Jan 30, 2015

Doing the Genealogy Do-Over

Slapdash genealogist that I am, I've been picking and choosing what I do in Thomas MacEntee's current Genealogy Do-Over project.  Still, it keeps drawing me in with all the wonderful ideas and resources, and I've gotten quite a bit out of it so far:

1.  Limiting the "ooh, shiny" factor:  It's so hard not to be distracted by interesting possibilities, isn't it?  I sit down to look at Joseph Ortmann in the 1900 census and suddenly I'm e-mail corresponding with a hotel manager in Texas, searching St. Louis newspapers for Mabel Manson, and following the trail of Frederick L. Manson, which leads to reading about the Ute campaign in the Indian Wars -- even though this all winds up being related to Joseph Ortmann in the end, I'm scattering my energies all over the place and if I'm not at least keeping track of where I've been, I risk doing it all over again at some point.

So Thomas suggests using a "search attempts" log, and for me, this is excellent.   Here's an example from a couple of days ago.

I'm realizing that if I don't make a record of these things, that I will soon enough be duplicating all my work, wondering which City Directories I had looked at and for whom, and thinking, oh well, I'll just look at them again.  Major time waster.

2.  Keeping track of which documents I've ordered has not been on my agenda in the past, but it sure is now.  Because the Do-Over is causing me to think about what I'm doing, I hesitated before ordering my grandfather's birth certificate from Germany and instead got out the big envelope in which I've shoved all the official documents I've gotten in recent months.  Sure enough, I already had a copy of that document.  So from now on, I record everything I've ordered.

3.  Another way to control the "ooh, shiny" factor is to record them, as they come up, on a "to do" list.  Rather than chasing after a promising lead while you're in the middle of something else, put it down on the "to do" list and get back to it when you're finished with what you're doing.  I find this the hardest one to do, because I'm just dying to see what's behind that next mouse click, but I'm trying.

4.   I don't have a way of tracking this,  but the whole Do-Over process is causing me to look more closely, to mine records for every bit of information in them.  In the process of tracking down Joseph Ortmann, I've re-examined the relevant census records and found that they contained more information than I had realized before.

So there it is, what I've learned so far.  I have many more tasks I can take up in the coming weeks, and I think that the process of the Genealogy Do-Over will only strengthen my skills as a genealogical researcher.

Jan 25, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #5: Joseph and Clara and Mabel (Part 1)

When I was an academic, I loved the research part of my job.  When winter break or summer would roll around, I was always so happy to turn to "my" work, that of researching literature related to my subject, or topics related to the classes I would be teaching.

Now that I'm retired, this is one of the things that draws me most to genealogy -- the thrill of the chase, the forming of theories that open up new avenues to travel, the very deep satisfaction when something -- anything -- clicks into place, no matter how small.

It's never easy, though, and sometimes you only achieve success by dogged persistence, by plowing through the years and millions of documents, in order to put a coherent story together.

So, today I have a story that, while not yet finished, I'd like to begin to tell, although it's so long that I'll break it into two parts.  I've mentioned before that my paternal grandfather was one of nine siblings who lived to adulthood, and that his marriage to my grandmother caused an estrangement between him and the rest of his family.  I therefore have the eight other brothers and sisters that I know nothing about, but that I would very much like to, not only in the hope of locating those elusive cousins (I've found one so far), but because, well, they're family and I would like to know their stories.

I've told the story of one of the brothers, Herman Henry Ortmann, as far as I could determine it.  Now I would like to relate the story of the next older brother, Joseph.

Joseph Benard Ortmann was born on March 25, 1883, in New York City, the fifth child (second son) of Joseph Ortmann and Anna Schwietering Ortmann.  I assume he was named for his father, Joseph, and his grandfather, Bernard Schwietering.  I don't know how the unusual spelling "Benard" came about, whether it was intentional or a misspelling, but he signed his name that way, as evidenced on his WWI draft registration card:

I don't know much about the childhood of the Ortmann children; the house must have been crowded, surely, and they were definitely not well-off.  During the time of his childhood, Joseph's father changed jobs a number of times (finally settling, for a period of time, as a butcher), and the family seemed to move often -- every couple of years.  By the time of the 1900 Census, we find 17-year-old Joseph working as a bottle sorter, but he was ambitious and was seeking other work.  Here's an ad he put in the New York Daily Tribune, on March 20, 1900:

Please note:  He's representing himself as 18, when he won't be 17 for another five days!

