Sep 24, 2014

The Darker Side of Genealogy

I wasn't sure I wanted to write this post. But I feel I should, not only as a cautionary tale but also as a way of remembering someone whose life was far from easy.

Beginning genealogists get a lot of advice;  don't take others' research as fact, check multiple sources, document everything, and so on.  Sometimes, though, people also mention what I have to think of as the "darker side of genealogy" -- what happens when you find something out that is unsettling or even shocking?

A number of people have written about this issue, to mention just a few:   Sue Shellenbarger wrote in the Wall Street Journal about how people are affected when they find something disturbing in their history.   hayden in Daily Kos has written about one of the ultimate shocks:  How do you feel when you find out one of your ancestors owned slaves?   And Lisa Alzo gives us advice on how to document troubling things we find out through our research.

I'm not talking about when you find out your great-grandmother was illegitimate (which I did), or your grandmother was married to someone else before your grandfather (which I also did) -- these things don't shock or upset me; rather, they spark intense curiosity to know the whole story, a curiosity that will probably never be satisfied.  I have no concerns about the family's reputation or status (we sure as heck didn't come over on the Mayflower); I know that those that came before were flawed human beings, as we are, and that their troubles are no different than those we face today.

Still.  Twice now, I've been not only shocked but horrified, once about my great-grandfather and just yesterday about another relative whose privacy I would like to honor, since I don't yet know for sure whether she has living descendants.

I summarized the situation with my great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer, here.  I was shocked to learn that he died in a "lunatic asylum," and spent a very dark day thinking about what that must have been like, imagining a kind of Bedlam place, a house of horrors, in the 1890s.  I was very relieved to discover that the head of the hospital he was committed to, Dr. Ludwig Meyer, was extremely forward-thinking, wanted to create a home-like atmosphere, and so on.  He treated patients in an extremely humane way, and my mind was settled when I learned that.

I'm still reeling, though, from what I discovered yesterday -- that an ancestor spent the last 27 years of her life in an institution that was notorious for its inhumane treatment of patients, a place that carried out what look now like insane treatments on poor, sick people, that was terribly overcrowded (some people slept in chairs, not beds), a place where horrible drug trials were carried out -- learning this, thinking about what the poor woman must have endured, I felt sick, and I still do.

I don't know the story, and again, as in other situations I've discovered, I probably never will.  What upsets me is not that an ancestor was "insane" and the effect that has on the family history but that there's nothing I can do or could have done to help her, to mitigate the horrible suffering she must have endured.  Perhaps she was very ill -- the large majority of people in this institution were schizophrenic -- but we also know that in "olden days," women were institutionalized for any number of reasons, some of which appear shameful from this 21st century vantage point.  I just don't know.

I'll repeat what I wrote in the post about my great-grandfather:  my friend who also writes a genealogy blog says that when we discover the history of our ancestors and write about it, we are not only honoring them but helping them to rest more easily.   Because I believe that this woman's only son never married or had children, I may be the only person left to honor her and -- I dearly hope -- to help her rest more easily.

So, be careful what you look for -- you may be terribly saddened by what you find.  You'll get over it, as I'm sure I will, in time.  But I won't forget this ancestor and the sufferings she endured, and I will send up my heartfelt wishes that she is now resting in peace.

Sep 22, 2014

One Lovely Blogger Award!

Many thanks to Valerie Hughes of Genealogy with Valerie for nominating me for the "One Lovely Blog" award!  I'm delighted and flattered; thank you so much.  Here are the requirements:
  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to that blog
  2. Share Seven things about yourself
  3. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of!)
  4. Contact your bloggers to let them know that you’ve tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award
1. Done, but I'll say it again -- thanks so much for nominating a newbie to the genealogy blogging community.

2.  Seven things about myself:
  • I recently retired from teaching; I was an English Professor at San Francisco State University and the Director of the Composition Program for many years.
  • I fell in love with genealogy a couple of years ago, and have been actively pursuing it ever since.  I've gone from 7 or 8 people in my family tree to hundreds.  
  •  My family is 100% German and the ancestors who came to America almost all stayed in New York City.  Only my immediate family went to Minnesota and my cousin's to Arizona.
  • I'm especially good at doing "grunt work" -- looking through a couple thousand records to find whatever's there.

