November 24, 2016: Find-A-Grave is your best friend

Well, maybe not your best friend, but it's an awfully useful tool. Thanks to Find-A-Grave participant Saratoga for this series of photos!

Thirteen years ago when I was trying to unravel the story of All Our Jathos in Charleston, South Carolina I had to fly there and traipse around Magnolia Cemetery to find the Jatho plot. Now that diligent volunteers are stepping in, things are much more easily found.

Elise Jatho's headstone is fairly accurate and tells us that she was the "relict" (widow) of George W. Jatho, who was buried (for whatever reason) across the state in Greenwood, South Carolina. The family was living there at the time. Perhaps it was too expensive to bring the patriarch back to Charleston where the family had their primary residence.

It was also the first major death in the family, occurring in 1870, and it would have been expedient to plan for a local burial, which was arranged by G.W. Senior's Mason brethren.

At some point, after the family moved back to Charleston, a "perpetual care" plot was established at Magnolia, one of the two cemeteries favored by the German Lutheran community in town. Perpetual care was a financial arrangement that allowed for future family burials in the same spacious plot, here located under a restful oak tree and surrounded by beautiful azaleas (you can see an image of the Jatho plot in the slide show that rotates on our home page).

Perpetual care was also an insurance program of sorts, allowing the cemetery to hire groundskeepers to keep things tidy for all patrons. It's a mandatory program today but was not required during the time of the Jatho burials.

Using information on a Find-A-Grave page is helpful for genealogists but must still be cross-checked with other sources of information. The volunteer Saratoga isn't a family member who's related to these Jathos, and as a result he or she doesn't have complete information on the burials. There are actually more children and even grandchildren of Elise Jatho buried here. One son, Carl Julius Jatho, died in 1929 in Bartow County, Florida and is not represented here (we're still looking for him!). Another son, William George Jatho, is buried across the street in Bethany Cemetery with his in-laws, the Rev. Louis Müller and wife Caroline Laurent Müller.

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November 4, 2016: The Traveling MacLaughlans

Thanks to a new online database, I found out that my grandparents moved around a bit...after they had both passed on.

Why did they spend their first years of eternal repose in Little Rock, Arkansas, a place where our family has no connections? One can only speculate. But the database "Arkansas, Oakland and Fraternal Historic Cemetery Records, 1867-2013" gave me quite a surprise this week.

The index card shows that Alva and Marie MacLaughlan's "cremains" (as cremated remains are called in the industry) were removed from the Oakland and Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park in 1991, when their daughter requested that they be relocated to a cemetery in Santa Barbara. Except for the fact that none of us knew that Alva and Marie were in Arkansas in the first place, the request makes some sense. Their daughter was living in Santa Barbara at the time. The card noted that the plot owner was Mrs. Dolores C. Brewer but the daughter requesting the move was Carole Walkley. In reality they were the same person.

It wouldn't be clear to most folks why two different names for the same woman would be used on this record, but it was necessary for my aunt. Her partner, Reuben Walkley, had an aversion to her family and insisted that she change her name. Of course he could have done that by marrying her, but he was still married to his first wife. I digress. On with the tale!

In 1957, why was Little Rock, Arkansas the best place for Alva and Marie? They had no family there. Their children and grandchildren couldn't visit them there. Of their four children, one lived in Florida, one in Nebraska, and two in California. The only possible reason: Dolores' then-husband Jim Brewer had been born in Arkansas. Maybe these were left-over family plots and convenient to use. On the other hand, there's a timing issue that is a bit of a puzzle.

From the same collection are handwritten entries from the cemetery sexton's daily records, and above is the one for Marie, who died March 16, 1956 in Los Angeles. But the sexton's record says she arrived at Oakwood & Fraternal Cemetery in Little Rock on March 7, 1957, nearly a year later.

Where had she been during the previous year? On somebody's mantlepiece? In somebody's garage? Does this suggest a family rumpus over the burial location? Probably...but there's nobody around to tell us.

Alva died on August 18, 1957, also in Los Angeles, but his banishment to Little Rock was more punctual and he arrived a month after his death. There Alva and Marie resided together on Poplar Drive until 1991, thirty-four years later. Then it was off to Santa Barbara, California for them both.

Strangely, Dolores (or Carole, take your pick) told no one in the family that her parents' remains had gone a-wandering. It remained unknown to all of us until Find-A-Grave indexed them and revealed Alva and Marie to be Californians once again, this time in perpetuity...we hope!

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October 27, 2016: A grim report

Regularly I'll search on an ancestor's name, say every few weeks, because I know that new databases are being brought online, and that means new results. One of the areas where records are hard to come by is Schleswig-Holstein, where records have traditionally only been available at the local archives, reachable by researchers in the area.

Thus it was a nice surprise to see a couple of names I recognized: Peter Hansen Petersen and Elise Christina Momsen, my great-great-grandparents. But the record where they are referenced wasn't so cheery. Click the image at left to enlarge it.

The collection "Deutschland, Schleswig-Holstein, Schleswig-Flensburg, Zivilstandsregister, 1874-1983" has a death record for their oldest living son, Emil Jacob Petersen. Born in 1847 in the village of Tinningstedtfeld close to the Danish border, he was apparently living near Glückstadt, north of Hamburg, when he met his end. The record is in the form of a police report and is unusually detailed.