He seems to be doing pretty well for himself, if at the age of 17 he already has good references!

Here we lose track of Joseph for a while; he doesn't show up again until the 1910 Census.  At this point, I'd like to leave Joseph for a bit and pick up another thread, that of the two sisters who would each become his wife, Clara and Mabel Manson.

Clara (1882, Texas) and Mabel (1888, Missouri) Manson were born to Frederick L. Manson and Amanda Sells, a somewhat elusive couple that seem to have been on the move in the states of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas during the 1880s.  Fred was born in Philadelphia, and Manda in Iowa.  Fred had a military career, which would explain the number of times he moved, and while it's a bit difficult to trace, at this point I'm pretty sure I have at least part of his history down.  I had to separate it from an officer named Frederick L. Munson, who was multiple times transcribed as Manson, although in not one of the many handwritten documents related to him is the "u" in the name closed to form an "a."  It clearly is an "a" in Fred Manson's records.   (Major genealogical frustration.)

We first find Fred enlisting in the Army in Philadelphia, on April 3, 1873, joining what looks like the "Philadelphia 9th."  He spent time at Ft. Clark in Texas (where Clara was born), at Ft. Supply in Oklahoma, and almost surely at Ft. Costilla in Colorado, because one document says he was involved in the "Ute Campaign."   He left Company M of  the 4th U.S. Cavalry in 1878, but appears to have re-upped with Company G of the 4th U.S. Cavalry in 1878 and served with them until 1881.  Much later, he appears in San Francisco working as a clerk and dying there in 1923.  He is buried in the military cemetery.  He left a wife, Elizabeth Manson.

Why is Fred's Indian War service relevant to Clara and Mabel's lives, since Clara was born in 1882?  Because by pinning down the military service of a man named Frederick L. Manson, both before and after the birth of his girls, I can see that in 1892, he abandoned them by putting them into an orphanage, the St. Louis Presbyterian Orphan Asylum, when Clara was 11 (maybe 12) and Mabel was 5.  I can find little information on their mother, Amanda J. Sells, except for an appearance in an 1856 Iowa census with her family, the year she was born, and in the 1880 U.S. census, there's a record of Amanda Manson, age 22, with her daughter, Clara, 9 mos., living in Ft. Costilla, Colorado.  She's listed as married, but without a husband -- Fred was likely off on the Ute Campaign.  And this would make Clara several years older than she later indicated she was, but that's not unusual.  I cannot yet find a death record for Amanda Manson, but I strongly suspect that she died between Mabel's birth in 1888 and when the girls were put in the orphanage in 1892.  But I have found in someone else's family tree undocumented information that she died in Iowa after 1900 -- for this to be true, we'd have to imagine Amanda having some kind of illness or problem that caused her to leave her husband and children and go back home.

So here I am, thinking about Clara and little Mabel having lost their family and been left on their own in an orphanage.  I can't imagine what their life was like in that institution, though I have found out that the St. Louis Presbyterian orphanage was a reputable institution for its day.  I've sent an inquiry about whether I can have access to their files, which would record who checked them in and whether anyone ever came to see them.  I hope I can get access to those records.

Clara was discharged from the institution in 1897, supposedly at the age of 15, although if the 1880 census is correct, she would have been about 18.  She stayed on at the orphanage, working as a cook, until Mabel was discharged in 1901, at the age of 14.

Here we also lose the trail of Clara and Mabel for a while, until 1910, when their paths have already crossed with Joseph Ortmann's.  We'll continue the story in Part 2.

St. Louis Presbyterian Orphan Asylum

Jan 23, 2015

Happy Belated Blogiversary

 Happy 2nd Blogiversary !

I admit I lose track of things sometimes, but missing my own blogiversary, well, that's a bit much.  As of yesterday, my blog is two years old:  my inaugural post was on January 22, 2013.  I'll celebrate by recapping a bit.