  • I have a little Maltese mix dog I rescued about a year-and-a-half ago; he is the light of my life and the sweetest little dog ever.  His name is Hugo, a variation of one branch of ancestors' names.

  •  I'm going to Italy in two weeks!  Yikes!  I've never been there --

Well, there you have it.  I haven't been in the genealogy blogging community for very long, so I'm not sure I can get up to 15 names, but here goes:

That's eleven great blogs, and that's about all I can do.  If you've already been nominated or you are just not into the award thing, please feel free to go on about your business!

Sep 21, 2014

Going Sideways: The Story of Herman Ortmann

I haven't done a lot of research with siblings, though from what I hear everyone say, it's important to focus not only on the direct ancestors but on the siblings as well, because we can gain insights from that research, too.

My grandfather, William John Ortman, was the last of nine living children of Joseph Ortmann and Annie Schwietering Ortmann.  Joseph and Annie were both German immigrants, but they met in the U.S. and all their children, four daughters (Mary Theresa, Anna, Adelaide, and Catherine), and five sons (Augustus, Joseph B., Herman, Henry, and William) were born in the United States.

Sadly, I have no family lore about the Ortmann clan and no photographs, because my grandfather was disowned when he married and never spoke to his family again.  The party line was that my grandmother was Lutheran and my grandfather Catholic; we really don't know why.  But the result is that with eight great-aunts and -uncles, we probably have more second or third cousins than we can shake a stick at.  So far, I've only discovered one second cousin (hi Bob!), but I'd love to find many more.

I decided to spend some time in newspaper archives, mainly the Library of Congress and the amazing (but sometimes frustrating) Old Fulton New York Post Cards site (which actually is filled with historic newspapers), doing a general search on "Ortmann."  I soon noticed that one name came up repeatedly:  Herman Ortmann, my grandfather's second-older brother.  I started paying attention and came up with many newspaper articles on Uncle Herman, and now am able to put together at least a bit of his life story.

Herman Henry Ortmann was born on November 21, 1888, the third son of Joseph and Annie.  I don't know anything about his childhood, but the Ortmanns were not rich by any means, so he was not a pampered darling.  In fact, by the age of 16, he was working, as a "wagon boy,"  and by 21, he was working in the printing business, which he seems to have made a career of and succeeded at.

In 1911, his father Joseph died and by the mid 'teens Herman was the only one of his brothers left at home.   When WW I began, he asked for a exemption, the cause being "support of mother." 

Unfortunately, the board was not convinced, and Herman was drafted.  The Sun had the following headline on Monday, April 1, 1918:

This headline was followed by a long list of men, column after column, who would be leaving that day.  This is a terrible copy of an old newspaper, but just past halfway down, you can see Herman's name:

First he spent a very short time working with the 152 Depot Brigade in New York State, and then he was shipped overseas to France, where he was part of the headquarters company of the 106th Infantry.  I don't know that he saw any actual combat, but I'm sure he was close enough to know what was going on.

He came back to the U.S. on March 6, 1919, and was discharged on April 2, 1919, one year and one day since he marched off to war.

In 1921, he married Mary Gross, a woman who at 18 had given birth to a child, Herbert Gross, According to the 1910 census, Mary was then living with her husband, John A. Gross, and their newborn child (John and Mary were both 18 years old).  I can't determine what happened to John, whether he died or left Mary, but in the 1920 census, she and her son were living with her father-in-law, Otto Gross.  Herbert was 11 when Herman and Mary were wed.

Herman and Mary had no children besides Herbert; I'm not sure that Herman ever adopted the child, because I don't think Herbert took the surname of Ortmann. 

We can see the traces of a rich life recorded in newspapers of the time.

Herman worked as a printer and seems to have been successful.  By 1930, he was working as a printer in the advertising industry, and that allowed him to buy a home in what seems to have been a new neighborhood -- the houses were built in 1930 and cost $6,000. This photo shows the street they lived on, with the original homes:

204th Street, Bayside, NY     Photo from Google Earth

The Ortmanns seem to have been prominent members of their community.  Though new to the neighborhood, the Ortmanns began to be featured in the social columns right away:


By 1938, birthday greetings for Herman were published in the  Long Island Star Journal.


