Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Further Adventures of Louis Neid!

So, how 'bout that Louis Neid? Louis has quickly become my favorite great-great-grand uncle, because I was the one that re-discovered him after he had been forgotten by generations of his family. (You know, not bragging or anything.) And he was a bachelor, with no offspring of his own, so I feel responsible for him.

To recap from last time: Louis (or Lewis) Neid is Christian Neid's brother. Louis immigrated from Mühlhausen, Prussia, around 1870 and joined the United States Army. He was stationed at West Point Academy from 1870-1897, at which time he retired. During his military service, I am happy to report that Louis' character was consistently rated as "good" to "excellent." By 1899, he was enjoying his retirement in San Diego, California. His address in the city directory is variously listed as "water front foot of 8th," "N. Bay Front Street #1717," and "756 State." These streets all point to the Marina neighborhood of San Diego, which is on San Diego Bay. And, on 23 March 1907, Louis Neid died at age 80. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Grand Army of the Republic Section 2, Lot 59, Grave 2-A. It is an unmarked grave.

This is all interesting information, but a bit dry. Here's a little more to spice it up: in the 1900 census, Louis is listed as being a divorced locksmith. There's no mention of a wife in any of the records from his army years, so exactly who he was divorced from, and the details of their relationship, is unknown at this time.

But here's for the really exciting stuff. Louis made the New York Herald newspaper on 16 Jan 1882 (he'd been in the military about 12 years):

His face bearing "marks of violence," Louis Neid "presented a sorry appearance" in Essex Market Police Court on 15 Jan 1882, appearing against one John Wilson. To begin the article, it was noted that Louis had claimed to be an officer in the engineering department at West Point Military Academy, but was actually only a private soldier. That clarification has absolutely nothing to do with the story that is then related, however. They just wanted you to know.

The actual action started when Louis had come into the city on Saturday while on furlough and bought some jewelry at various stores, paying $175 in all. And then he met up with a man and shared some drinks with him at a bar. That always ends well.

Later, all Louis could recall was someone striking him and inflicting the wounds that were obvious when he was in court; he lost consciousness and the next thing he knew is that he was waking up in an alley, robbed! But at least he had his greatcoat. More on that in a moment.

Fortunately for Louis, Mrs. Mary Brennan of No. 5 Forsyth Street had been on the scene. Mrs. Brennan testified that about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, she had seen Wilson dragging Louis into the alley adjoining her house; she said Wilson had stripped Louis of his overcoat and then left. Mrs. Brennan had run after Wilson and demanded that he return the greatcoat, to which Wilson replied "that he was going for a carriage to take his friend home."

Mrs. Brennan sent two boys (street urchins, I presume, who were standing by for just such a task) to follow the man; he was seen entering a pawnshop and, a few minutes later, came out (still with the coat). Wilson returned to Louis, who remained unconscious on the ground, and set the coat on the ground next to him.

The police had been notified by this point and arrested Wilson, who was found in possession of jewelry and pocketbooks belonging to Louis. The police took him to the stationhouse, where an officer had to prevent the prisoner from swallowing a ten dollar bill.

In court, Wilson denied the charge (and claimed to be a real estate agent), but the "evidence was committed in default of $1,500 bail."

And that's the end of the story. The biggest question remains... why was Louis in New York City buying $175 worth of jewelry?

Moving right along to sunny California...

I must quote the following headline from 16 Nov 1906 in its entirety, because they really knew how to write headlines back then:


Girl Babe Lives Hours After Arm and Leg Are Cut Off; Mangled Woman Dies Instantly

Child Calmly Contemplates Stumps of Limbs While Doctors Vainly Strive to Save Life

JIMINY CRICKETS. That requires no commentary. But let me give you the back story anyway.

First, let me introduce you to Cosette. Cosette is referred to in the article variously as "child," "girl baby," "little girl," etc., so I named her Cosette and started comparing everyone in this story to characters in Les Miserables. (Lewis Neid is Jean Valjean, of course.)

Anyway, Cosette was a "girl baby of about eighteen months," the daughter of Alice Gunter, a demimondaine. Alice was one of three women that had recently moved into No. 59 waterfront, near the foot of Eight street. One of Alice's housemates was Clara Jennie Wright, a fifty-three year old native of England. Mrs. Wright was a widow with one son, George D. Wright. The third housemate is never named.

