Sunday, April 27, 2014

How did I overlook that?

I've recently started going through my file folders with the many pages of genealogy that I'd printed/collected over the past decade or so.  I want to decide what's really necessary to have in hard copy, what can be scanned and what can be pitched altogether (what is really accessible via the internet now that I don't need to keep a copy of).  There is a scanner feature on the copier at work so on my breaks I can quickly run through a folder, scan it to .pdf and email it to myself.  This project is going to take awhile but it's got me revisiting many items.

Today's item of note - I've written about my 3rd great grandfather David Barkley Comstock and the Comstock genealogy book I'd gotten from my grandmother's cedar chest.  When I got that book I had quickly slammed as much information into my FTM as I could and left it at that.  I'd always known that David's parents were Amos and Hannah (Upton) Comstock and from that book I had Amos' family "traced" back to the 1600s.  Later on in my searching (as I grew into the hobby and understood the importance of documenting) I looked for Hannah's parents and other than some shoddy looking family trees online I couldn't find anything.  Fast forward to yesterday..........I'm digging through my "Comstock" folder and I have this packet that a gentleman in NY sent me in 2006.........I open it up and vaguely remember looking at it.  I'm not sure why nothing registered with me back then but I'd venture to guess that I saw a little of it, figured it verified what I already had and filed it away.  Upon closer inspection I saw:
Hannah's parents are not only listed but it appears a sibling of hers married a brother of Amos'.  I had the brother in my tree as "William P Comstock" with a matching date of birth for Parris (that'll be shown later) with nothing else, no spouses or children.  This overlooked record held the parents and a sibling of Hannah and also filled in another sibling for Amos (who I'm researching now and has led to finding living descendants in that family).  I also stumbled on an Upton genealogy book on Google books that I haven't even had a chance to peruse yet but I did find and confirm Hannah's parents and their family:  Another item of interest in this record was one of the witnesses "Joseph Shove" - one of Amos and Hannah's daughters Julietta Comstock Harris had a son she named Joseph Shove Harris.  I've always been curious about this name and now I may be able to find something about about that. 

 This information matched what I had from my Comstock book for Amos' father and his wife (which was his 2nd wife/family), with the exception of listing Petersburgh NY instead of Berlin NY (both in Rensselaer County) as the birth location for the children.  I had no further information on any of these family members of Amos until I took a look at these pages and discovered the marriage record for Parris and further into the packet the marriage records for 2 of the sisters of Amos and Parris.

I also stumbled on David's marriage to Hannah which confirmed the parentage I had listed from the Comstock genealogy book

 After I'm done researching Parris' family I'll have to work on these 2 sisters and see what I can find there. 
 So I'm looking at all of this information and wondering if I can trust it - is this any better than the Comstock genealogy book?  Where did this information come from?  I'm unsure what the name of the book that these came from is but again, it's an undocumented book.  Who provided the information?  I then read through the 1st three pages I'd been sent, which appeared to be from an old newspaper article covering history of the area and I found all the proof I need that this information is accurate:

 I'm not sure how this Daniel Upton is connected to Hannah's father Isaac but I suspect he's a nephew.  These books he turned over (and what got transcribed into the above clippings) are priceless records of the Quaker church Amos and Hannah belonged to.
Another interesting tidbit that I found is in this historical wrap-up of the Quaker church at Adams, MA was a writeup about Susan B. Anthony and how she was born at Adams to strict Quaker parents.  I saw a Susan Anthony as a witness in a couple of the marriage records and jumped to the conclusion that she was a witness at the marriages of my 4th great grandfather's siblings but as she was born in 1820 that's impossible.  Her wiki page  lists her father as being Daniel Anthony and I'm confident he was a witness at them as he's listed as a witness in most of them.  I'm also confident that at some point as a child she went to church with my ancestors. 
Apparently my 5th great grandfather did something to upset the church:
For close to 8 years I had information at my fingertips to fill in so many gaps in my tree...........I wonder how many other nuggets of information I'll find as I reorganize my papers?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Siersema's secondhand Bible

Last post I wrote about how fruitful our visit to the Siersema descendant was and shared the great photos he had of the farm.  While we were sitting there (I believe I'd already scanned the photos) he mentions, almost in passing, that he's got an old Bible and wanted to know if we'd want to see it.  In all my years working on my family tree I've never seen a family Bible (in person).  I remember my grandma reading out of hers once and seeing that there was some writing in the front but I don't think it was that old and I'm not sure where it is (I'm sure my mom or one of my uncles has it).  He brought the Bible out and it was quite literally the heaviest book I'd ever held.