Herman was very active in the Bayside Veterans of Foreign Wars and over the years filled many roles in that organization, from corresponding secretary to president.  Mary was active too, in the auxiliary.  I was thrilled that my search turned up a photo of the 1932 officers that included Herman (second from right) and may even include Mary, though the face is badly degraded and it says Mary A. Artmann, not Ortmann.  Still, it's likely her.

Through this group, Herbert and Mary planned many charitable events:  dances, Christmas parties, a Western/Cowboy gala (Herman was the jailer of guests who misbehaved). 

They seem to have enjoyed a rich and full life.  Though I don't yet know when Mary passed away, Herman died on the 19th of October, 1960, at the age of 68.

I greatly enjoyed finding things about the life of this great-uncle and his wife.  I have insights that I wouldn't have had otherwise about one of my grandfather's siblings. 

Sep 20, 2014

Great-Grandparents: Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

This week on "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun," we're thinking about great-grandparents, and whether our children knew them.  

Sadly, the women in my family in recent generations seem to have delayed having children.  My mother was born when her mother was 40, and my son was born when I was 34, so the likelihood of him knowing any of his great-grandparents was slim-to-none.  Actually, none.  And his maternal grandmother, so sadly, was gone by the time he was four.

My cousin, however, married young and had children young, so I'm sure they knew their great-grandmother, at least for a short while.  Both grandfathers died early, 1952 and 1957, so they were long gone before any children were born. 

This matters to me.  I come from a tiny family -- my father was an only child, and my mother had one brother that was 16 years older than she was.  I have one first cousin.  Period.  So I've always longed to have family of any kind around, and so wish my son could have known his forebears.  

Well, as my husband always says, "It is what it is."  Nothing to do about it, except to write down everything I can think of, in case my great-grandchildren don't have a chance to know their great-grandmother.   

1)  Dana Leeds on the Enthusiastic Genealogist blog asks "Did/Do Your Children Know Any of Their Great-Grandparents?"

2)  I thought that would be a great Saturday Night Genealogy Fun question - so please share your response with us in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog post, or in a Facebook or Google+ post.

3)  For extra credit, or in case the answer is "No," then please answer the question for yourself, or your parents.

Sep 18, 2014

Living in the Land of Dreams: Part One (#TBT)

I'm a child of the 1950's.  From my current vantage point in the 21st century, the 50's look positively antique, but those days were full of exciting new things.  The most magical was television.

I'm not sure when we got our first tv, but it had to be in 1954 or 1955.  The first program I remember was "Winky Dink and You," an interactive show that would have kids put a piece of plastic on the screen and then draw along with the story they were telling, right on the screen, with special crayons. It was a sensation, but, as Bob Green says, two things led to Winky Dink's downfall -- the kids who hadn't ponied up 50 cents for the special equipment drew on the tv with their own crayons, and parents were concerned that the tv screen was emitting dangerous radiation to kids sitting so close to it.  I myself, though I had the screen and crayons, once drew on the tv itself with regular crayons, making my mother unhappy -- which I don't really understand, because of all the potential messes kids make, crayon on glass seems like one of the easier to clean up, right?

If you'd like to watch an episode of "Winky Dink and You," you can do so here.

Another show I remember so well is "American Bandstand,"  which Dick Clark began to host in 1957.  We were only allowed to watch half an hour of television, in the afternoon, and I would spend that half hour watching the kids from Philly dance.  And dance around the living room myself.

I was actually on Dick Clark's 20th Anniversary Show; I was working at a Los Angeles oldies radio station, and they asked us to round up some people who could dance in old-timey costumes.  I remember the whole thing took soooo long.  At one point we had to wait over an hour for Little Richard to perform -- he wouldn't come out of his dressing room.  (Probably holding out for more money!)  I see two photos from that show on the web, but neither includes me, so I'll leave it at that.

If you'd like to watch an early episode, you can see one here.