We don't know the exact cause of death in 1894: he may have stumbled into a canal and drowned, he may have been murdered (the police report doesn't speculate), or he may have committed suicide. But the translation (provided kindly by Mattias Steinke from the German Genealogy Facebook page) suggests a tragic end to his life.

The translation: "Glückstadt, the 21st of March 1894 - By official document of the police-administration here on the 21st of March 1894 -journal nr. 472 - is reported, that the ragman Emil Jacob Petersen, 47 years old, Lutheran religion, residing in Engelbrechtsche Wildnis, Herrendeich, born in Tinningstedtfeld, county of Tondern, been married to (name and residence of the wife unknown) son of the couple Peter Hansen Petersen and the Elise Christina nee Momsen, both residing in Tinningstedtfeld, profession of them unknown, in Glückstadt in the black water (Schwarzeswasser) at the 28 March of the year 1894 pre-midday at 8:30 was found dead. The death happened on the 25th February 1894 past midday at abt. 11:30. The registrar (signature) - correction: before certifying of this document it is corrected, that the deceased was found on the 20 March 1894. Glückstadt, 21st March 1894 - the registrar (signature)."

"Schwarzeswasser" is actually the name of a canal in Engelbrechtsche Wildnis, as shown currently on Google Maps. It must have been a place well known to the clerk, who wrote up this account.

It's not known how Emil Jacob ended up so far away from his town of origin, or why the name of his wife wasn't provided. But this does seem to have affected his relatives in Chicago, who had emigrated there in the early 1890s.

Emil's parents were no longer living, having died sometime between 1885-1890 in Nebraska, the state where they emigrated in 1878. But four of Emil's brothers were living in Nebraska and Wisconsin, and his sister Catherine Petersen was in Chicago, expecting a baby just as this news would have broken, perhaps by telegram. Catherine's son, Alfred Emil, was born 24 March 1894, just days after Emil was found. So baby Alfred carried the names of two of Catherine's brothers, one alive in Omaha, one sadly deceased in Glücksatdt.

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October 10, 2016: New directions has updated its online collection of Chicago directories, which is good news for anyone with ancestors in the city. There are fragmentary years from 1844-1869, but from 1870-1901 their more or less continuous. Quality of the scans are, like the winds, "light and variable," but it's good to have something to work with if you're hunting an elusive ancestor.

There are a number of Hans Petersens (and Petersons) sprinkled liberally through the directories during the 1890s, which is likely the decade that my great-grandfather Hans Petersen came to Chicago from Hebron, Nebraska. He and his father, Lorenz P. Petersen, had been farmers in Belle Prairie and Hebron, but something inspired their move to Chicago around that time. Perhaps they'd made decent money selling farmland in Hebron. Possibly there were better prospects for income in a big city like Chicago.

The first documents we've seen previously in Chicago were birth registry for Hans and Catherine's son Johann Christian (1890), a death certificate for Lorenz (1891), and another birth of Edward Andreas (1892). But until the 1900 U.S. federal census there's precious little trace of the Petersens.

It's a given that with the missing 1890 census, directories are the best evidence. And here Hans is, listed in 1896-1897 at 4735 S. Paulina Ave., the street where we know he and his family were living in 1900. Hans is listed as a driver, probably a cart driver. That occupation is going to help us track him through the city throughout the decade before the turn of the previous century.

And now we also know where to get the best and cheapest silk umbrellas in town!

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September 19, 2016: A family portrait

From a cousin Albert Esser in Germany comes this much appreciated excerpt from the local church books of Überau in Hesse-Darmstadt.

It appears to be a transcription from the main church book at the time, detailing the couple's marriage date, births and deaths of their first four children. How can we surmise that it's a transcription? Usually birth, marriage, and death records are kept separately in discreet sections of the volume. But here the records are all grouped together.

The even, clear handwriting, the uniform color of the ink (which would have been mixed by the clerk), and the minimal variation in script point to its production by one person during one part of the same day. He was likely copying out the information from the primary church book, for whatever reason.

The rest of this couple's children were registered in Reinheim nearby, so perhaps this record was meant to summarize their orthographic "portrait" in the parish of Überau before they left it for Reinheim.

Johann Georg Vonderschmitt and his wife Elisabethe Margarete frey were married in 1753, presumably in Überau, and had their first four children there. Six more were born in Reinheim.

It gives us a bit more information about Elisabethe, who died 29 March 1785 at the relatively young age of 49. And for each bit of new information we're very grateful.

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September 7, 2016: He made a mint

I received a nice email from a collector who ran across this interesting coin and wondered what it was all about.

So did I. First thought was that it had something to do with our George W. Jatho of Charleston, South Carolina. Maybe scrip of some kind for purchases of goods or supplies? George was, in fact, a merchant broker early in his career, and a reasonably successful one. He and his younger brother, William G. Jatho, were partners at one point. But I'd never run across an artifact like this.

Other people had, it turns out.

