passing an orange or balloon to another person without using your hands.

10.  She talked me into getting an extra earring hole in one ear, right before I got married.  She didn't have pierced ears at the time, and wanted to see if it hurt.  :)  Later, she and her friends, after lunch with a few glasses of wine, all went together and had their ears pierced.

I miss you, Mom.  I think of you every day, when I see the big painting of a Greek village hanging over our bed, when I sit on one of the pillows you needlepointed as a wedding gift, when I open the little purse atomizer of Shalimar I have tucked away.  It's empty, but I can still close my eyes and catch your scent in it.  xoxoxoxo

Aug 4, 2014

Matrilineal Monday: Annie Ortmann

Today I got another death certificate from New York City -- this one was for Annie Schwietering Ortmann, the wife of Joseph Ortmann, EDC's great-grandmother.

While there's nothing terribly surprising in this document, it does confirm several things -- her dates of birth and death, and her parents, Bernard Schwietering and Anna Kokamp.  I notice that she died at the age of 80, and that she died of pneumonia, but also had "general arteriosclerosis."

The information was given by her daughter, Anna, who lived with her at the time of her death -- I don't know if she ever married.  She (Anna) says her mother arrived in the US 69 years ago -- that would make her 11 rather than 13 or 14, which is what the censuses have said over the years.  Anna could be wrong on this -- I'll have to check into it more.

I'm surprised and kind of sad to see that she lived in a "tenement."  I would wonder why she wasn't living with my grandpa and grandma, as George Siegler did, but I believe that my grandfather was estranged from his family.  I wonder whether he saw her before she died?  We don't know.

 Woodward St. today -- I don't think these are the tenements of old.

I wish I had a picture of her.  We have so few mementos, pictures, letters, etc. from Dad's side of the family; it makes me sad.  We just have a few pictures of Grandpa and Grandma Ortman.

I think about you often, Annie.  I wish I could know you better.

 1930s tenements.  New York Municipal Archives

Aug 3, 2014

Home for a minute, and then --

I enjoyed a great two days at the Mobile Digital Art and Creativity Summit in Palo Alto ( = making art on your iPad).  The presenters were excellent, and there was so much information and so many fun apps and toys showed to us -- it will take me months to sort through it all.  I did a few things while I was there:

My grand-nephew, fiercely playing his video game

 A Japanese lady

My little dog, Hugo.  Good boy, Hugo.

In the two days, I learned about Sketchbook Pro, Procreate, ArtRage, Skribl, iColorama, and more.  It was a huge smorgasbord of fun.  And some of the things people do digitally are amazingly beautiful -- here's a link to some of the art they had on display in the gallery:   Have a look -- it will blow you away.

Tomorrow we are off to Mendocino for just a couple of days.  Hoping to get some sketching, etc., done up there and maybe a bit of blogging too --

Aug 1, 2014

Surname Saturday: Ortmann

"Ortman/Ortmann" was my father's name, and his father's, and his father's before him.  The name goes back to the Middle Ages.  Translated literally, it means "ort" = place, village, "mann" = man.  But in practice, it referred to someone who acted as an arbitrator or judge casting the decisive vote in the event of a tie, so "referee" or something along those lines.

Ortmann is most commonly found in Germany, including Prussia, Austria, and Russia.  The distribution in Germany follows this pattern:

The earliest Ortmanns arrived in the US in the 1700's.  Our ancestor Joseph Ortmann arrived in the early 1860's and served in the U.S. Navy in the Civil War. 

Here's an interesting fact:  One of the variations of Ortmann is "Erdmann," which in English translates to "Earthman."  My maiden name was Ortmann.  My (first) married name was Earthman.  Go figure.

Off to learn about digital art --

I hope to publish something this weekend, but mostly I'll be at a conference on "mobile digital art," that is, painting with your iPad.  Here's something I recently did:

Not great, but I'm working on it.

It will be two days of workshops on different programs like "Procreate" and "Art Rage," so I hope to come home knowing a lot more than I did when I got there.

My usual occupation, in case I haven't mentioned that, is fine art photographer, something I've been doing for about 8 years.  Here are a couple of my photographs:

So, I'm off in a few minutes for sunny but I hope not too hot Palo Alto.  I'm looking forward to having a good time!

Subscribe to our newsletter