I have a lot more to share about early tv, but I'll save some for next time!  What were your favorite shows when you were a kid?

Sep 17, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: My stylish grandma

Almost wordless:  My grandmother took a trip to Hawaii with a senior women's group, as depicted in this photo.  My grandmother is the one in the striped red-flowered muumuu -- isn't she just tons more stylish than any of the other ladies?  I wish I knew where that dress is. I think she looks pretty good.

Grandma B in Hawaii

And for a special bonus, a mystery question:  Here I am with my siblings watching something on tv.  You get big bonus points* if  you can guess what we're watching.

Clue:  1)  It was a special show.  2)  The year was 1956. 


*Bonus points have no monetary value.  You just get the good feeling of being right.  :)

It was The Wizard of Oz.   First time it was shown on television.

Sep 14, 2014

Leaving the Beginner Behind: Citing Sources

I've referred to myself as a "beginner" or "advanced beginner" in these pages a number of times.  We all start out as "beginner genealogists," but when do you get to leave that designation behind?

Becoming a better researcher is surely one way; when you move beyond searching on or and begin looking in archives, requesting microfilms from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, looking through historic newspaper files, you've moved past beginner status.

Becoming a better interpreter or storyteller is another way.  Unless we come up with an ancestor's handwritten journal (surely the Holy Grail of genealogy) or a detailed newspaper article from the time, we are always looking at a few bare facts and weaving stories out of them.  We leave beginner status behind when we leave the realm of fantasy and begin to look at context, history, social practices, and so on, to help us tell our tales.

 Birth record of Maximilian Joseph Langer

Becoming a conscientious documenter of sources is a third way, perhaps the most significant way.  When we make our first stabs at creating a family tree, many of us ( = me, for sure) fall victim to the siren song of others' family trees, appropriating long and complex branches out of sheer excitement -- "Wow!  Look what I found!"  But when we begin to discover that what we've copied just doesn't seem right (e.g. date conflicts), or it's incomplete or just plain wrong, we begin to realize that we have to do our own research, make sure our family trees are right and are carefully documented.

 Andreas Berneburg Death Certificate

There really are two parts to documenting your sources.  The first is to write down where you found the information.  This might sound simplistic, but I think we've all experienced that unpleasant moment when we think, where the heck did I find that bit of information?  One way to prevent this is to become compulsive about using a program like Evernote to jot down notes as you're researching.  The second is to record that information in whatever genealogical program you're using, whether online or on your computer (and be sure to always back it up!).

Where do we learn how to properly cite sources?  A simple search on "genealogy citing sources" will lead you to a wealth of information; just perusing the links on Cyndi's List will occupy hours of your time.  You will find many, many guidelines to how to cite those sources; this one at the Family Search Wiki covers a lot of the circumstances you will encounter.  The basic intention is this:  provide enough information so that another researcher could find that exact source again.

Information for Harm Jachens, from the Bremen-Lesum Ortsfamilienbuch

What inspired me to write this particular post?  True confessions:  I've been carefully accumulating information and documentation, but I haven't entered all of it into my family tree -- I'm hoping that I'll be embarrassed enough by this post to get myself moving!  It's very tedious, yes, but it's very important and necessary work.  I'll get busy and I hope you will too!

Sep 13, 2014

Surname Saturday: The Word Cloud Expands!

A while ago (in June, actually), I did a "Wordle" of my family surnames.  It wasn't too big, because I didn't have that many names.

It's significant that if I do another word cloud at this point, it looks very different:

Look how many new names!  It amazes me that you can start with two names, your mom's and dad's, and before long have 40 or so names that you're connected to. 

This is one thing that's great about genealogy:  you can see your progress, literally see it.  I've made a lot of progress just in the past three months!  Do you see any names you recognize?

Sep 11, 2014


I don't want to write this, I really don't.  It's been 13 years, but in some ways it's as real as if it happened yesterday.  That's the way it is with life-changing events.  But in the interest of recording historical events that have happened in my lifetime, I will.

We were living in California, not far from San Francisco.  My son was getting ready to go to high school; I went to the bottom of the stairs to ask if he was ready, and he said, "Mom!  Somebody flew a plane into the Twin Towers!"  The person he car-pooled with had called to say she wasn't going to school and had given him the news.