This coin is related to a different George W. Jatho entirely, one who lived in Defiance, Ohio. The system represented by this coin was manufactured by the Ingle Company of Dayton, Ohio. In the days before credit cards, these coins could be used like credit and were meant to relieve merchants from the tedium of bookkeeping with voluminous ledger entries. You can read more about the system here.

George Jatho in Defiance was a jeweler and a grocer, born in May 1860 to German immigrant parents in either Ohio or New York. He can be found in a number of census records in Ohio with his wife, Nancy Jane Good Jatho, and their daughter Minnie. The scrip was shipped to Defiance in 1913, and it's reasonable to assume that he used these tokens when he established himself as a grocer in town.

The inevitable question: Were the two George W. Jathos related? Possibly but available documentation doesn't confirm this. There's a cluster of Jatho families in and around Dransfeld, Hanover, Germany from the 1600s onward, and the few that emigrated to the USA went to scattered states, such as South Carolina, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. A clan of Jathos also settled in the Bay Area of Northern California. Did they all come from around Dransfeld? Where more detailed origins are documented, usually they indicate an origin in Hanover, so it's possible.

One way to confirm it is through male line, or Y-chromosome, DNA tests. Only direct male descendants of an ancestral Jatho will carry the DNA pattern to confirm a match. Alas, that lets out George W. Jatho of Defiance. His only child was Minnie, and women don't carry the matching pattern to confirm the genetic haplogroup. We're left in the dark about any possible connection between the Jathos of Defiance and Charleston.

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August 26, 2016: The Hamel mystery

We've run into her before, with her headstone in the Louis Müller D.D. plot at Bethany Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina. Thanks to a local death record we were even able to identify her friendly proximity to the Rev. Müller by identifying Katheryn as Adelina Catherina Frederike Müller, the ninth child of Rev. Müller and his wife Caroline Laurent.

But chasing down her husband, Herman Hamel, has proven to be more challenging. As Katherine, sometimes Adeline K. Hamel, Katheryn appears in a variety of Charleston city directories between 1923-1935, usually labeled as the widow of Herman. But Herman is nowhere to be found, neither in census records, vital records, or Charleston directories. I was beginning to fear that Katheryn had made him up.

But she hadn't. There was a clue in an obituary for Katheryn (September 24, 1935 issue of the Charleston Evening Post) that recently became available in one of the online newspaper archives that's particularly rich in items from Charleston.

There's no mention of being the widow of a Herman Hamel, but the fact that she was a professional nurse and a superintendent of the General hospital of Lancaster, Pennsylvania gave some context for her whereabouts prior to the 1920s. Look at records for Pennsylvania, not South Carolina.

A search of yielded no results, not even in Pennsylvania. But as if often the case, a search of the resources did turn up an application for a marriage. Different databases, even with the same set of records, can turn up what you're looking for due to different search parameters. That's worth keeping in mind when one database comes up empty.

Their 1914 application for a marriage reveals a lot about this couple. Herman was 57, Katheryn 51, second marriage for him, with his previous wife dying on July 11, 1911. No previous marriage for Katheryn, and her parents' names match the ones we know. Looking for a Hamel who died in Westmoreland County in July 1911 brings up a solid match with Sophia Boomer Hamel, who was Herman's first wife and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Pay dirt, so to speak.

More interestingly, Herman was buried with his first wife. That may have had something to do with the time frame of his marriage to Katheryn, which was only four years long. On Herman's death certificate the informant was his daughter Helen Irene Hamel, not Herman's wife Katheryn.

It's hard to draw a conclusion from this. Were he and Katheryn estranged? Did his children from his first marriage not approve of the second? Katheryn is not named explicitly in Herman's obituary from the Jeannette News ("He is survived by his widow and three children: William C Hamel, of Laurelville; Mrs. Elizabeth Hamel and Miss Helen Hamel"), but his children are named in full.

In any case the favor was returned in Katheryn's obituary, where there's no mention of Herman Hamel either. Perhaps Kartheryn's survivors were making a statement of their own!

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August 10, 2016: Back home to Bethany

Despite living to a ripe old age in Chicago, Jennie Müller Jatho was still known fondly in her Charleston, South Carolina home town. You can bet her surviving sisters, Helena and Katherine, had a lot to do with making sure the local newspapers carried the proper note of Jennie's passing.

All a local paper had to do was reveal the deceased's ancestry for local folks to know who she was. Several obituaries in the Charleston papers mention the parents Louis Müller and Caroline Laurent. Memories were still fresh. Louis had been an esteemed pastor of St. Matthew's German Lutheran church for fifty years before his own death in 1898, and many still remembered Louis' formidable wife Caroline Laurent. Even today descendants can tell you how Caroline signalled her mood for the day, and if she came downstairs wearing the telltale Blouse of Doom, stay out of her way!

By all accounts Jennie was equally steely but suffused with sweetness and familial devotion. A musician throughout her life, she was renown in Charleston for her light operettas, sung in harmony with her husband William while he was alive, and then after his death in 1904 Jennie was a much sought-after singer and piano accompanist.