 We got to look through this Bible and it still amazes me to this day to realize how old this thing is.  There were translations of several of the pages that this gentleman had had done and it listed that the original owners of the Bible were the Daalder family, who began recording their family in it with their marriage Feb 16th, 1721.  That's right, 1721.  It lists the births and deaths of their children and keeps their tree until 1759. 
 The Bible has written "THIS BOOK is the property of Albert Henderiks Siersema bought at the Island TEXEL in the year of our LORD JEZUS CHRISTUS 1842, on March 17".  This book was in one family for 38 years and then its whereabouts are unknown for 83 years until my 4th great grandparents buy it?  They documented their tree until Albert's death in 1888.  When Tryntje died in 1893 it's written in a different handwriting and the documentation ceases.  Upon her death it has remained in the family of her son Henry and his descendants for another 121 years.

 I didn't have a way to scan the pages the way I would have liked  so some of what we got was just with our digital cameras.  I think perhaps my cousin Mary and I should try to go back and get better scans.  What do you think Mary?  The person that translated the Bible admitted that the writing was "old Dutch" and some of the names were hard to read.  My stepmother is from the Netherlands and she told me that it was hard to read in the old dialect.  

The person that translated it wrote "This Bible was translated from the Greece language in the old Dutch language in the Gothis style."

 This was written (I assume by Albert Siersema) listing when/where he purchased the Bible.

 This is the best shot I got of the page detailing my direct line that I could get.  My 3rd great grandmother Dewurtje Siersema's birth is listed here.  Her name is spelled Dewurtje, Demutje, Dora and Julia in various records - this Bible entry gave me the spelling I use in my file now.  I believe I incorrectly referred to her as Demutje in my last post.

 This listing details the siblings of Albert.

This is a page from the Daalder family - this isn't my family but it's in really old script and you can read the years from the 1700s that are written - so cool!  Another find due to persistence, phone calls and cooperative cousins.  Mary gets the credit for setting this visit up and it ranks up there as one of my top genealogical visits.  I'm not sure how his health is but I'd love to go back, armed with new technology and knowledge regarding how to gather what I want and give it another go.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Siersema Farm

One of my most fruitful genealogy connections has come via my great grandmother Hilda (Kraai) Hugmeyer.  In about 2004 I discovered that her youngest brother Robert Kraai was still alive and got in contact with him.  He was about 86 at the time and had indicated that a granddaughter of his brother Willis had "a bunch of information".  I got in contact with her and have been in contact with her now for many years.  She's a retired teacher and is a whiz at digging through the old Dutch records on the websites I previously mentioned.  Her and I have made several visits to distant relatives and the Siersema farm trip was by far the one that provided the best information.

Hilda was the daughter of Albert Kraai and Gertrude Wieghmink.  Albert's parents were Jacob Kraai and Demutje Siersema.  Demutje's parents were Albert Siersema and Tryntje Dogger.  So Mary and I share common ancestry here and we tracked down a grandson of Demutje's brother Henry Siersema and met with him August of 2008.  He had this stack of pictures on the table waiting for us when we got there.  This is the original Siersema farm at 11525 New Holland St, Holland Michigan - I'm not sure when they were taken but it was incredible how many good photos of this farm he had.  I've got a couple pictures of Tryntje (one was in this stack) but no pictures of Albert - I like to think that Albert is in one of these photos, just not yet identified.

 This barn still stands and is still used - Mary and I got to tour the inside of it with the hand-hewn timbers.  It was very neat being in the barn that my 4th great grandparents worked.
 I like to think Albert is in this photo - none of the people in here are identified but the property still looks like this.  Albert died in 1888, Tryntje in 1893 so this farm is well over 100 years old. 