  • Including this one, I've written 138 posts, with the pace picking up since I retired.
  • Over the two years, I've had 16,242 views!  That feels like a lot.

I'm glad that readers have enjoyed the blog, and I'm especially happy that my family has learned things that they collectively did not know about their ancestors.

Most valuable of all, though, is the enjoyment I've gotten from the research I've done, the writing of my ancestors' stories, the fascinating history I've learned along the way, and the friends I've made in the genealogy community.  In general, genealogists are open-hearted and generous, and I've been very gratified at becoming part of this community. 

Jan 22, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #4: She's a Mystery to Me

Well, I was positive that I wouldn't find anyone closer to my birthday (Sept. 9) than my mother (Sept. 12), but I dutifully went through the list anyway.  And guess what?  I found someone a day closer than my mother, Anne Margrete Otten, born September 7, 1777.  That was a surprise.  But guess what?  I know next to nothing about this woman, other than that she was my great-great-great-great aunt.

What do I know?

1.  She was born on September 7, 1777, and lived to November 23, 1858.  That's a good long life -- 81 years.

2.  We can assume she was a strong and healthy woman, to live that long!

3.  Her parents were Peter Otten (1737-1792) and Anna Jachens (1737-1786).  Not so long-lived, either one of them.

4.  She must have been close to her brother, Johann Harm Otten, because he and his wife named their daughter -- Anna Margrete Otten -- after her.

Where did this information come from?  From a treasure trove of info I found in an Ortsfamilienbuch (OFB) for the Lesum area of Bremen, Germany.  I found many, many ancestors of my great-grandmother, Christiane Bellmer.

What else can I figure out?  Peter Otten is listed as 1) a farmer, 2) a laborer (1780) and 3) a day laborer (1781).  Since I assume these are listed in order, he went from a farmer to a laborer (three years after Anne's birth) to a day laborer, suggesting a downward slope of his position in the world.  Did he have a farm and lose it?  Why? Did he drink, gamble, become disabled and therefore not able to run his farm?  Since the OFB offers no information on Peter's father, Dierk Otten, I don't know whether the farm had been in his family.

Anne seems to have married fairly well -- her husband, Johann Friedrich Fastenau, was the owner of a house and a small piece of land, and was a "wood sawyer."  She was mother to 10 children, only five of whom survived into adulthood. 

So, that's the best I can do for my near birthdate-mate.  I'd like to find out more!

Jan 19, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #3: "Tough Woman"

In thinking about choosing a "tough woman" in my ancestry, I didn't have to look far.  Hands down, it was my maternal grandmother, Sophie Bertha Marie Langer.

Sophie Langer was born on April 11, 1886 in Geestendorf, Bremerhaven, Germany.  Her parents were Maximilian Langer, a chimney sweep, and Christiane Wilhelmine Luise Bellmer Schulze.  At the time of her birth, the first-born of three girls, her mother was 27 and her father, 46.  Her sisters were Martha Johanna (known as Hanni, b. 1890) and Rosa Frieda Lina (known as Lina, b. 1893).  During her life, they lived in various places around the Bremerhaven area.

Historical Map of Bremerhaven

In 1896, Maximilian Langer died; Wilhelmine (as my great-grandmother was known), was left a widow at 37 with three young daughters.  My grandma Sophie was 10 at that time; Hanni and Lina were six and three.  At some point later, she married a locksmith named Wilhelm Boesel, though I know little about that union.  Still, in the intervening time, it must have been difficult, because the family was far, far from wealthy, and they certainly didn't inherit anything upon Max Langer's death.   (You can read the story of Max Langer herehere and here.)

As Sophie grew up, she learned all the womanly arts:  cooking, sewing, crocheting, knitting, and so on.  Her mother must have been an excellent teacher and model, because my grandma did those things so perfectly.  But she used to say that if you created something too perfect, you could be accused of trying to be like God, so she would intentionally put a mistake into everything she made.  (She's the only person I ever knew who would deliberately put a mistake in something; me, I have to work so hard to get rid of all the mistakes I make in any needlework!)  

 Sophie Langer as a young woman.  I'm sure she made the dress.