A family issue arose in 1910 that compelled Jennie and her children to relocate to Chicago, where her sister Margaret Rinck lived, but Jennie returned to her permanent home to join William Jatho in his plot at Bethany Cemetery. His headstone reminds us of his name. The family, for some reason, didn't order a headstone for Jennie. Luckily for us, online newspaper collections verify where she rests today.

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July 30, 2016: Back in action

The new site offers a cleaner design, a slideshow of interesting images, a preloader to defeat that scourge of Chrome known as Flash of Unstyled Content, improved navigation, and a little animation here and there to keep things moving along.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact us.

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July 19, 2016: Blog and website undergoing a redesign

While we're updating the website to a newer, faster, more friendly design, we're taking just a few weeks off to deal with the dust and heavy lifting.

We'll be back in a few weeks. Please check back with us!

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June 26, 2016: Sometimes detours are worth it

I'm not sure whether there's a term for being related only by marriage, and several marriages distant, at that. A cousin emailed because he saw a common ancestral name in the Big List of Names. He's a Welling descendant and several of his Wellings married various Melchers in Charleston, South Carolina.

There were Melchers in our Charleston Müller clan, too, the most noted of whom was Theodore Melchers, married to Ludwig and Caroline Müller's eldest daughter, Helena. As a result I added several Wellings to my database without knowing much about them, just in the interest of being tidy.

Now with a goal, I tried to look back at this Welling line for more information, as a courtesy. Not much luck though. The earliest one I can verify was Edwin Welling, buried at Magnolia Cemetery with his wife Susan Disher Welling (thanks to photographer Saratoga at Find-A-Grave for the photo above). Edwin died in 1900 with his well-worn headstone reporting that he was born October 1, 1816 in Charleston. It's the only verification of his birthdate besides his city death certificate, which states that his parents were born in South Carolina but does not name them. No birth records can be found for Edwin, and thus verifying his father's name isn't possible.

But for his wife, Susan Disher, the road is easier to travel. An 1850 U.S. federal census shows Edwin, Susan, and family plus an Elizabeth Disher, who was the right age to be Susan's mother. Also helpful is an 1859 probate record for Elizabeth where she names her heirs as Robert W. Disher, Margaret Disher, and Susan Welling. We have confirmation.

Who was Susan's father and Elizabeth's husband? Was it this fellow?

This death notice was from the Charleston Courier for July 1, 1822. From available death records in Charleston it appears that William died of "country fever," which we identify today as malaria.

William was one of two other Dishers I could find mentioned in local newspaper and census/vital records in Charleston. William was a little younger than Elizabeth. There was also a Louis Disher, a little older. A brother?

Louis appears in the unhelpful 1830 U.S. federal census (unhelpful because it only lists the head-of-household's name) and then dies in 1835. But a closer look at Elizabeth's son's records unveils the fact that his full name was Robert William Disher. A clue that he was named after William, perhaps?

Is there a probate record for William? There is...but, alas, William died intestate without a will. His executrix is listed as Susannah Disher, his widow. That's not looking very positive all of a sudden.

Without a will and apparently with financial encumbrances, William's widow had to deal with suits over his property, like the notice at left from the November 1824 Charleson Courier, where a lot on King Street was sold to Francis Joseph Cobia to settle a debt.

Cobia, in my experience, is an unusual name in Charleston, so I searched the web for any possible links. One popped up right away for a link between a Cobia and the "Disher Farm."

The Disher Farm was close to the site of a tavern usually referred to as the Four Mile House, which in turn had its own notoriety, as you may peruse for yourself. What's of interest is that the widow of a Nicholas Cobia "conveyed" (gave or sold?) some land to R.W. Disher, whom we know to be the son of Elizabeth Disher.

Could there have been some bad feeling between the families after the enforced sale of Disher land in 1824? Was this a peace offering? It's circumstantial, but it's another intriguing clue suggesting that Robert William Disher was the son of William Disher and that William's wife Susannah was actually born Susannah Elizabeth, surname unknown. It's worth noting that Elizabeth had a daughter called Susan, suggesting that there was another child in the family named after a parent.

There's another intriguing clue suggesting that William himself had ties to the Four Mile House and perhaps the land nearby. His probate record identifies him as a tavern keeper. From the notice at right in the January 6, 1818 Charleston City Gazette, William had a plantation to sell or was acting as an agent for the owner, and was to be contacted by interested buyers at the Four Mile House itself.

One thing's pretty certain: William had no involvement the notorious case of John and Lavinia Fisher, though he would have known about the case. If you're curious to see what the tavern looked like, click here.

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June 14, 2016: Make a joyous noise

Cousins can come out of the blue, and sometimes they come bearing treasures. This photo was certainly a surprise to me, not the least for showing my grandmother Marie Jatho MacLaughlan in the happiest pose I've ever seen of her.

This photo was uncovered in an archive in Arizona by a cousin I don't know and have never had the chance to meet, but if I did I'd thank her profusely. Clarence Petersen is kneeling on the right and, as descendants of his, my cousins knew the immediate family. Behind Clarence is his wife Dora as well as Dora's dark-haired daughter Dorothy and her husband.

Kneeling on the left (did the man ever wear sports clothes?) was my grandfather Alva, Clarence's older brother, his rapturous wife Marie, and hiding behind Marie their youngest daughter Dolores. Next to Dolores is her cousin Fred Petersen, Clarence's and Dora's son.