Is Albert in this photo?  I sure hope that someday we can track a photo of Albert down but I think this stop was the best chance we had. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More maddeningly unidentified photos

 More potentially awesome family photos that I stumbled upon.  My 2nd great grandmother Gertrude Wieghmink married Albert Kraai.  Her parents were Jan Harm Wieghmink (1936-1903) and Hilligien Mepjans (1836-1909).  She had a sister Everdina Nykamp and her granddaughter let me scan these photos.  They were in her mother's photos and she was "pretty sure" that these are Wieghmink and Mepjans related.

The woman in the back right corner resembles Gertrude but I can't be sure.  There is 1 too many males in the family photo to cover her siblings.

This 2nd photo is even more confusing as it is clearly a 4 generation photo but the mothers of both Jan Harm and Hilligien died in Germany before the family arrived in Michigan.  Jan Harm had an aunt that he came here with but why would she be here with Hilligien instead of Jan Harm?  I have no photos of Jan Harm to compare to these photos but I do have a couple confirmed photos of Hilligien (one is terrible quality).  What do you think?  Is the woman below the same woman from these 2 photos?

My biggest pet peeve - unidentified photos

I decided I'm going to have to slide some shorter posts in here with my posts that are more genealogically in-depth.  I was going through my photos last night showing my wife a couple of pictures and I saw several that I have labeled as "probably so and so" and it got me thinking about how unfortunate it is that some of my photos aren't identified.  Here's my first batch:

 I got these photos from the home of Nila Muche Stratton.  My 2nd great grandmother Augusta Muche Comstock (wife of G.D. Comstock I wrote about earlier) was the daughter of  Gustif  and Wilhelmina Schumann Muche.  Wilhelmina had several brothers and her mother that came to America, settling in Allegan Co MI and I believe that these are this family.  Nila's father Daniel Muche was the son of Robert Muche, Augusta's brother.  When I visited with her she gave me these two absolutely wonderful photos and told me she's sure they are of the Schumann family. 
She identified the man on the back right corner as her grandfather Robert Muche (I have my doubts).  The woman in the front left corner she identified as Lamila Born, daughter of Augusta's sister Alvina.  If Nila was correct and Robert Muche and Lamila Born are in these photos there is no way these aren't Schumann related.  Hopefully someday I'll know the answer because I have a picture of Wilhelmina's mother Beate Monties (my 4th great grandmother) but not Wilhelmina (my 3rd great grandmother) even though Wilhelmina outlived her mother by 11 years.  I suspect Wilhelmina is in one of these photos.........but which is her?

The two photos on the right here are confirmed photos of Wilhelmina's brothers William Frederick Schumann (1848-1914) and August Schumann (1837-1913).  It almost strikes me that William would be the man in the middle of the back row (bottom picture) and that August could be the man between him and the alleged Robert.  What do you think?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Freiheit family - my grandpa's memory and a fluke clipping

Ah, the family "discovery" story that inspired me to blog in the first place. This is definitely a story that I want to put in writing so it's not forgotten.

So far everything I've written has been about my maternal grandmother's family.  There is still some blogging to do there but this is for a different line.  A few months before my maternal grandfather passed away (unexpectedly), I sat down and talked to him and asked him about his ancestry.  I still have the sheet of notes that I took.  On his father's side he remembered his grandparents and great grandparents dates - even getting the month right for his grandfather's brother's birth.  He was sketchy on his mother's side and promised to get me more but then he passed away.

Julia Freiheit Hugmeyer w/son Marvin
The story that inspired me the most was of his father's mother's family.  His grandmother was born Julia Freiheit November 10th, 1873 at Onekema, Manistee Co MI (or so he said - I can't find a birth record for her).  Her parents were John Freiheit and Minnie Helm (yes, he remembered his great grandmother's maiden name even though she died 12 years before he was born).  Looking back I'm amazed and saddened that I didn't get to collaborate more with him.

My grandpa said that John was a "Prussian nobleman" who, in his disgust with happenings at home, sold all of his belongings and moved his family to America.  He had been a bouncer here in America and was known as "Mecklenberg John".  A further conversation with my uncle  confirmed the story and added that he was "Baron von Freiheit" in Prussia.  My grandpa also said that his grandma had a sister who was an opera singer who ran a boarding house and was murdered, and that a play called "The Boarding House Murder" was written about it.