It was so hard to even understand what I was hearing.  "What?  What??" was all I could say.  We turned the television on, and indeed, it was true.  Even though the events in New York had begun to unfold about an hour and a half earlier, watching the footage on the news felt as if we were watching it live.  We did catch up with them on live tv about the time the South Tower collapsed.

Courtesy of FEMA (public domain)

It was almost impossible to comprehend.  How could this happen?  And how could it happen with four planes, two in New York, one in Washington, and one in Pennsylvania?   Who would do such an unimaginable thing?  Why?  What was happening to the people in the buildings, especially the ones on the upper floors?  We were glued to the tv all day, arms around each other on the couch, looking for answers to our endless questions.  And I felt as I had when my son was born -- I so wished I could have protected him from knowing the many ways that humans can behave in a completely inhumane way toward others.

That day and the days that followed were almost more than we Americans could endure -- of course the people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, in Boston and New Jersey, where three of the ill-fated planes originated, but also everyone from coast to coast, any American anywhere.  The searing pain of learning that people on the flights and in the upper floors of the towers were talking to their loved ones on cell phones, saying goodbye.  The horror of knowing that people were driven to jumping out of the towers rather than endure a fiery death.  The unbelievable bravery of the people on Flight 93, trying to take back the plane from the hijackers.  The stunning heroism of firefighters, of police, of police dogs, of ordinary people, risking their lives (and some losing them) to save others.

It was all too much, yet somehow we pulled together.  It's sad to say that at a difficult time like 9/11, people can feel so much closer than they do under ordinary circumstances.  I remember that a few days after the attack, I was teaching in a classroom whose windows looked out on the street.  At one point, a fire truck came down the street and stopped outside our windows in traffic.  We waved at them, they waved back, then the whole class stood up and cheered (including me).

In one of my classes, I had a Muslim student who wore the hijab, the traditional Muslim headdress.  She got in touch with me early on and said she wouldn't be coming to class because she was afraid.  I said I understood, and she should come back when she felt comfortable.  She did come back the following week, but was very quiet.  At one point I must have said something that affected her emotionally, because all of a sudden silent tears were rolling down her face.  An older woman who sat  next to her at the table moved her chair closer and put her arm around the student and they sat like that for a while, and it was better.

Saddest of all were the boards that sprang up around the WTC, messages posted by people who were looking for their loved ones or any information about their loved ones.  Such poignant messages of hope, in many cases unrealistic hope -- 

Here we are, 13 years later, and what has changed or been resolved?  We have more and more airport security; Muslims have faced bigotry and discrimination; we've found out that some of the heroes were not so heroic after all; we went into a war that made no sense (and we seem to be at war still, to this day); the government has not been as active as it should have been in taking care of those physically affected by the disaster, and so on.  

Still, it was a moment when everything changed.  None of us will ever be the same as we were on 9/10/2001.  Have we learned from it?  Are we better, more united than before?  The questions remain.

2015: The Year of Genealogy

2015 is shaping up to be a big year, genealogically speaking!

In February, I go to Salt Lake to the RootsTech conference, along with spending a couple of days at the Library.  I'm really excited about that and will be planning my research very carefully so as to get the most I can out of the short time I'm there.

The Library in Salt Lake City

In June, the family will gather in Minnesota for a few days on a lake, a get-together that I hope will happen!  It will be my family, my sister's family, and my brother's family, maybe 15 or so people in all.  We did this a couple of years ago, after my niece's wedding, and it was a blast.  Late nights, sitting around the fire, telling stories; my sister and I painting lake scenes; going out on a boat.  And nobody in the world can make me laugh like my brother and sister.  We laugh a lot.

Then,  at the end of August, I will be joining FGS for their 2015 cruise to Alaska!  My sister will be joining me, for a week of girls' fun and learning about genealogy at the sessions and workshops.  I've been to Alaska before, but my sis never has, so this is very exciting for both of us.