I didn't know off the top of my head what a demimondaine was, but since it's French, it must have to do with either sex or fashion. Surely a newspaper in the much more conservative early twentieth century wouldn't be talking about the former; maybe a demimondaine was a... lady's maid? I had to turn to that source of infinite knowledge, Wikipedia:

"Demi-monde refers to a group of people who live hedonistic lifestyles, usually in a flagrant and conspicuous manner... behaviors often included drinking or drug use, gambling, high spending... and sexual promiscuity. The term demimondaine... became a euphemism for a courtesan or prostitute."

Jiminy crickets. Forget what I said about the staid and proper early twentieth century. There's no such thing.

Neighbors had complained about Mrs. Wright's house, and the fact that Mrs. Wright always appeared to be intoxicated; the police had the house under supervision. Popular belief had it that "a number of dissolute characters were making it a headquarters." The occupants seemed to have sensed trouble and were already packing in preparation for a move--they had only been there a few days.

That fateful day (15 Nov 1906), Cosette was in the care of Mrs. Wright. They went out for a wholesome afternoon walk, and Mrs. Wright visited the saloon at the foot of Fifth street and came away with a pitcher of beer. Then they headed back home by way of the Santa Fe train tracks, Mrs. Wright leading the child by one hand and carrying the pitcher in the other.

As you might have suspected would happen, a train came along, when the woman and child were in front of Standard Iron works and very nearly to their home. The two were walking eastward; and the Santa Fe switch engine, with three box cars in front, came up behind them. Mrs. Wright seemed aware of the train but made no effort to get off the track until the train was almost upon them. Then she turned about, slipped, and fell across the track, pulling the child down with her.

The train was reportedly running "very slowly" and after the woman fell, it stopped within a car length and a half. Conductor B. J. Riley was in charge on the engine; Engineer M. E. Knauss, Fireman C. G. Ferris, and Brakeman F. J. Eaton were also on board. Eaton had shouted out to Mrs. Wright when the train was five to six car lengths away. Mrs. Wright had turned and looked at him, but continued on her path.

A moment later Louis Neid, who lived nearby, arrived on the scene riding his bicycle! He shouted at Mrs. Wright, and it was then that she seemed to realize that the train was dangerously close. Still, rather than getting off, she turned and looked at the train. As full realization came over her, she tripped and fell directly across the rail.

Louis tried to grab Cosette and pull her to safety, but was just too late; the front trucks cut off an arm and a leg before Louis could grab her. Fifty-three year old Mrs. Wright was killed instantly, "torn and mangled almost beyond recognition"; the wheels had passed over her lengthwise and nearly split her body in two.

Cosette was still alive and conscious. It was said that her senses were probably numbed; she did not appear to experience any pain. She "gazed wonderingly at the stumps of her arm and leg. One finger on her left hand had been crushed and this seemed a constant source of surprise to her, for she held it up and looked curiously at it again and again."

Cosette was taken to Agnew sanitarium, where she died early evening of the same day. She had lived for about three hours following the accident--"Everything possible was done for the little one, but without hope of success, and she passed away about 6 o'clock." But Louis tried! He really tried!!

Onlookers quickly gathered as news of the accident spread. Many "were unable to stand the horrible scene and turned away sickened by the sight of the little arm and leg lying by themselves beside the track." Ambulance, physicians, the coroner, and police were immediately summoned by telephone. Coroner Morgan was promptly on the scene, taking names of witnesses. An inquest was thought likely be called the morning of the 16th. The evening of the accident, Coroner Morgan stated that "he did not see how blame for the tragedy could be laid upon anyone except the victims, who apparently had plenty of warning of the approach of the train."

The evening edition on the 16th reported that the coroner's jury (composed of D. W. Frew, C. M. Davis, E. W. Ecker, W. H. Mattax, George B. Chapman and P. Parkhurst) had heard testimony bearing on the accident and decreed that the cause of death of both victims was "being run over by cars and switch engine." No one was held accountable or any blame fixed.

So, what happened?