Not having much to go by other than his story I sought out their death certificates at SeekingMichigan to find their parents names.  Of course, as I expected - nothing.  It did confirm that Minnie's father's name was "Helm".  I then dug through census records and compiled the following siblings for Julia:
Mathilda (John Neitzke) 1858-1933
Caroline (George Meinkoth) 1860-1910
Emma (never married) 1869-1942
Hattie (Herbert Dickson) abt 1873-

The 2 oldest sisters showed born in Germany while Emma and Hattie were born in MI (and of course no birth record was found).   I researched the known siblings of Julia as far as I could.

I contacted descendants of Mathilda and Caroline, I visited the cemetery in Manistee, I went up to the historical museum in Manistee and met with a local researcher who helped me scour the newspapers (that aren't microfilmed - they lay flat in a back room - it was weird flipping through 100 year old newspapers that felt like they'd crumble at any second).  I found no record of John and Minnie at all, other than their headstones at the cemetery, census records and these death certificates.  Every person I contacted that was descended from them had never heard the Freiheit name and even the researcher could find nothing, no obituaries - absolutely nothing.

My quest to find them stalled out for quite awhile after someone on a German message board told me "Freiheit means freedom in German - they probably changed their name when they got to America, you are unlikely to ever find them".  One day I stumbled on the ship record listing their arrival here in America which gave me another child named Anna, born abt March 1867.  They arrived in America (destination Delaware, was told probably means Baltimore) on the ship "Maria" September 13th, 1867.  Minnie was not listed as Minnie but everything else lined up.  The log listed that they sailed from the port of "Bremen".

With this new information I sought out a German researcher.  A Google search led me to Robert Albert Jr. of  I'd never hired a researcher before but his level of expertise was good and his rates appeared fair.  I sent him my 4 German brick walls with all of the information I had and he decided to try to knock down the Freiheit one first.  He and I probably emailed for 18 months on this family to no avail.  He looked at resource after resource and was absolutely stumped.  He told me that he was going to try the church records from Manistee.  He explained to me that German church records were often quite full of information, saying "So and so, of such and such village died - he was born of so and so of this village, and so and so of this village", and so on and he was hopeful that we would find a clue there.  He had ordered a film that didn't pan out but clipped a random church death record to show me what I could expect if he did find them.  The woman's name was Frederica Springborn and although I couldn't read the record (in German) I couldn't get that Springborn name out of my head.  Robert had done some research in the census records and found that there was a Springborn family living not too far from John and Minnie in Manistee and he was a saloon keeper (who better to need a "bouncer")?

I went through my information yet again to see if I had overlooked something.  Springborn?  Where had I seen that name?  A-ha!  I had glossed over it as just bad information when I had seen it the first time - their daughter Caroline's death certificate lists her mother as Minnie Springborn.  I sent this off to him and told him I wasn't sure if it meant anything but it sure was a coincidence if nothing else.  The Springborn census records listed they were from Mecklenberg and their children were named very similarly to John and Minnie's children.   

On 11/10/2010 I got this email:

You are not going to believe what I just found and I am shaking. I wish I had your phone number. I know that it is midnight there, but oh my GOD!!!! Call me if you can when you get this. I don't care the time, and you can leave a message with your phone number and I will call you back!