The photo captures the moment in time when Alva and his family relocated from Chicago to the Los Angeles area, and since we know this happened in 1946, gives us the likely date for the photo.

There's a son missing, Tom, but he was exiting from the U.S. Army around this time and may have been left back in Chicago for a time. We have documented evidence that he was in the Southern California area by autumn of 1946, so we know he eventually made it to the Southland.

The moral of the story: seek out and be nice to your cousins!

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May 23, 2016: Mind the gap

Proof that progress is being made in Cook County. Another happy find, as a result of the updated database "Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940," is this one for Georgia Petersen, second daughter of my great uncle George Petersen and his wife Anna Majoros.

There were two girls in this family, Violet, born in 1918, and then after fifteen years Georgia. The first name reflects her father's, the second has me stumped. There wre no Cristines or Christines in the family. Perhaps it was her mother Anna's whim.

The Petersen brothers (George, older brother Alfred, later Alva, and younger brother Clarence) weren't close after the mid-1940s when they migrated from Chicago on to sunnier climes. George and Alfred/Alva eventually ended up in California at opposite ends of the state. Clarence spent some time in Arizona before also relocating to California, but nowhere near the other two.

Thus I have no idea what happened to my cousin Georgia Petersen. She appears in the U.S Social Security Applications and Claims Index as Georgia Christine Petersen and then as Georgia C. Covey, which led me to a record in "U.S. City Directories 1821-1989" from She and Charles Covey, presumably her husband, lived in Sacramento for a time in the early 1970s. Not surprisingly, that's where her parents lived too.

The trail goes cold until a mention in an obituary index, again courtesy of Ancestry, called "Web: Obituary Daily Times Index, 1995-Current." There her April 2003 death was reported in Florence, Oregon.

No mention of any survivors in these cryptic indexes, so unless one of her children does a web search and lands here, we may never hear of them.

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May 6, 2016: New in Nebraska

For awhile now has had a useful collection called "Nebraska Marriages, 1855-1995". I've found my great-grandparents Hans and Catharina Petersen there before, which is always a pleasure, but now is partnered with the Nebraska State Historical Society, which is in the process of digitizing these records and making them available for a fee.

Luckily, at the start of my genealogical journey in 2004, I got this record the old-fashioned way: by calling the Fillmore County Courthouse and asking whether they had the certificate for this couple in their collection. Things were simpler (and non-digital) in those days. I could hear the clerk walk away from the phone to check; the sound of a file cabinet opening; a shuffling of papers; and then her return. Yes, they had a copy, and it was only two dollars to photocopy and mail via the U.S. postal service.

Those who take advantage of the Nebraska State Historical Society's collection may want to note that there's a series of fees and regulations for Internet use of their images at five dollars for each use...and it must be approved by an NSHS representative. That regulation will likely prove hard to enforce, and it wouldn't apply to this image in any case due to the way it was obtained, but it's an important point to keep in mind.

I'd still recommend going for the actual document if you can rather than the Familysearch transcribed copy. Obtaining Hans and Catharina's marriage certificate shows a lot more information than the transcription provides, such as their parents' names (golden!) and the witnesses, who are also their fathers.

That information also led to the conclusion that the fathers must have been in Nebraska for the marriage, so they'd already emigrated from Schleswig-Holstein. Finding them in the 1880 census gave us both parental families as well as some siblings.

This was the first document that would lead back to finding the Petersen ancestors back to the year 1653. Slow and steady does it.

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April 30, 2016: Bright as a new penny

There are lots of good reasons for the debut of a new web design, not the least of which is offering a better platform to display images.

This new template helps a lot with that. Take a close look at this lovely, lichen-laden stonework (you can enlarge the image by clicking it with your computer mouse).

The grave marker is for Arnolda Von Oven Jatho in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the wife of the merchant and Colgate (yes, the soap and toothpaste maker) salesman George William Jatho. Clearly a master craftsman was at work on this intertwined insignia representing her monogram. The predominant "A" dominates the design. It's a classy decoration for the back of the marker. The front (see below) is more conventional, although in keeping with German tradition, the marker reflects her "gebohren" or maiden name. She rests in the Jatho family plot at Magnolia Cemetery, where most of her children, her husband, and Jatho in-laws are buried.

The Von Oven presence was strong in the German-American community in Charleston. Arnolda's three brothers John, Ferdinand, and Theodore came from Oldenburg to Charleston in the 1860s and made their living as grocers. On September 20, 1878 Arnolda Von Oven sailed into New York wth 77-year old Johanne Ulrichs, her grandmother. You have to be a bit creative to find their passenger manifest: her surname is written and thus indexed as Vonoven.

At least we know now how to find her in Charleston when we visit. If you're planning a visit, don't forget to walk across the street to Bethany Cemetery. Johanne is buried there, and while the view isn't as shady and grand as it is at Magnolia, it's nice to be able to find yet another of this expansive and venerable family when in town.

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April 13, 2016: Hidden away and almost forgotten

We have transcribers to thank for records like this one. And as I looked at it, I wondered whether it was even worth pursuing an actual copy of my late aunt's Chicago birth certificate. It seems that everything was in place with the transcription.