Alaska has captured my imagination for many years.  Our dad first went to Alaska in the 1950's, when it was pretty much the Wild West, and from that time on, I wanted to go there.  I was incredibly fortunate to go there on a cruise in 2002, with a company called Cruise West that unfortunately doesn't exist any more.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing; we were on a ship that held 100 people, but since it was the first cruise of the season (starting the very end of May), there were only 68 people on board.  It was fantastic -- we saw so many things and had just a wonderful, close-up experience.

The trip next year won't be the same, but it will be just as special, because my sister will be along, and there will be genealogy on board!  What could be better?

Who's joining us?  How is your 2015 shaping up, genealogically or otherwise?

Sep 9, 2014

Talented Tuesday: What's My Line?

I'm going to slant the topic a little today -- I'd like to write not only about talents, but occupations as well.  I think it's interesting, what people choose to do with their lives, and whether that grows out of their natural talents.  Of course, once past my grandparents, I can only speculate, but since half of genealogy starts out as speculation anyway, you won't mind, right?  Today I'll start with the people I know or knew in life.

Photo in the public domain

Long, long ago, before some of you were sentient beings on this earth, there was a television show called "What's My Line," in which very brainy panelists had to determine the occupation of a contestant by quizzing him or her in a "20-Questions" kind of format -- the questions had to elicit a "yes" or "no" answer.  The home and studio audiences knew the occupation, and it was fun to watch the panelists slowly develop the answer for themselves, through their questioning.

Each of us, I guess, runs a kind of "What's My Line" game as we're growing up, quizzing ourselves on what it is we want to do, sometimes getting a clear idea, sometimes stumbling into something we liked, sometimes struggling to find what's right for us.  But we live in an age in which most of us have a choice in what we'll do with our lives; in olden days, for many of our ancestors, this was just not so.  They were constrained by family pressures/needs, social standing, and so on.  I'll write a bit about the people I know, and speculate on some others.  First comes what they dreamed of, and following the ellipsis, what they wound up doing:

Bill Ortman (Dad):  performer, actor, singer . . . sales, promotion

Walli Ortman (Mom):  artist, craftswoman . . .  homemaker (+artist, craftswoman)

Elise Ortman (Me):  doctor, actor . . . secretary, scientific editor, college English professor (not that kind of doctor)

My Sister:  singer, photographer . . . dispatcher for the Highway Patrol (and a damned good one, too)

My Brother:  NHL hockey player? . . . started in mailroom, now in charge of all support departments for his company

My Son:   "a doctor and a Monster Truck Driver" (he will remember this, I hope) . . . sound engineer, composer, animator, computer graphics wizard

That's pretty interesting -- a lot of creativity there.  Now let's move farther back in time, into the world of  speculation about earlier ancestors and their occupations.  As far as I know, none of the women had careers.

 Mom (Walli Ortman) painting

Grandpa Ortman and Grandpa Berneburg:  both were machinists, Grandpa B on sailing ships.  Grandpa B also had a musical talent; we have an accordion-type instrument that belonged to him.

Grandma Ortman:  of course didn't have a job but she trained as a nurse.  She also had a lot of musical talent and played the piano beautifully.

Grandma Berneburg:  she could do anything involving thread or yarn, and do it beautifully.  Sewing, knitting, crocheting -- even that tiny crochet on handkerchiefs, embroidery, needlepoint -- you name it, she could do it.  She believed in the "evil eye," and so said you'd have to include one mistake in things you make, so God knows you're not aspiring to be as great as he.  This has never been a problem for me.  Grandma would have to deliberately put a mistake in a project.

So those are the people I know or knew.  Seems like quite a bit of musical talent in the family.  Though my dad was a big reader (especially of history books, Civil War in particular), no one but me really followed intellectual pursuits.  Ah well, still the oddball in the family.


Sep 6, 2014

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: My August Genea-Prize

As he does each Saturday night, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings poses questions for everyone to answer, should they find themselves at home on Saturday night with nothing to do. :)  This week, it's about the "genea-prize" we got from our research in August.  I'll post his questions at the bottom.