One possibly considered was that Mrs. Wright had simply thought she had enough time to walk the distance to the house before the train was upon them, and tragically miscalculated.

It was also mentioned that Mrs. Wright had a history of partial paralysis. Did the shock of the train suddenly bearing down on her bring on an attack?

Alcohol was not considered to be a factor, apparently because shards of glass from the pitcher Mrs. Wright had been carrying were found still containing beer. But did they know how much she had had before leaving the saloon?

Questions I'm researching...

Where were Clara Jennie Wright and Cosette Gunter buried?

What happened to Alice? Who was her family? There is an Alice E. Gunter buried in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, born 1884 and died 1967. This Alice's age would work out to allow for having a child in 1906--there is no shortage of the name Alice Gunter, however, in California, so I have plenty of work to do sorting them out. One record that fascinates me is a 1920 census for the Patton State Hospital (a mental hospital) in San Bernardino, California. One Alice Gunther is listed, age 38 (so around 24 years old in 1906). Was the horror of the accident too much for her to handle? Did her life fall to pieces afterwards?

And who was Clara Jennie Wright, for that matter--the widowed native of  England with a son named George?

Who was the third woman that shared a house with Jennie and Alice? What was their true business?

And that's the story of why I'm now looking for an early twentieth century San Diego prostitute.

© 2014 Mary Dutcher Knapp. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Neids: Wine and the Army

I have collected enough puzzle pieces about my Neid family to feel inspired to write an article about everything.

Christian Neid is my great-great grandfather, born somewhere in Prussia around 1834 and living in Potosi, Wisconsin by 1880. Those are all the facts I was able to glean from He seemed to be parent-less and sibling-less, and married a similarly unconnected woman name Kate Roemer once he was settled in Potosi.

Christian Neid and Kate Roemer, looking awesome. They have no parents or siblings to tie them down. (Seriously this time. Not to be confused with Christian Klar and  Kate Micka.)

Other than that, my trusty Aunt Kathie took some notes from her mom's remembrances about her Neid grandparents. After coming over to Wisconsin from Germany, Christian bought a 133 acre farm and the family "Made wine, supplied priests, large basket of grapes for 25 cents, sold wine." I get the impression that wine was involved. (Presumably they supplied priests with wine, and not that they grew priests in the field to supply the Church.) Potosi was actually once well-known for both its wine and beer production (wine fell out of favor during Prohibition, but the brewery survived with near-beer), so Christian was contributing his 133 acres of grapes to the cause. Rumor has it (thank you, Aunt Kathie) that one of our Potosi ancestors was an alcoholic that had a still and made moonshine during Prohibition. I'm not saying it was Christian Neid, but... he did make wine. Family lore also has it that this same alcoholic donated land to St. Thomas Church that became the St. Thomas Cemetery in Potosi. (Note to self: Check old land maps at Lancaster for the Neid acreage and vicinity to the cemetery.)

Now that I'm putting this story together, it occurs to me that this brand of the family has a lot of connections to alcohol. Christian's wife Kate, before she became Mrs. Neid, worked as a house servant for William Mohrenberg, a brewer in Potosi.

Moving on... as I mentioned before, Christian Neid seemed to be in America on his own, and I was okay with that. But, my curiosity was piqued when I came across the Neid name on a marriage license for a Potosi couple--Mary Elizabeth Neid married John Richter in 1864. Actually, her last name is variously transcribed as Neid, Neil, or Neit. And her father's name is always transcribed as Foy. (Note to self: WHY have I not yet checked the state archives for the original? Because there's no way her dad's name is actually Foy.)

So that was mildly interesting, and I kept it in the back of my mind for years, until a few months ago I made an amazing connection on the 1880 census that I'd previously overlooked.
Elizabeth Neit/Neil/Neid, now Richter, and Christian Neid (or Nit, as the case may be) are neighbors. Now, I think it's fair to say that Neid is a fairly uncommon name. So what are the odds that two people born with that surname end up in Wisconsin living right next to each other and not be related? I then came to form the idea that Christian and Elizabeth were siblings--or at least cousins.

I contacted a Richter family researcher with my theory, and he was neither able to confirm nor deny it--which I was happy with. A flat out "no, that's impossible, because blah blah blah" would have been terrible.  Fortunately, he agreed that it did, indeed, seem possible; so it's still a working theory.

