Oct 25, 2015

What happened to Baby Dorothy?

A few years ago, someone told me that if you're stuck on a particular ancestor's story, you should write down everything you know.  I did it for my great-grandfather, Joseph Ortmann, and now I'd like to try it for my paternal grandmother, Mary/Marie/Maria/May/Mae Siegler Ortman (yes, she did use all those variations of her name over her lifetime).

Mary A. Siegler was born on March 23,1895, in Woodhaven, New York; her parents were George Siegler, a barber, and the former Matilda Hug.  In May of 1889, a brother, Nicholas, was born, but unfortunately he lived only a few months, dying in August, 1889.  After many years passed, George and Matilda had another child, Dorothy G. Siegler, in 1912, making a more than 16-year difference between the two sisters (though I remember clearly my grandmother telling me many times it was a 12-year difference -- don't we all shave off a year or two where we can?).

In 1916, when Mary was 20, she married a bank clerk named Frank Sanger*, age 21, in Manhattan.

New York City marriage record retrieved from http://italiangen.org/records-search/grooms.php

In November, 1916, of course, the United States was gearing up to enter World War I; was Frank going with them?

U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

Nope -- he received a deferment because of "weak lungs."  I'm not sure whether that meant he was born prematurely or whether he had tuberculosis (a disease that can have long periods of dormancy) or some other cause, but in any case, he stayed home.

Some time in mid-summer 1918, Mary discovered that she was pregnant; on October 18th of that year, Frank died.  Did he succumb to tuberculosis or was he one of the 30,736 people that died of influenza in New York City in the six weeks leading up to a November 1st report?  It wouldn't be surprising for a person with weak lungs become a victim of the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918-1919.

So sadly, Mary was alone, and her daughter was born on April 26, 1919.  Here's where the story becomes a little confusing, at least to other genealogists; because Mary named her baby Dorothy, after her sister, Dorothy Sanger and Dorothy Siegler become confused.   At the time of Dorothy Sanger's birth, Dorothy Siegler was 7 years old.

Part of the confusion comes from the 1920 United States Census:

1920 United States Census

We see that Mary has moved back home with George and Matilda; she is listed as Mary Sanger, age 24, a married woman.  But the census taker has made a mistake:  He drew a line where Dorothy's surname was, as he did with Matilda above, and where the line by Matilda suggests her surname is Siegler, the line by Dorothy suggests her name is Sanger, which cannot be the case.  A baby born in 1919 could not be 8 years old, as this Dorothy is, in 1920.  But Dorothy Siegler, who was born in 1912, was indeed 8 years old in 1920, and she was the daughter of George and Matilda, not Mary.

So this begs the question:  What happened to Baby Dorothy?

Would Mary have returned home without her baby?  Did Baby Dorothy die?  I've searched through the Sanger family and haven't found her living with August and Rose, Frank's parents; with Hilda, Frank's sister; or August, Frank's brother.  In fact, in the 1920 Census we find that August Sr. has died, and Rose is living with Hilda and her husband, William Huebner, and August and his wife, Margaret.  No Baby Dorothy living with them.

So I don't know.  If I order the death records on microfilm from the Salt Lake Library, I guess I can find out whether she died.  But there are a couple of other tantalizing things about this story.

When my grandmother returned home, she appears to have dropped the name Sanger, at least informally (it appears on her later Social Security application, though).  But later in 1920, her engagement to my grandfather was announced in the local paper:

Brooklyn Standard Union, 10/10/1920

Notice her name:  Miss May Siegler, not Mrs. Frank Sanger, widow.  Did she want to erase the traces of her previous marriage (and child)?  Did my grandfather know she'd previously been married, or was it a secret kept within the Siegler family?  Did my father know he had an older half-sister?  William and Mary never had any children other than my father, so he grew up without siblings.  William J. Ortman and Mary (Mae) Siegler were married on June 29, 1921.

One more possibility which, though an extremely long shot, might explain a few things.  In the 1920 Census, I do find an 8 month old Dorothy Sanger:

This Dorothy is living with Nathan and Rose Sanger, their only child.  Notice that these Sangers emigrated from Austria (August and Rose were from Germany), and that their native language was . . . Yiddish.  Could these two Sanger families be related?  Could Frank Sanger's family have converted to Christianity somewhere along the way?  (August Sr.'s obituary indicates that he was Catholic.)  Could Mary's family have tried to keep this secret, that her daughter was growing up in a Jewish household?

Our family lore says that at the time of his marriage, William John Ortman was disowned by his family, the story holding that their union was unacceptable because Mary was Lutheran and William was Catholic.  What if the secret got out, that Mary had married into a formerly Jewish family and that her daughter was being raised in that faith?  Could the shameful anti-Semitism of the day have been the cause of that rupture, one that was never healed?  My grandfather never spoke to his parents or his eight siblings again.  That seems rather extreme for a Lutheran/Catholic union, especially when I see evidence in other branches of my tree that ancestors of different Christian faiths intermarried.

What are my next steps, to try to find Baby Dorothy?

1.  Order the microfilm that contains New York death records for 1919.  Dorothy was born in April, the census taken in January, so that narrows it down a bit.