1)  I did a lot of genealogical research in August.  I got my great-grandmother Anna Schwietering Ortmann's and great-great-grandmother Sophia Hug's death certificates; I received documents from the City Archive in Hannover that allowed me to get one more generation back on the Berneburg line; and I spent many, many hours in the local Family History Center researching the Langers on microfilms I had ordered from the library in Salt Lake City.  I also decided to go to RootsTech in SLC in February.  That's huge!

2)  I think my prize was determining who of the many Langers I looked at in Oberglogau, Silesia,  was my great-great-grandfather, Anton Langer.  I've identified him and what may be one of his wives, and several siblings for great-grandfather Maximilian.  I say "one of his wives," because her name is Johanna Kura, and on Maxmilian's death certificate, it says his mother was Barbara Kura.  I haven't found a Barbara Kura yet, but I'm going to look at the death records to see if Johanna Kura died.  It was very common, if a wife died, for the husband to marry her sister, so that's a possibility.  I also have a tantalizing possibility that Anton and his son Johann emigrated to the U.S. and wound up in Wisconsin -- it will take quite a bit of work to confirm that, but it will be instantly disconfirmed if I find a death record for Anton in Oberglogau.

I also got a book from Germany called "Siedlungsgeschichte Oberschlesiens," a history of the settlement of Silesia.  It's slow going because my German is so rusty, but I'm determined to read at least the parts that deal with Oberglogau.

So there you have it.  My genea-prize for August.

Randy's questions:

1)  Did you do some genealogy research during August 2014?  Did you find a great record or story pertaining to an ancestor or family member?

2)  Tell us about the BEST genea-prize ("record") you found during August 2014.  What was it, where did you find it, and how does it help advance your research?

3)  Share your genea-prize in your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a Facebook or Google+ post. 

The Teasers: Making Genealogical Leaps of Faith

You know those results that Ancestry or Family Search throw up at you that seem totally random?  You think, why in the world are they giving me these crazy results?  (I actually have a bone to pick about this, but I'll keep it until the end.)  Well . . . every now and then there's something kind of tantalizing in those results that catches your attention, and you wonder -- could that be them?  They are "the teasers"!

I have one right now.  I've been researching (and writing about) the Langers of Oberglogau, Silesia.  I've found my great-grandfather Maximilian and his father, Anton.  Here's their bit of family tree:

So, we have Anton Langer, born 19 May 1804, and his wife, Johanna Kura, birth date unknown.  I didn't find any record of either Johanna or Barbara in my search through the Kirchenbuecher, so let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that the "Barbara" is a mistake, and Johanna was the mother of all the children, Carl, Anna, Johann, and Maximilian.

Here's the teaser: 

Click to make larger

This is from the 1880 United States Census; this family lived in Emmet, Wisconsin.  The father is John, his wife Barbara, their children, and Anton Langer, father.  John is age 50, which means he was born around 1830; Anton is 76, therefore born around 1804.  If you look back at the family tree excerpt, Anton was indeed born in 1804 and Johann in 1838.  That's off, but let's keep going.  Notice also that it says they're from Prussia.

Here's an earlier census, from 1870:

Click to make larger

We have the same family:  Johann (not John), age 39, his wife Barbara and children, and father Anton, age 66.   Anton would have been born in 1804, and Johann in 1831.  Notice that in this earlier census, they say they came from Bohemia, not Prussia.  "My" Langers came from Silesia, an area that changed hands many times over the centuries.  I've looked at a number of maps, and while Bohemia and Silesia are geographically close to one another, I can't find a time when they overlapped.  Would someone from Silesia have a reason to say that they were from Bohemia?  I don't know.

Finally, here's an immigration record for Anton Langer:

This looks like the person in the censuses above, who would have landed in Baltimore and then made his way to Wisconsin to visit his son.  The things that might be "off" about this document?  Again, it says "Bohmen," Bohemia, instead of Silesia; it also lists him as a "laborer," when we know that Anton was a master weaver back in Oberglogau.  Would he have had a reason for saying he was a laborer rather than a skilled craftsman?