This researcher also put me on the path of a resource which led to my next big break--old Dubuque papers that Google digitized before giving up on that project (shame, shame, shame!) But, look what a search of those papers brought up for 2 Apr 1907:

Good thing I saved a screen capture, because this issue appears to no longer be online. CURSE YOU, GOOGLE!
JIMINY CRICKETS! I'd just found a sister (I hoped). Now there was a BROTHER, too? This was too much to handle. Geez, I didn't have much to go on, though, to find out anything about this nameless brother. But look what a quick search came up with:
Seriously? It's never that easy. That's just weird. The date of Louis Neid's death is about 10 days prior to the newspaper announcement in Dubuque, so I think he's a match. Wow. Christian Neid is gaining family members by leaps and bounds. Look who's enlisted in the army in 1875, in Highlands, New York:
That's Louis, age 35, and Alexander, age 17. Now all of a sudden I have two Neids serving in the US military. This is almost too much fun to handle. There are about 18 years between them; are they siblings, cousins, or father-son? Anyway, records show that they both had long careers in the military, but they parted ways after this one record. It's too bad I couldn't narrow now WHERE in Germany they were from. But wait... inexplicably, in 1895, the army felt like including a city along with country of birth for Lewis:
Experts (by which I mean some random people I asked on Facebook) agree that this says Mühlhausen, Prussia. Such a place does exist. Lookin' good!

But wait, there's more. I found this record on, and I think it might be my guy (going all the way back to Christian Neid now):
His place of last residence is this Birkenried place. In modern times, Birkenried seems to be the name of a German music festival, so it's hard to get any search results that don't involve that. There does not seem to be a current location that takes that name, though seems to think it's an alternate name for various locations in Poland and Russia named Loshchinka or Uszballen. I don't know what their source for that information is--they're cagey--but none of the locations are anywhere near Mühlhausen, so I wasn't happy. And then Chris was like "Let's look at a map" and he found this:
That's the little town of Bickenriede, just a few miles away from Mühlhausen. Could it be that BIRKENRIED IS A BAD TRANSCRIPTION OF BICKENRIEDE??? O. M. G.
So yeah, I'm pretty sure my Neids are from the Mühlhausen/Bickenriede neighborhood. What would be awesome is if I could find this building:
That's a picture my Grandma had; the only caption written on the back is "Germany." If you blow up the photo you can read a word in German on the door frame, and it says "Weinhandlung." And as I understand it, that is basically a wine store. So I think those are Neids. And I want to find that building, because it looks pretty serious.

I'm still investigating Louis and Alexander. Briefly, Louis retired from the army and settled in California; a census from this time lists his marital status as divorced, but I don't know who was married to or if they had children. Alexander seems to have settled in New York City and married a widow named Anna Tobin. And that leads to a mess of about a dozen children and stepchildren that I am just beginning to scratch the surface of. Now I'm just drowning in Neids.

But ultimately, the moral of this story is: Seriously, Google, get your crap together and digitize ALL THE NEWSPAPERS EVER. (I know your robots are reading this. You can't say you're ignorant of my request.)

(But alas, poor Kate Roemer remains without blood relatives.)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Such Joseph Klein. Wow.

In response to harsh criticism to last month's post (you know who you are, for shame! and I know where you live!), I am now amending it with a corollary note to the effect of--

Discrepancies in dates/names/etc. do NOT give you carte blanche to jump to unreasonable conclusions without further research!

For example, don't be all "OMG, Mary Elizabeth Smith in Illinois and Lizzie Smith in Wisconsin have totally different families but their birth years are only five years apart! This crazy girl on the internet told me I could merge them together! COOL!"

Yeah. Don't be like that.

If you want to make that claim, you'll need to do some careful sleuthing. I'm going to use the story of Joseph Klein as a cautionary tale to illustrate the need for careful consideration of the facts before coming to a conclusion.

Let me throw in another disclaimer. I've collected enough evidence in the following paragraphs to put together a story--but there are still missing facts. I present my interpretation with the understanding that some information could come to light someday that brings all my lovely theories crumbling to the ground.