Some time around 1905 or so, she met the man she would marry, Gustav Berneburg of Hannover.  Gustav was a good-looking man, two years older, and already established with the North German Lloyd company, as a machinist on ocean liners.  During the time they courted, she must have worked in a store, because she is listed on their marriage record as "Verkauferin (sales clerk) Sophie Bertha Marie Langer."  They married on September 11, 1909, in Geestemuende, Bremerhaven.  I have a beautiful tintype of them as a married couple, but as it's framed, I can't scan it, unfortunately.

Gustav and Sophie Berneburg had three children:  Eric Wilhelm (b. 1910), Otto Gustav (b. 1915) and Waltraud Marianna Sophie (b. 1926).  Otto, sadly, died at the age of 16 months, of what illness I'm not sure, but I know my grandmother blamed herself.  That left Eric and Walli, 16 years apart.

Their marriage was not an easy one.  My grandfather was a hard man, one who abused his children.  My mother told me of legendary fights the two of them had, after which neither one would speak to the other for two weeks.  I'm sure whatever Gustav gave, Sophie gave right back, because she was no shrinking violet -- I know she stood up for herself.  This is one of my favorite pictures of her, looking fierce -- 

I wonder. if they lived in the late 20th century instead of the early 20th century, would they have divorced?  I don't know.  But they stayed married for 43 years, until my grandfather's death in 1952.  She outlived him by 29 years, passing away in 1981.

She was not an easy mother.  Born when Sophie was 40, my mother had to deal with parents who were not only old, but from the old country -- the family emigrated to the United States when my mother was three.  They didn't always understand how the new country worked -- my mother would ask to sleep over at another girl's house, and my grandmother would say, "You have your own house, why do you need to sleep at someone else's?"  She was not outwardly affectionate; my mother said that in her entire life, Sophie never said "I love you" to her.  It wasn't part of her culture or nature to be warm and fuzzy with  her children.

For about 15 of those years, she lived with us.  While I'm sure it was hard for my parents to have a mother and particularly a mother-in-law in the house, we children loved having our grandma, and we had a different relationship with her than our mother did.  My mother had determined to be much more openly affectionate with her children, and "I love you" was often said in our house.  But when we said "I love you, Grandma," she would ask my mother, "Why do they say that?"

Still, she was warm, in her way, and she could make peppermints appear out of her bosom, cook us food we loved, make her false teeth pop out, and entertain us with her stories of the past.  And I recently found a letter she wrote to me when I'd moved away, which she signed, "Your loving grandma."

Why do I say she was tough?

1.  She surely had to grow up fast when her father died.  If her mother had to work or take in work, Sophie undoubtedly was in charge of her younger sisters.

2.  She was a businesswoman; in the 1930's she opened a store in New York City that carried beads and such.

3.  She endured a long marriage to a difficult man.   She was a single parent off and on for many years, while Gustav traveled back and forth on ocean liners, and for several years after he emigrated to the United States alone.

4.  She didn't put up with a lot of foolishness or incompetence.  When I was 7 or so and learning how to sew a hem, she had no patience with my fumbling attempts -- she would rip out the stitches and make me do it again.

5.  She lived to the age of 96 with all her faculties and abilities -- for the Bicentennial in 1976, she knit a big American flag that adorned the wall of her nursing home.

Tough or not, we loved our Grandma Sophie, and we miss her very much. I’m sure she’s up in heaven, crocheting slippers to keep the angels’ feet warm.

Genealogically Dazed and Confused

With the new year, all kinds of new possibilities have arisen related to my genealogy research.  I'm kind of befuddled as to where I should be focusing my attention:

1.  Most important, I guess, is getting ready to spend time in the Library in Salt Lake, prior to RootsTech.   I have been working on it but would like to spend more focused time on it.

2.  Thomas MacEntee is running a wonderful "Genealogy Do-Over" series on his Geneabloggers site.  Between the postings on his website and the lively conversation on the related Facebook page, it's a treasure trove of resources and ideas.  People are using this opportunity in various ways -- while I don't think I'm ready for the complete "do-over" (throw out all your research and start again!), I'd love to join others in the "go-over" -- take various actions to review, document, clean up, and so on.  I just haven't found a block of time to really get into this.  Fortunately, I think the posts will remain on Thomas' site so that I can get back to it, but I'd miss the real-time conversation as it's going on on Facebook.