Except it wasn't. There was more revealing information in the actual certificate image, which you can click to enlarge.

The transcription is via in the collection "Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940." But using the handy service at Genlighten you can often find a researcher who can pull the actual record in less than a day, and more affordably than it would cost to go through the Cook County Clerk's office.

Most of this certificate was written by my grandfather, whose handwriting is unmistakable. Previously unknown information is that Dolores Caroline, my aunt, was one of twins, the other of whom died at birth. I'm basing this theory on the fact that Alva reports one child stillborn -- most likely the other twin. If this was the case, there should be a death certificate somewhere in Cook County.

There had also been a previously-unreported child of the family who was born alive but was dead at the time of Dolores' birth. It seems logical that Alva wouldn't have distinguished a second stillbirth this way, since the categories are separate. This means one more birth/death certificate to search for to find the name of the elusive child.

Vital records weren't required in Cook County until 1916, and even then not all local folks paid attention to the regulation. So it's possible that the names of the two missing children will never be found.

A cursory look through and doesn't turn up any candidates so far. But new transcriptions are becoming available all the time (as this random seach for "MacLaughlan" proves). And there are microfilmed birth/death indexes for Chicago that could also prove handy, provided the patience is there to peruse.

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April 3, 2016: A trip from Hamburg

Looking more deeply at the life and times of Peter Bellman (see previous post) reveals an actual Hamburg ship manifest. This is excellent news. Examining documents from the point of departure, where available, carries certain benefits that can't be found in arrival documentation.

This ship manifest is a prime example. Click the image above to enlarge it. Peter is listed on line 12.

Peter mentioned on several census records that he emigrated in 1884, and this manifest matches that year. We also know that he was from Schleswig-Holstein, and the manifest is consistent there as well.

In fact, it's specific. transcribes the city as "Biebelholz, Schleswig" but there is no such place in Schleswig (a good case for having German-fluent transcribers on staff). The place is actually Brebelholz, Schleswig-Holstein, a little to the southeast of Flensburg.

The collection "Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934" is a real gem of a resource, providing the last place of residence for each immigrant. That location may not be the same as a birthplace, but it helps to define the general area where he lived, and that could put us in touch with archives local to the region that would have more detailed information about Peter. The record also clearly spells his surname as Bellmann, with two n's in the German fashion, further distinguishing him from our clan of Bellmans (with one n).

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March 25, 2016: Hidden language gems in the 1920 census

Because of a recent random query from a stranger, I learned something new about the 1920 U.S. Federal Census that I hadn't noticed before. He wrote because he had an ancestor called Peter Jacob Bellman in Nebraska and he wondered whether there was any connection with the Bellmans that I happen to research. None that I can find -- his were from Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark, mine were from Lithuania.

But when I looked more closely at the 1920 census record for this family, I saw some odd notations over the "mother tongue" column. The family spoke German, but what does "L.C." mean?

According to the Genealogy Gems Newsletter for July 2007 (no longer directly available on the web but preserved for us at, the "Wayback Machine,") the 1920 census was particularly determined to capture accurate information about non-Native English speakers and had categories not only for the language used customarily in the home, hence "L.C." listed over the word "German."

Peter's parents were both Danish, so we see a record of the languages they spoke in the home as well. Schleswig-Holstein belonged to Denmark until 1864, when it became part of German territories. It's not unusual to see both languages represented in the region, and it's a pretty good bet that Peter had a command of both German and Danish from childhood onward.

As a result of this query I have a new-found respect for the details of the 1920 census, and will be focusing on the language columns more closely.

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March 12, 2016: On this date

On a day like any other, or maybe because today's date is March 12th, I was destined to get lucky when searching for the birthdate of Julia Rinck, born in Charleson, South Carolina.

She's related to us via our Müller clan of Charleston. Her mother was Margarethe Luise Bernhardine Müller, the middle child of ten of Pastor Ludwig Müller and his wife Caroline Laurent. For reasons unknown, Margaretha married in her mother's hometown of Zweibrücken, and ocean away from Charleston.

The groom was Karl Theodore (or Theodore Karl) Rinck. No trace of him is found in the New World, and there's a considerable distance between Margaret's marriage year of 1872 and her daughter's birth in 1889. Did she live in Zweibrücken and have more children with her husband? Did she decide to return to Charleston with her daughter Julia after her husband's death? We don't know for certain.

Margaret, a music teacher, ended up in Chicago with Julia. In 1906 Julia Rinck married Samuel Jesse Beckley, a native of Pennsylvania, possibly with presidential ancestry (his father was a John Adams Beckley). They lived with their four children in Pennsylvania for a time, eventually returning to Charleston around 1951, Samuel's 1959 death record suggests.

Both Samuel and Julia were buried at St. Andrew's Cemetery in Charleston, suggesting a break with her grandfather's parish of St. Matthew's.

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March 3, 2016: A stroll through the database

It's fun browsing through the newly-updated database "Germany, Select Deaths and Burials, 1582-1958 (in German)." Although I have this particular death record from microfilm, I can tell that it's a correct transcription of the original handwritten record.