2.  Keep looking for a connection between August Sanger and Nathan Sanger, through other family trees or by going back a generation or more in records.

I may never have the answer to all of my questions, and that's one of the very frustrating things about genealogy -- there are some things that  you will just never, ever know.  But the search can still be worthwhile.

*For the purposes of this blog post, I have given Frank and his family a pseudonym.

Oct 7, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Easter Finery

Easter, 1961.   Almost wordless -- I have to mention that my mom made all our clothes, even the coats.  I'm on the far left.  Then my mom, my brother (who looks absolutely miserable), my sister Deb and our Grandma Sophie who lived with us.

I think my sister and I could have had a future as Victoria's Secret models, don't you agree?

Ten foods from my childhood --

I just discovered Gina Philibert-Ortega's blog, "Food.  Family.  Ephemera."  Wow, what fun that blog is!  Today, she wrote about baked bean sandwiches, and that triggered such memories for me.

We used to have baked bean sandwiches -- beans on a piece of (white) bread, topped with cheese (Swiss for me), and then broiled until the cheese melted.   You had to eat it with a fork.

This got me started thinking about foods that I enjoyed in my long-ago youth, but don't make any more.  Here are 10 I remember, besides the baked bean sandwiches -- what foods do you remember from your childhood?

1.  "German baby food."  I don't know what else to call this.  My grandmother would make it for us -- spaghetti pasta sautéed in butter with cinnamon and sugar.  Extreme comfort food.

2.  Chow mein -- remember those cans of Chun King chow mein that had the little can of noodles on top?  My grandma would make chow mein from scratch that was so much better than that.

3.  Speaking of those cans of noodles, my mother would make cookies of a sort by pouring melted chocolate over little mounds of the noodles.  I think we called them "bird's nests."

4.  Shrimp dip.  I wish I could find a recipe for the shrimp dip that was popular in the 1950's -- it was delicious and it appeared at every special occasion.  I think it had cream cheese in it.

5.  Rouladen.  Again, Grandma would make this for us -- roll-ups of beef with bacon and onion inside (for those in the know -- NO pickle!).

6.  Fresh pork roast.  Okay, I'm a Midwestern girl; I love my pork roast.  My mother would get one with the rind on it and it would come out all crispy and crunchy.  Of course, we'd never eat that nowadays, would we?

Speaking of roasts, my mother would always put the Sunday dinner roast in the oven before we went to church, and when we came back, the whole house would smell wonderful.  We'd have our Sunday dinner at noontime, and then at suppertime, we'd have sandwiches from the roast in front of the tv while we watched Ed Sullivan or Disney's Wonderful World of Color.


The picture is from one of the best nights of my life.  The Beatles on Ed Sullivan!  I was in love with George, though I can't tell you why.

7.  Green bean casserole.  Okay, people still make this, right?  With the beans and mushroom soup and the crispy onions on the top?  Only now we probably make it with fresh beans instead of canned.

So, green beans.  When I was a kid, I hated green beans.  My mother and I had a showdown once about canned French-cut green beans.  I was going to sit there until I ate them.  Any one else remember that?  I'm sure she won, though I'm also sure I made plenty of dramatic gagging noises as I choked them down.

8.  Liver and onions with spinach.  This was not my favorite meal; it was probably my least favorite one.  Beef liver and spinach from a can.  Ugh!  At least my mother would serve it at the same meal, so we could get it all over with for a while.

9.  Green jello mold.  All my life, I have hated Jello.  I hate the wiggly-ness of it, the way it slides down your throat.  The only time I willingly ate it was after my son was born and I hadn't eaten for about 36 hours -- they served me Jello and I wolfed it down.  But my mom would make a Jello mold that I could tolerate -- the Jello was whipped with something, probably cream cheese again, and it had pineapples in it.  That I would eat.  But not a lot.

10.  Chef BoyArDee pizza.  A big night at our house when we had pizza.  It all came in a kit, the dough, the sauce, the sprinkly cheese.  If we were lucky, Mom added pepperoni.  Those who didn't like their crusts would pass them down the table to Grandma, who thought chewing on them was good for her jaws.

11.  Exotic foods.  I was only going to do 10, but I have to mention artichokes.  Every so often, my mother would bring home an artichoke and we would eat it with drawn butter.  It was so exotic and so elegant and we would all share the one artichoke.  Now I live in artichoke country, and sometimes for the three of us, we get three big ones and call it dinner.  But I won't forget how wonderful those Minnesota artichokes were.

What foods do you remember from your childhood?

Oct 6, 2015

An Update on My E-Book

A while ago, I did a series of posts on doing German genealogical research, its joys and agonies.  So many people read the series (in total, the posts were accessed over 7,000 times) and commented on how helpful they were, that I thought I'd expand the series into an e-book.

At this point, I'm more than one-third of the way through the manuscript.

The book is organized in three sections:  1) A case study of researching in the U.S. for the birthplace of my German great-grandfather, Joseph Ortmann; 2)  a case study of researching in Germany for the birthplace of another great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer; and 3)  a cautionary tale for beginning genealogists -- something I had to learn the hard way.