Robert Albert


With all the Springborn coincidences and everything tying together Robert looked in a book (of transcriptions done by a gentleman in Germany) of marriages that he'd had in his library the whole time (the parish where Frederica Springborn's death record said she was born) and there was John and Minnie!  Minnie had been previously married to a man named Johann Friedrich Theodor Springborn.  With this new information he was able to find (and I now know) that their family was: 
  • Johann Heinrich Theodor Freiheit who was born at GroƟ Nemerow, Germany August 17th, 1825, son of Joachim Heinrich Freiheit and Elisabeth Sophia Frederica Hagen.  He had a sister Johanna Carolina Elisabeth Freiheit who married Carl Christian Theodor Ebel.
  • Sophie Christiane Wilhelmine Helm who was born October 15th, 1834 at Strasen, Germany, daughter of Johann Joachim Helm and Maria Dorothea Kienscherper.  She had a sister Sophie Wilhelmine Henriette Helm.
They were married November 6, 1857 at Godendorf, Germany and had the following children (at Godendorf):
  •  Mathilda Henriette Sophie Freiheit, November 10th, 1858
  • Caroline Marie Dorothee Freiheit, September 6th, 1860
  • Auguste Henrietta Caroline Freiheit, September 22nd, 1862 (vanishes)
  • Georg Johann Friedrich Freiheit, November 22nd, 1864 - died August 29th, 1866 at Wokuhl
  • Anna (from the ship log) doesn't appear anywhere.  It's theorized that they moved shortly before leaving Germany and she was born in a port city.  She's not with the family in 1870 so she died somewhere between Delaware and Manistee.
Minnie had been previously married to the Springborn January 6th, 1854 at Strasen and had a son Heinrich Carl Christian Springborn April 7th, 1855 at Strasen.  I can't find anything on either her 1st husband or her son.  All of these cities are in Mecklenberg, just as my grandfather had said.  There is nothing to indicate that he was a nobleman but I'll chalk that up to family lore.  

What are the chances of Robert clipping and sending me the Springborn record?  The microfilm had hundreds and hundreds of death records on it.  He picked one at random that had good information and sent it to show me what to hope we could find.  Had he not picked THAT record this brick wall wouldn't have come down - of that there is no doubt in my mind.  When I called him and talked to him (yes, it was after midnight.......I'd waited years for this conversation) he told me the Mormons believe that our ancestors want to be found and that there was no doubt in his mind that they wanted us to find them because too many things had to happen just right for this discovery to be made.

Of the sisters of Julia I'd found the death records for all but Hattie and I knew they didn't run boarding houses and hadn't been murdered.  Hattie vanishes from the Grand Rapids MI city directory after 1926 but I found a Hattie Dickson in the 1930 Indianapolis census as the "proprietor" of a "rooming house".  She's in the city directories there from 1930 until her death in 1937 (November 22nd) at 608 N. Delaware "furn rooms".  I'd found my boarding house sister!  I found a transient death record here in Grand Rapids since she's buried in Oakhill Cemetery but it didn't list a cause of death.  Via another wonderful genealogy connection I managed to get an article from the November 22nd Indianapolis Times, page 11.  
Indianapolis Times November 22nd, 1937, pg. 11

I've looked everywhere to find a play written about it and haven't found it.  Given that it was in 1937 and probably wasn't a smash hit it's probably lost to time.  I'm not sure how I'd ever prove she was an opera singer but let me tell you, my grandpa was right about so much of his ancestry, pulled from his brain spur of the moment, that I wouldn't bet against it!

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Swank journal and the clues (and miscues) it provides

Wow, I was on a tear there for a few days - life is busy and blogging isn't always easy to get to.  Hopefully at a slower pace I'll be able to put more time and effort into what I write.

Here is my great grandpa George Swank's sister Helen Elizabeth Swank Rathbun.  I got this picture with the group I mentioned in my last blog post and with those photos I got copies of her handwritten journal about her parents and siblings.  Given that her parents died so long ago (as compared to my other 2nd great grandparents) and that my grandma never knew them this journal represents some of the only information I have on the Swank family.

The journal appears to be broken into 3 separate journals, as though she kept starting over.  One of them is broken up with information from one page not following to the next (even though the copies clearly show this is the order she wrote them in).  In spite of this there is a lot of information that carries from one entry to the next that at first glimpse appears to be correct.  That said, there are clues in the diary that make it clear her facts aren't always correct.  One of the 3 journals lists it was written January 30th, 1938 which was 31 years after her mother's death and 37 years after her father's death.

All 3 journals list her father Peter Swank born of German parents at Strassbergh (sic) Germany June 17th, 1828 and Phoebe's birth to German and French parents at Rhine Polse Byron Germany August 19th, 1835.  My grandma's family history lists they were born at Alsace Lorraine France.  Upon digging around I found that "Strausbourg, Bas Rhin, Alsace" was under French control in 1828 (and is back under French control now) so Peter was most likely born in this area and actually French (I was told his name would have been Pierre then, not Peter).  I joined an Alsace Facebook group and was provided this website which looks to be an amazing resource for this region (although I don't find Peter at Strausbourg - will have to search surrounding towns):

Phoebe's birth location has been located (as previously mentioned) and other than a spelling error Helen appeared to have this correct.  