So, how about those Kleins, anyway? There are a number of them in the southwest Wisconsin region, and so far I've traced everyone back to three Klein progenitors--
  • Anton Klein, born 1821 in Prussia; settled in Potosi by 1857 when he married Anna Schwartz.
  • Franz G. Klein (Joseph Sr.), born ~1797 in Prussia; settled in Potosi by 1870 with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. His wife is unknown; she presumably died before the family came to America.
  • John Klein, born 1861 in Prussia; settled in Dubuque, Iowa (right across the Mississippi from Grant County) by 1885 and married Elizabeth Grommersch.
Were any of these three men related, and convinced to settle in southwest Wisconsin due to favorable reports received from a family member that had already made the move? Anything is possible, but so far no information has come to light linking them, so for now the families must be treated as three distinct bloodlines.  

(Alert: Speculation ahead!) As for my family, we are descendants of Franz G./Joseph, who I believe are the same man. When I first started out on my family search, I knew him only as Joseph, with a son named Joseph who married Emma Kehrer. Since recording those sparse notations available in the family Bible, I have fleshed out the family's history, and have more questions to answer. Here's the scenario I propose:

I discovered the lichen-encrusted headstone of Franz G. Klein (1791-1878) directly behind that of Joseph Klein and Emma Kehrer, in St. Thomas Cemetery, Potosi. I feel confident that this is the man who came down in family records as Joseph, due to the matching birth and death dates and proximity of burial to Joseph Jr. Perhaps Joseph was one of several given names, but for some reason Franz G. was the moniker decided on for his headstone.

Next to Franz/Joseph Sr. was another headstone with a very interesting inscription--"Katharina Delaney, wife of Joseph Klein." I didn't know Franz's wife, so initially I thought this was her; but further light shed by census records revealed that Katharina was actually the wife of the younger Joseph. Emma Kehrer was Joseph Jr's second wife; Katharina Delaney's existence, and her part in our family, had been forgotten until I uncovered her headstone more than a hundred years after her death.

It's more readable in person.

Furthermore, the 1870 census revealed that Joseph and Katharina (Delaney) Klein had a son! And his name was... Joseph. Joseph Sr./Franz was living with them, so in a household of four, three of the people were named Joseph. Is it any wonder that Joseph Sr. might have wanted to go by another name on his headstone? Katharina died in 1871, and Joseph Jr. and Emma were married in 1875.

Now, Joseph III was a brand new great grand uncle to me, so I wanted to find out all I could about him. In 1880, Joseph III was still living with his father, stepmother, and two half-sisters. In a 1905 census, a single Joseph Klein appears in Potosi boarding with the Vogelsberg family, who could be my man. I can't find him in the 1910 census, but for 1920... I had a couple candidates to choose from. Two Joseph Kleins born ~1862 had families in Grant County for the 1920 census. How was I going to figure out which was the RIGHT Joseph Klein?

Candidate #1 was definitely an outlier. He lived in Beetown and was married to a woman named Jessie, hardly the name of a nice German Catholic girl that my Joseph's family would have wanted for him. He had children with avant-garde names like Nevada and Violet. I didn't have a good feeling about this guy.

Candidate #2, however, and his wife Mary of Potosi proved to have a stellar track record at choosing traditional, sensible names for their brood of children--Henry, Alfred, Jacob, Leo, Clarence, Lucille. Furthermore, this Joseph and Mary Klein have a headstone in St. Andrew Cemetery, Tennyson, buried near other relatives of mine. It was a perfect fit.

Still, this was all circumstantial evidence. I hadn't proved anything; I'd just turned up two Joseph Kleins born in the same time frame. There was just one little difference between the two individuals--place of birth. One was born in Illinois, and one in Wisconsin. This was the key! I knew from the 1870 census that Joseph and Katharina's son had been born in Illinois. So the Joseph Klein I was seeking was, of course--

Candidate #1. Joseph and Jessie. Unlikely as it seemed at the start, the outlier was my guy. So, let that be a lesson to you all that the obvious solution to a puzzle is not always the correct one. It's important to keep an eye out for these small but significant clues that can break a case wide open. (I believe Candidate #2 is the son of Anton Klein, one of the original three Kleins.)