Some records, such as the one for Ludwig Philipp Laurent, also include the parents' names, which helps us further identify Ludwig as the right little boy who died just a few months old so many years ago.

I wish I could be just as certain about the second indexed record. If this were my Johann Michael Müller it would at least help me identify his birth year. But there's no way to conclusively verify that this is the same forester who was originally from Frankfurt am Main and who lived in and around Kriegsfeld.

No parents' names are included in this record, although that wouldn't help much with verification. We don't know Michael's parents' names.

We know that at the time of his death Michael was married to a Sophia Lenz. If her name had been included, we'd have the verification we need. But it's the luck of the draw with old German parish records. Sometimes the standards for record-keeping were verbose, sometimes cryptic, depending on the local standards.

It could be our Michael, who was born sometime between 1730-1745 and whose last child with Sophia Lenz was born in 1788. But without further corroboration the connection is not adequate and doesn't measure up to the rigorous proof standards that we need.

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February 24, 2016: Württemburg for the win!

One of the earliest collections currently available is "Württemberg, Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1500-1985," available both at and, the latter for free. I sampled it just a few weeks ago.

But here's the real kicker. Baptism records go back as far as 1558, which isn't such a bad deal when you think of all the other German parishes whose records were burned, lost, or were never even initiated until much later.

This record of Barbara Hartkorn, daughter of Hans and Barbara Hartkorn, dates from 1561. She's the older sister of the Maria Hartkorn, wife of Martin Kientzle, mentioned earlier this month.

It's hard to grasp the fact that this birth occurred three years before Shakespeare was born in England, and that Barbara is part of our family...a very remote part, but family just the same. The godparents are Gregorius Dupper and Anna Schübelin, very likely relatives of the family, whose names may (with further study) provide us with clues to other connections in the parish.

The records are fragmentary here and there. I wasn't able to find Maria Hartkorn, our direct ancestor, but did locate another child, a son Johannes who was born in 1563.

These records from Dörnach uber Remmingsheim in Württemberg also include some of the surrounding community where there were no parishes, so sometimes you find a bonus record from nearby. Thus the Hartkorn events, which took place in nearby Wolfenhausen, were actually recorded in Remmingsheim.

Wolfenhausen records exist from 1644 onward, but without the ruling of the The Council of Trent (1545-1547), which ordered local parish priests to begin recording all marriages, births, and deaths, we might not know about our sixteenth-century family. As it was, the Hartkorns were obliged to trek to Remmingsheim for that all-important registry.

A modern map shows what Remmingsheim (now Neustetten) looks like today, and just how close Wolfenhausen (where the Hartkorns were from) was to Nellingheim (where the Kientzles resided). You might say that the parish brought them together.

It takes a very determined society to keep track of folks like these who may have only recently begun to use surnames. The regulations involving record-keeping came about slowly and didn't always evolve evenly from one community to the next. The very earliest records for non-royal and non-noble individuals was in 1524 at the parish of St. Sebald in Nürnberg. If you're at a Family History Library right this very minute you can actually view it online.

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February 16, 2016: Long-lived Laurent

One of the positive outcomes of genealogy is finding out just how sturdy certain families were.

Louise Laurent was born in 1827 in Zweibrüchen, Rheinland-Pfalz, to a bookbinder, Philipp Heinrich Laurent, and his wife Philippina Jungblut, a former laundress.

Louisa's older siblings had been born before her parents' marriage, and oversight that was corrected in 1825 when the couple was finally free to marry. Situations such as this were common. A parent might object to the union and refuse to give permission, for instance, and there are plenty of examples where the baby comes first and the marriage afterward.

Louisa had nine other siblings, several of whom came to America before her. An older sister, Caroline Laurent, married Lutheran pastor Ludwig Müller in 1942 and they settled in New York at first, Charleston, South Carolina later and permanently. An older brother, Friedrich Laurent, settled in Philadelphia and became a confectioneer.

Louisa spent a brief time in Charleston and then married Julius Eduard Stohlmann, a publisher of German-language religious books, in New York in 1851. Together they had eight children. Until running across this obituary in the online collection of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle I didn't know Louisa's death date.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle is searchable online. If you have family or ancestry in Brooklyn, give it a whirl and see what you can find.

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February 11, 2016: Party like it's still the sixteenth century

A bouncing baby girl had just entered the home of Martin Kientzle and his wife Maria Hartkorn. The year was 1597, the town was Dörnach uber Remmingheim in Württemberg, and the collection called "Württemberg, Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 15001985 (in German)" lets us see the details in sharp focus.

Of course these films can also be rented from any local LDS family museum, but there's a particular thrill in having such easy online access to the collection. The binding of the church book is tight so we don't know whether Maria was born on April 6, 16, or 26. The next record is May 29 so one of those April dates is bound to be correct.

There are a few other records indexed in the town of Dörnach uber Remmingheim with the name Kientzle, so it will be worth exploring to see whether there's any family connection with Martin. We know very little about family members with this surname. In a subsequent marriage to a lady called Anna, Martin Kientzle is identified as the son of Martin Kientzle, a "Schulsheimsten" (maybe a schoolmaster?) from nearby Nellingsheim. Maria Hartkorn was from Wolfenhausen.