Credit to Geneabloggers

3.  I really, really want to participate in the "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge this year but I'm slow out of the gate.  Here it is Week 3, and I haven't started.  I guess I could start with Week 3 and then go back later to do the first two weeks.  This plays havoc with my (probably neurotic) need to do things "the correct way," but it would get me started.

What to do, what to do?  I guess I should quit dithering around -- quit writing posts about it! -- and just get down to it.  I think I'll start with Week #3 of 52 Ancestors . . . the theme for this week is "Tough Woman."  I sure have plenty of those!

Jan 18, 2015

Are you ready for the FHL and RootsTech?

With reference to my previous post, I'm feeling pretty scatter-shot these days.  I'm leaving for Salt Lake in 23 days, and I'm scrambling to be ready to walk into that Library.  But I guess this is the way my questions are shaping up.

1.  Who was grandfather Gustav Berneburg's mother?  Family says Hermine Kleemann, documents say Johanna Schmidt.  We have an emotional stake in this, because he was a hard, abusive man, and uncovering some of his origins might shed some light on the challenges in his life.

2.  Who was great-grandmother Christiane Bellmer's father?  She was born illegitimately, but her mother appears to have married someone named Christian Schulze later.  Christian/Christiane?  I'd like to find evidence of that marriage and I hope it might contain some tidbit acknowledging that she was his biological daughter; that would open up the Schulzes as a bloodline to pursue.

3.  Did great-great-grandfather Anton Langer leave Silesia for the U.S., following his son Johann to Emmett, Wisconsin?  The dates and ages are compatible, but I have no evidence that Anton left Oberglogau.  I need to look at the death register to see if he died in Silesia -- if so, case closed.

I think these will be more than enough -- at this point, I'm combing the catalog to see what microfilms I might pre-order, to have them ready when I get there.  From all I've heard/read, you need to hit the ground running in order to make the most of your time in the Library.  Having been trained as a social science researcher, I do know my way around doing research in a library, but this is the Library, and I probably won't have a chance to get back there for a while, if ever.

Can't wait.

Jan 17, 2015

I Have a Treasure --

A week or two ago, my (only first) cousin told me she had a little old book that she couldn't make heads or tails of, but she could see the word "Geestemuende," where our family lived, and 1910 and 1926, the dates of her father's and my mother's births.

Did I want it?

Oh yes I did.  I had no idea of what it was, but told her to send it right along.  The envelope appeared yesterday, and as I opened it and saw what it contained, my hands started to tremble.  Here it is:

For those who don't know, a "Familien-Stammbuch" is a civil family register.  What I received was an original document containing my grandparents' marriage certificate and the record of each of their children's births.

These were original copies of documents I'd been trying to get for years -- long ago, a member of an email list in Bremerhaven volunteered to go to the archive for me and look these exact things up.  He did in fact go and sent me scans of the documents, but the scans were so bad that they were virtually illegible.  The gentleman was in his 80's, and when I asked whether he could re-scan the documents and re-send them, he just didn't respond, and I was reluctant to pursue it.

But here now are the very documents, in my hands.  While much of the information is not new, one thing stood out -- the stamps reveal the churches in which my mother and uncle were baptized.  This is amazing information, because again I've been trying for a long time to figure out which church in Bremerhaven was the right one.  Knowing now, I had the pleasure of watching a video that had historic photographs from the Pauluskirche in Wesermuende.

What a treasure!

Jan 13, 2015

A Family Photo: An Unexpected Delight!

Just a quick post --

I haven't followed my son's father's genealogy too much at this point; fortunately, there are people who have clearly done a lot of documented work that will get me going when I get serious about it.

Still, I swing over to that side of the tree every now and then, and discovered a wonderful photograph and a distant cousin of my son's to go with the photo.  She has done a huge amount of work (since 1957!) and appears to be a terrific source of information.