Peter's arrival here in America lists landing in Brooklyn NY in 1849 via sailboat.  It lists Phoebe arriving with her father in 1850 but doesn't say how they got here.  They are listed as arriving at Ellis Island and staying 3 days for inspections.  Ellis Island didn't exist until 1892 so this is an error but it's not hard to believe they were held for inspections somewhere.  Phoebe's father Joannes got a room at the "Megsker House" in Brookly and that's where Peter was staying.  They were both stone masons and worked together and that's how they became friends, leading to Peter and Phoebe meeting, eventually marrying May 15th, 1853.  They saw Joannes off on May 19th, 1853 and never saw anyone from either family again (in spite of continuing correspondence with them and even sending them money to visit, which was believed to have just been spent as they never came). 

I learned of Peter's family that he had a sister that died young of "inflammatory rheumatism" and a younger brother William that also came to NY but that Helen didn't remember ever meeting.  Other than mentioning that she never met any of her grandparents there is no further mention of Peter's parents.  Of Phoebe's family I learned that was the oldest, having a younger brother and sister.  Their names (and the name of Phoebe's mother) are never mentioned.  Helen wrote that her mother always said that my great grandpa George reminded her of her brother from Germany who she "loved dearly and was great pals with" and that whenever she got homesick this resemblance was a great comfort to her. 

Phoebe is said to have gotten a job at the Megsker House taking care of the wine cellar and being a waitress.  Later in life she was said to be in charge of the logging and timber sales when they cleared their land in Paris Twp.  

After Joannes left for home, Peter and Phoebe moved to Williamsburg NY and settled there in an apartment for 6 years, Peter working building bridge abutments.  They saved money and had their 1st daughter Fredericka here.  Of Fredericka, Helen writes "she was a small person when she grew up and resembled my mother's mother, my grandmother on her side of the family.  I can remember her beautiful hair, it was black as a raven and two big long braids that came down to her knees.  She was a very sad and unfortunate girl."  Fredericka was married twice, first to Fred Henry Fralick who was hired to help on the Swank farm when Peter was too busy to farm it and then to George Schantz.  Fred was known to be cruel to the farm animals but was very kind to the Swank children who begged their father to let him remain after a neighbor told him about the treatment of the animals.  Fred and Fredericka had a son Henry Fralick who married but never had children.  I'm not sure if they divorced or if Fred died but she remarried to George and had 6 children, 3 dying in infancy and 3 that made it to adulthood.  Only her daughter Mathilda has any living descendants, one I'm in contact with (because of a letter I wrote her now late mother).  Fredericka died in 1882 at the young age of 28.  It seems she had much sorrow and hardship in her life and that's probably what Helen meant by "sad and unfortunate."

From NY they moved to St. Catherine's Canada and Peter worked for a man named "Jenkins" building railroad bridges.  The land was so low and swampy they all got sick with typhoid fever that Peter couldn't work.  A year later "Jenkins" moved them to "Branchton" (believed Brampton) in Ontario Canada where Peter continued his trade and Phoebe helped run the hotel that "Mrs. Jenkins" ran.  Peter built a 3 room stone cottage across from the hotel and they planted a row of pear trees behind it.  It mentions that they moved into this place and had a "curly headed" baby boy named William (named after William Jenkins) and that it was September of 1860.  It was mentioned that they already had 3 girls at this time and I have Fredericka, her sister Mary (Hale) and a sister Elizabeth who died in 1870 at the age of 9 so the number of children lines up but 1860 may be off if Elizabeth was born in 1861.  Peter helped to build a brewery in Berlin, Ontario Canada and a church at Galt, Ontario Canada (where his youngest daughter Vina (McDonald) ended up moving to in adulthood before purchasing the farm land in Paris Twp in 1866.  Apparently the men he worked with were discussing the war in America and how land was cheap and work was plenty which is what got him to leave Canada.  Helen mentions that she took her mother back to Canada to visit with 94 year old Mrs. Jenkins in 1897 and that Phoebe had a "grand visit". 