I'd like to do a little crowd-sourcing on this book while it's in progress.  I have the first case study done at this point and would love to have a couple of volunteers read it and give me feedback.  I'd especially like to hear from people who consider themselves newcomers to genealogy, because that's my intended audience.  I'd like to see if I'm on-track as I work on the next case study.

It's about 12 single-spaced pages in Word (and there are quite a few illustrations).  If you would be willing to give it a read, please send your email to ewormuth at gmail dot com, with a comment on your experience in genealogy.  In return, I will gladly acknowledge your help in the book itself and provide you with a free copy when it comes out.

To read the original set of posts, in the "Labels" section of the sidebar, click on "german genealogy series" and read from the bottom up.


Oct 3, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: My Best Genealogy Day Ever

It's Saturday night again, and Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings has given us the following assignment: 

What was your very "Best Genealogy Day Ever?"  It might be the day you solved a thorny research problem, or spent the day at a repository and came away with more records than you could imagine, or the day you met a cousin or visited an ancestral home.

Boy, this is a tough one.  Was it the day I finally discovered my great-grandfather's birthplace in Germany?  Or the day I learned why another great-grandfather died in a "lunatic asylum"?  I think I'll choose a more ordinary day, the kind of day that every genealogist knows well:  the day on which hours were spent viewing microfilms, a day on which I discovered much information about a particular branch of my family.

My great-grandfather, Maximilian Langer, posed a number of interesting problems.  He died far from his Bremerhaven home, in Goettingen, and after a number of attempts I was able to acquire his death certificate, which was a treasure trove.  Not only did it include the place of his birth, Oberglogau, Silesia, but also the names of his parents, Anton Langer and Barbara Kura. 

Wanting to know more, I ordered a number of microfilms from Salt Lake City with records from Oberglogau.  When they arrived, I headed over to the local Family History Library, eager to see what I could find.

I found a lot!  Many hours later, I had tons of records photographed with my iPad:

So many records for Langers!  After hours of watching microfilm spin by, I had a major headache and decided to head home to see what I had.  Looking at all my photos, I was able to begin to organize them into family groups:

It looks like a mess, right?  But I was able to establish the family group of my great-grandfather; father Anton Langer, mother Barbara Kura, Anton's first wife, Johanna Kura, siblings Carl, Anna, and Johann.  I found the birth record of my great-grandfather:

All in all, a great day, as far as I was concerned.  Genealogy involves a great deal of grunt work, and I put in my time on that day, coming out with some great results.  I guess some days were better in terms of sheer excitement, but I'm proud of the hard work I did and the treasures that I found.

Oct 2, 2015

MyHeritage is perplexing me --

This morning I got a new kind of message from MyHeritage, about what to me is a new thing, an "Instant Discovery."  The message said this:

"Good news, we’ve found a new Instant Discovery™ for you. It can add an entire branch to your family tree with 20 people, in just a few clicks!"

Well, that sounded interesting, so I headed over to the site, where I saw this attractive graphic:

All rights to this image belong to MyHeritage

This kind of thing is intriguing, right?  With just a few clicks, I can add 20 new people to my family tree.  While attaching a new branch like this is potentially exciting, I do have a few problems with it.

If I click on the "View Discovery" button, I am taken to a screen where the two main people are set side by side, with the information from both family trees (mine and in this case, B. Jensen's).  I am asked, "Is this the same person?  Yes or No."  At this point, I would like to look at my family tree and B. Jensen's family tree, but there's no link I can click, only "Yes or No."  If I back out of the comparison screen and try to look up B. Jensen's family tree by clicking on the "Home" tab and going down to "Site Members," I have no luck -- it tells me that there's no member with either the name "B. Jensen" or just plain "Jensen."  I'm perplexed at this point.

If I go ahead and click "Yes," an animation combines the two individuals and then shows me the merged individual and all the connected ancestors from the other person's family tree -- in this case, 20 people.  At this point, my options are  "Add to My Tree," or "Reject Discovery."  If I reject the discovery, I get an ominous message telling me that if I reject it, I will never be offered it again.  If I accept and add the people to my tree, presto changeo, they're added.

What's the problem with this?  Well, sitting in my Discovery Hub right now are four different possibilities for adding new branches, 80 in all (why in each case is the group made up of exactly 20 people?) just with a couple of clicks.  But I haven't been able to look at the family trees in question, and I have no idea of what the sources of these people are, whether there's any documentation on them and so on.  Also, in not one of the four cases can I find the site member in the MyHeritage directory, so there's no way for me to back out of the Discovery Hub and go look at their tree.

I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who's troubled about this -- we all know the danger in adding people willy-nilly to our trees, especially without documentation.  But with its new Discovery Hub, MyHeritage seems to be encouraging this bad habit, and I'm afraid I'm against using what might be valuable information.  But there's no way for me to know that.  

I feel as if I'm missing something with this new, potentially exciting feature.  Can someone with an insight into MyHeritage give me an idea of what they intend with this, and how it is helpful to serious genealogists?  I'd appreciate it.

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