So here's the picture:

Credit to Nancy Kay Crook Thomas for this photograph

 The father in the picture is Louis F. Earthman, my son's 3X great-grandfather, and the oldest boy at the top is his great-great grandfather, William George Napoleon Earthman.

I know you know how exciting this is -- a picture!  And a cousin!  And coincidentally, I just ordered Louis F's military record from the National Archives, along with my great-grandfather's (Joseph Ortmann).  Can't wait to get those.

The smallest things create such great happiness . . . 

Jan 11, 2015

Saturday Night Fun on Sunday

I didn't get to Genea-Musings' "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun" until Sunday, but I think it's a worthwhile exercise to do on any day.  The idea is to make a table that lays out 10 direct-line generations and potentially how many people could be in that group.  Then you look at your tree to see how many people you have out of the possible ones at each level.

So here's my table, with credit to Chris Cowan's "What's Your Number" post for the table itself:

Possible People
My Tree


















2X Great-




3X Great-




4X Great-




5X Great-




6X Great-




7X Great-



Total:  1023


plus 6 - 8X Great-Grandparents and 1 - 9X Great-grandparent

I'm pleased to see how well I've done up to the 2X level -- only one great-grandmother who's turned out to be a brick wall.  From there, despite the fact that I'm only about 10% complete on the whole thing,  I'm really pleased at how far I've come since I started!  People in each level, up to 12th generation!  My very oldest is Gerd von Glaan, born in 1598.  Wow!  (So many exclamation points!)

This also gives me more ideas about what I want to tackle at the Family History Library.  Hermine Kleemann, that great-grandmother, is certainly on the list.  And I could focus on filling out that 3X great-grandparent level, across the board.

The thing is, I don't know how much I can accomplish in 2-1/2 days.  But I got a tip that you should have one main focus (say, Hermine Kleemann) and then a list of possible other things, if you either solve that problem right away or discover that it won't be easily solved at the Library.

So, a worthy exercise.  Did you do yours?

The Scattershot Genealogist: "Ooh, shiny!"

Yesterday, I was trying to get caught up with a bunch of tasks, getting caught up in my research, getting ready to go to Salt Lake City for RootsTech in a couple of weeks.  Here's what I've pulled from my history, to show what I was up to yesterday:

Geneabloggers website (multiple times)
Geneabloggers facebook page (multiple times)
Genealogy Bloggers at RootsTech 2015 facebook page
Genealogy Do-Over facebook page (multiple times)
Genealogical Speakers Guild
DearMYRTLE's Genealogy blog
Book of Me
Bag the Web
Scrivener Mini-Bootcamp
Literature and Latte
Ancestry (multiple times)
Tripped by My Roots
Heather Wilkinso Rojo's site
Living in the Past (my blog)

Read an article on:
Ancestral Findings' site

Essential family tree forms
Filemarker free edition
Windows Magnifier
ACOM German Civil Registration .pdf
RootsTech iPad app
RootsMagic 7

Googled several ancestors/potential cousins (and found a possible cousin is a registered sex offender -- gaakh!)
Googled API

Ordered a couple of genealogy-related books from Amazon

So . . . can we see what the problem is here?  I've written about being a "slapdash genealogist," in terms of not feeling very organized overall in my research.  But this is a little different -- on one day, I seem to go from subject to subject, as I read people's posts on facebook, and I want to follow up on ideas or suggestions from those posts, I go to a website and then that brings something else up, so I go there, I frantically download things that may be of use, I bookmark this and that -- and in the end, what have I accomplished? 

I remember feeling this way in grad school, writing my dissertation -- every article I read led to other articles, different ideas, different possible topics.  I finally had to just say "STOP!" and focus on what I had, or the work was never going to be done.

I guess focus is the issue, how to keep myself focused on one topic in a particular session.  Robert Frost talks about "how way leads on to way,"* and that's the problem here -- I start off on one path, but then something grabs my attention, and something else, and on it goes, until the original intention I held when I sat down to work is lost.

 This is how I look, after a couple of hours.

What tricks or techniques do you use to stay focused on a particular subject?  If you see something interesting, how do you essentially save that for later, so you don't get distracted from your original intention?  I'd love to have some advice.

*Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

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