The farm in Paris Twp was 40 acres known as the "Sharps Farm".  It mentions that they settled here with 3 children but all records I can find list that they had their son Adam in 1864 so the earlier son named William I assume must have passed away while in Canada (as he's not in the 1870 census with them).  They moved into a building that the sheep had been living in, cleaning it out and making it their home.  The land was full of timber so they made money logging and then farming while Peter worked building buildings in Grand Rapids.  He walked to and from the job sites daily, carrying the families groceries home with him on his back.  It was said that he got paid every two weeks and could "cover a good sized table top with silver dollars".  Pat relayed this story to me before I had read the journal, having heard it from her father Adam.  

Mention is made of the birth of her brother William Swank, November 9th, 1867.  I can't find a birth record for any of the Swank children except the youngest Vina, in spite of the fact that 5 were born after births started being recorded in 1867.  William lists 11/29/1868 on his marriage license to Clara and his headstone says 1871 but given that he's 3 years old in the 1870 census I believe Helen got the correct date here.  It is further complicated by another entry that references that he was born November 9th, 1866, specifically mentioning it was the "same year" as when they bought the farm.  

Helen's sister Rozetta's birth is noted February 12th, 1869 and that she was a "sweet little girl, small and delicate" and reminded Phoebe of a rose so that's what she called her.  This was a bad year for their household as the neighbor children brought home scarlet fever and all of their children caught it.  Phoebe nursed Rose back from the brink of death but she was blind in one eye as a result of
 it.  Rose was the 2nd wife of Burton Vosburgh and died June 6th, 1954 at Charlotte, Eaton County MI and is buried next to Helen and her husband Charles Rathbun at Oak Grove Cemetery in Grand Rapids.  Her grave and that of Charles are unmarked.  The picture of the 3 women came from Patricia as well - Rose is on the left, her niece Mona Hale (daughter of Mary Swank Hale) is on the right.  The middle woman isn't identified but she looks an awful lot like Rose and my guess is that it's Mary Swank Hale (although she was 9 years older than rose so perhaps it's the youngest daughter Vina).

The man on the left here is Adam Schwenk, Pat's father.  No mention of his birth is made except an entry on the back of the journal from Helen that says "brother Adam Swank is 74 on Monday, February 13th 1939.  We are all very well thanks to the good Lord"  She says "we" because she references her own birth ("Saturday Feb 11 - 1939 a very cold day. I am 65 years young today and am hail and hearty Helen E Rathbun") and the birth of her husband Charles ("Monday, Feb 18 - 1929. Mr. Chas B Rathbun is 69 years young today a fine day gone to City to see Vina __unreadable__ .") prior to Adam's.  Adam died September 5th, 1955 at Grand Rapids and is buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Wyoming MI.  His obituary lists his age as 71 when he was in fact 90 or 91.  The journal mentions that when Adam was 5 his sisters Fredericka and Mary were watching him while she worked and Adam got out the door and fell face first into a fire.  The burns were said to have been "so severe that he never was as large or strong as the rest of the children (William and George) when grown up.

So there you have it - interesting tidbits and conflicting information learned by the writings of my great grandfather's sister.  She had a stillborn baby boy October 26th, 1910 and never had any other children so I'm very lucky that this diary made it to a sibling or a niece or nephew and eventually to Patricia who was kind enough to share it with me.  I have the journal scanned in .pdf format so if anyone is interested in it please send me an email and I'll gladly send you a copy.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My worst brick wall - Peter and Phoebe Swank

As a general rule genealogy has been a relatively easy thing for me to do - frustration has been minimal except when it comes to my families that came from Germany.  I have 4 lines that I trace back to Germany and I've only broken down one of those walls (that's a post that I haven't written yet but inspired my wanting to do a blog as I love sharing that story).  The other 2 I have a rough idea where they came from but this one - good grief.