It'll be an jolly stroll through the remote past to explore this collection in detail.

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February 4, 2016: Fade to black and white

As the once-sharp color drains from this image it in no way diminishes a grandmother's delight in her grandson.

Taken about 1955, Marie Jatho MacLaughlan and David Brewer pose for a quick snapshot.

The only hues remaining are shades of red and grey. In real life the armchair behind them both was deep forest green and steel grey trim.

Sometimes programs like Photoshop can improve the look of fading photos. It's always worth a try to attempt to enhance what may be there, though in this case it's as good as it gets.

Marie was only 57 here and she was to have a short life. She died on her older son's birthday a year later of heart trouble.

It's a rare photo of her that shows her with such a bright smile.

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January 21, 2016: Mystery and imagination

It's useless to shout 116 year back in time (or however far back you want to go -- I'm estimating that this photo was taken about 1900). You can shout but they won't hear you suggest that they write somewhere on the photo, preferably not on the face of it, who these people are. We have no idea.

It was given the modern label "Florida Jathos" because it came from their collection. That would be related to the Carl J. Jatho family who settled there sometime in the early 1910s. But the surname of these folks could have been Smoot. Mary Susan Smoot, born in 1896 in Alabama, was Carl's second wife.

Carl and Mary Susan started having children in 1919, so this photo clearly predates that time. Mary Susan's mother was Mary B., surname unknown, married to Edgar Smoot around 1889. Mary B. was born in 1868, so this conceivably could be her.

Edgar and Mary B. Smoot's last two children were born in 1896 and 1899, respectively, so this photo could be Mary Susan and Laura E. Smoot, if we're confident that the approximate date of the photo is reliable. The clothing style for the mother fits that timeframe. It's our best guess...but, alas, it's only a guess.

Label your photos, people!

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January 11, 2016: The name game

Carrie Collins, head of her household in 1940, was the widowed wife of Edward, a man of Irish heritage. Oddly that was a rare choice for one of the Gohr girls of Chicago, all of whom spoke German as their first language at home.

Even odder is the presence of an 11-year-old granddaughter in the home. Carrie's two children, Harold and Evelyn, reached adulthood with relative ease, but who had the child Patricia? Her surname is listed as Collins but the only son in the household is 33-year-old Harold, who's single. How did Patricia's surname get to be Collins?

The clue was in Evelyn's death record index. Searching for any child of Edward Collins and Caroline/Carrie Gohr, a couple pop up in the collection "Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994." One of my genealogy mail lists mentioned that this collection had been extensively updated, to the point where you almost forgive them for not having images themselves to examine.

The transcriptions are very detailed. Evelyn E.C. Justin-Dale died on May 31, 1935. A music teacher, she was the daughter of Edward Collins and Carrie Gore (close enough for Gohr), the wife of Ray, and Harold Collins, her brother, was the informant.

No luck finding the name Justin-Dale in the 1930 census but shortening it to Justin we get a good hit. Evelyn, her husband Ray (an insurance agent), and their daughter Patricia live with Carrie Collins and Harold, Carrie's son and Evelyn's brother.

But in the 1940 census Ray isn't with this family...and Patricia is now a Collins, not a Justin or Justin-Dale. Where did Ray go?

Whatever happened to him -- a divorce from Evelyn, or his own death -- clearly Carrie has taken on the task of raising her own granddaughter, albeit with a name change. It could have been an enumeration error, of course, and it may be that the enumerator was confused. But Patricia, who died in 1989, is listed in the collection "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007" with three name changes: originally in June 1943 as Patricia Mary Collins, then in 1977 as Patricia M. Justin Collins, then the final claim in 1989 as Patricia M.J. Collins.

The name change probably wasn't done through legal channels because of the cost involved. But it appears that Patricia was at least willing to leave some trace of her Justin legacy hidden within the depths of Social Security paperwork, and that makes it a little easier to find out a little about her life.

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January 4, 2016: Which Helena?

Some of my Laurent folks ended up not in Charleston, South Carolina, where Caroline Laurent settled with her pastor husband Ludwig Müller, and not in New York where Louisa Laurent married German book publisher Julius Eduard Stohlmann, but in Philadelphia.

Frederick Laurent, born in 1824 as Christian Frederick Laurent to Philipp Heinrich Laurent and Philippina Maragethe Jacobina Jungblut, emigrated to America in 1846. He became a confectioner there and with his wife Mariana had twelve children.

Helena, whose twin brother Marion did not survive to adulthood, was probably named for her cousin Helena Müller, although there's a slim chance that she was the namesake of an ephemeral family legend, Helene De Vigny, a colorful character whose existence is impossible to verify. The family roots reach almost as far back in time as the written record allow, to a town called Labaroche in Haut-Rhin, but it's doubtful that Helena or her parents knew about it.

On November 11, 1893 the Philadelphia Enquirer reported the marriage of Helena Laurent, age 23, to the Rev. John W. Horine, himself the son of a man of the cloth.

A sidenote: Helena's nephew Stewart Frederick Laurent's papers and writings have been collected by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan for those who would like to explore a Laurent's return to France during World War I.

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