I don't know -- this is all tantalizing, but are these "my" Langers?  Why do I think it could be?  I know that at some point at least Maximilian left Oberglogau, because he married my great-grandmother in either Bremen or Bremerhaven.  Silesia was undergoing very difficult times in the mid-1800s; people were literally starving to death.  So would they all, or some of them, have left?  I'll have to do a lot more research to find out whether this move to America could have happened with my ancestors.  Still, it's interesting to take one of these side trails every now and then, to chase a "teaser" down, to wonder, "what if?" "could it be so?"

Oh, and that little rant about Ancestry?  They have sliders now, right?  To make searches more or less specific.  I don't understand, though, when I put the slider on "Exact" for Germany, or when I use the drop-down menu to choose "German Collections," it still gives me stuff from all over the place.  It's kind of frustrating.

Do you follow "teasers"?  Have you had success with that?  Let me know.

Sep 3, 2014

JFK and Family History

The other day, Valerie Hughes challenged fellow bloggers to write about the historical events in their lives.  She wrote about having lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I would like to write about that, too.

John and Jaqueline Kennedy with their son, JFK Jr.

It's hard to describe at this point how exciting it was for the country to have a president like JFK.  He was young, he had small children -- I guess the comparison is to the first time Barack Obama was elected president.  So many people were happy, but in JFK's case it was liberals, Democrats, and the many, many Catholics in the country, some of whom have a portrait of JFK on their living room wall to this day.  

They were a beautiful couple, John and Jackie -- they seemed to live an enchanted life, she was popular all over the world, and he was so obviously proud of her.  Following the Mamie Eisenhower years, she was a gorgeous breath of fresh air, and the two of them were impossibly glamorous.

He was a president who cared about people, too, about civil rights and serving your country and making people proud of our country.  Their magical sphere was called "Camelot," and like the characters in the play that was popular at the time, they seemed to live a charmed life.

That all came to a halt on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.  I was in 9th grade, and the announcement came as my German class was heading down the stairs to the language lab.  We stopped on the steps to listen to the principal telling us the news of the shooting, which was as shocking as anything we could have imagined.  Having heard the news, we continued down the steps to the language lab and sat silently in our carrels, waiting for more word, which finally came -- our president was dead. 

If you lived through 9/11, you can imagine what the following weekend was like -- everyone glued to the tv, endless news reports, gleaning any little crumb we could about what happened, then the horrible shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, and that sort of heavy feeling you get in your eyes when you've been crying too long over a period of days --   And the poignant things that tore your heart out, little John-John saluting as his father's coffin went by, the riderless horse with the boots turned backwards, Walter Cronkite, our rock in the bringing us the news, in tears.

Camelot ended badly, too, with Arthur dead, killed by his own son, with Guinevere in a convent and Lancelot with a broken heart.  The beautiful dream fell apart, just as the dream of Kennedy's Camelot did, not just because of his literal assassination but also because of the assassination of his character in the years since.  We've learned about his illness, his affairs, especially with Marilyn Monroe, and all the other unsavory things we learned about JFK, about his brother Robert, and even about Jackie, who chose not to remain the grieving widow but to marry a billionaire frog prince and left the public eye completely.  And of course, I'm painting a very romantic picture here -- there were many in America who didn't vote for him, didn't care for him as a president, but I have to guess that few of them would have wished him dead.  Have the intervening years diminished him as a president, as a man?  I guess so, but I still remember the man we looked up to and wanted to emulate. 

This connects to genealogy too (doesn't everything?).  When I envisioned my ancestors, I imagined, well, I'm not sure what.  People that were larger than life, that practiced good work in their communities, that left a significant mark on the world.  But I've found family of day-laborers and lowly workers, a great-grandfather who spent his last days in a "lunatic asylum" (that's what it was called at the time), a great-grandmother (and her mother and her mother) who was illegitimate, and so on. Does that change things?  No -- it humanizes them.  No one has the perfect family; we all have our troubles and challenges, only most in the public eye work hard to keep them private.  Those of us who go digging into the past are bound to turn over a few shovelfuls of worms. 

We can't help loving them, despite their faults, whether it's crazy great-uncle Elmer or JFK.  And we continue digging, hoping to find gold but being just as happy with the occasional worm.

Where were you when you learned about JFK?  

Subscribe to our newsletter