I have referenced my grandma's handwritten family notes for several blogs now - it's 4 pages in her neat and small print (she had amazing handwriting) and this is all she wrote of her dad George Swanks 's parents:
So there it was - my only "concrete" evidence of where they came from and it conflicted with all the census and death records I could find.  Peter was a farmer in Paris Township, Kent Co MI for all census records - that much I knew for sure.  Their birthdates are on their headstone.  The 1870 census lists them as being from "Berne Switzerland", in 1880 Germany, his death record lists "Holland" and her death certificate lists Germany - both death records are missing parents.

Then I got my hands on another letter my grandma wrote, this one to her half-brother's son and daughter in law (the daughter in law I still correspond with).  It made mention of cousins of my grandma that I didn't know of:
An interesting tidbit - my great grandfather George married a woman 27 years his junior and had his last child at age 66.  His brother William married a woman 22 years his junior.  I started looking into this family and the brother my grandma references (Adam) married a woman 23 years his junior and had his last child at age 57.  

I set out on a mission to figure out who these people were and see if I could find living people.  I looked up "Omar" in the phone book (it's actually Omer) and called the number I found.  To my surprise Pat answered.  She'd never married and was willing to meet with me.  When I talked to her she was 79 years old and took me at my word that I was who I said I was and let me visit her home.  She was so incredibly nice to me.  She asked if I'd like to "see some pictures" (duh!) - it was one of the main reasons I was there.  She slid a few pictures across the table at me and smiled:

 These were her grandma and grandpa Swank, my 2nd great grandparents.  The 2 paintings she had the originals of, in the original gilded frames (they were huge - at least 3 feet tall) and had made these copies for me before my visit.  I took pictures of the originals that were framed but the files corrupted so I don't have them anymore.  The other 2 photos of Phoebe and a photo of her aunt Helen Elizabeth Rathbun she said she had borrowed from my grandma a few weeks prior to her death (so she could make copies) and after reading her obituary she wasn't sure how to reach anyone.  Nobody in my family knew who she was (even my grandma notes in that letter it'd been 65+ years since they'd seen each other).

Because of my curiosity and out of the blue phone call she gave me the photos "to keep them with family".  Her late brother Omer never married but her late sister Irene had children and grandchildren.   She was nice enough to return the originals to the family they came from even though none of us ever knew they existed.  In addition to these photos she gave me a handwritten family history that was written by her aunt Helen Elizabeth that talks about her parents' journey to America, their marriage in NY and their life in general (they had children in NY, Canada and MI).  I will save that for the next post and the information in it is conflicting at times but it definitely gave me a guide and assured me that they came from Germany, not France. The journal didn't mention much in the way of family for Peter but it did mention that Phoebe came here with her father Johannes Siegler to New York City in 1850.  He was a stone mason by trade (so was Peter) and the journal said he got TB by "inhaling stone dust".  Apparently he thought coming here would bring him health.  The journal lists that he returned to Germany May 19th, 1853 and died there "2 years later".

In addition to Helen Elizabeth's notes there were notes by a relative who had traveled to Germany to research the family and had written that Johannes was the son of Henricus Siegler and Elizabeth Valerius.  Nobody knows who wrote those notes or visited Germany but a German researcher in California I was working with posted on an ancestry message board and got a response with this little known website:  which gave us the name of the town Phoebe's family originated from - Erdorf, in the Rhineland-Palatinate. 

 My researcher knew to post on the particular board he did because of the city listed in Phoebe's obituary.  This late researcher who compiled records over there broke 1/2 of this German wall down by posting his work.  I now have the names of Phoebe's parents, grandparents and great grandparents (but still don't know who her mom was). 

 This was one of my best lessons in genealogy - turn over all rocks - make those phone calls, send those letters.  Compile all the records you can find.  Eventually the smallest detail will lead you to something.  Without stumbling on Phoebe's obituary (which took me years to find after finding the journal) and combining that with information from the journal I'd probably still not have a clue where in Germany her family came from.  This of course all hinged on Thomas Pick and his dedication to publishing the records he'd found and on a mystery relative scribbling a note with Joannes' parents names on the journal.
  Now if only I could get Peter to cooperate!

Grand Rapids Press June 8, 1907

Grand Rapids Press August 11, 1894