Records at the Lancaster County Court House led me to Joseph III's death certificate (he died in June 1922, of diffuse peritonitis and a peptic ulcer, in case you were wondering). I also found his widow Jessie's marriage certificate to George Cardy; they were married in September 1922, a few months after Joseph died. She wasted no time! But after Jessie's remarriage, I could find no trace of the family, and I was stuck on that point in my research for several years. There were four children listed for Joseph and Jessie in 1920; what had happened to them?

Earlier this year, a chance discovery of a woman named Violet buried in Lancaster led me into communication with a descendant of Jessie, and I was able to pitch my idea to her. I had convinced myself of the veracity of this branch of the Kleins. Would Jessie's family agree with my findings? I was able to test my theory on Laurie and get her impression.

Laurie and I pooled our notes. I learned that Jessie was born Jessie Robinson; with her first husband, Roy Ellis, she had two daughters, Nevada and Violet. Then she married Joseph Klein, and they had three sons--Joseph (#4!), Francis, and Stanley. And, as I mentioned above, she married George Cardy after Joseph's death. The only information that we disagreed on were the names of Joseph's parents. According to my story, they were Joseph Klein and Katharina Delaney. According to notes Laurie had taken from Joseph and Jessie's marriage license (they were married in Dubuque), Joseph's parents were Peter Klein and Catherine Miller. I was a little taken aback by this information, but I was determined not to let it stop me. Could Joseph Klein/Peter Klein and Katharina Delaney/Catherine Miller still be the same people, and my story stand?

I have theories about how the discrepancy could have happened. Obviously, there were many Joseph Kleins in this family. Peter could have been one of several given names of Joseph Jr, and for whatever reason that is how he was named on his son's marriage papers. As to Katharina, she had died when Joseph was a boy of nine, and maybe he didn't keep track of his mother's maiden name. Maybe he had more important things to worry about, like putting food on the table before Wal-Mart Super Centers existed. I don't know. Maybe all he could remember was his mother's first name, and they filled in a generic "Miller" for the last name. These are nice theories, but as of now I don't have a solid explanation.

HOWEVER... to strengthen my case, I continued analyzing family documents, searching for more clues to cement the relationship. And clues I found!

Exhibit #1. A postcard discovered in papers from my grandmother's mother (Anna Klein). This postcard is addressed to Mrs. Joe Klein (presumably Emma Kehrer, Joseph III's step-mother) from none other than Jessie Ellis. Wait a minute, I know that name! The year of the postmark is not legible, but it was likely sent between 1904 (when Jessie married Roy Ellis) and 1912 (when Jessie married Joseph). Here was proof, at least, that my Kleins and Jessie knew each other.

Exhibit #2. Notes taken by my aunt of family history her mother (my grandmother) passed on to her. In this passage, Grandma noted that her grandma (Emma Kehrer) had two half-sisters (which is documented, and not relevant to this discussion) and a half-brother Joseph that lived in Beetown. Barring an unrecorded infant death, there was certainly never a half-brother Joseph. Joseph III would have been Emma's stepson, and Anna's half-brother. In any case, my grandma certainly identified Joseph Klein in Beetown as being a relation of her mother's family.

All the evidence taken together, I am personally convinced of the relationships I have presented here; but I also realize there are a missing gaps in data that I would love to fill in. The search goes on!

There is one more tidbit of information that intrigued me. Laurie shared with me that Jessie was known to be a bit of a wild child, and Emma's daughter Anna (my great-grandmother) got into a little bit of trouble in her youth, too. Jessie and Anna were sisters-in-law and just four years apart in age, so I like to think that they were BFFs, sharing wild times as teenagers in nineteenth-century Grant County, Wisconsin.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Before we get started, some notes on research

Before I start delving too deep into family histories, I thought I’d mention some general observations that I’ve noticed on my journey of genealogical research.

  • People had a lot of names, and weren’t afraid of changing between them at will. Katherina  Sophia Magdalena Carolina Kirschtorte was baptized as such in Germany (she is not a real person to my knowledge, but that is an awesome name and a reasonable example of what German babies were being baptized as in the 1800’s). When Katherina Sophia Magdalena Carolina moved with her family to America, she decided to go by Kate, and on her first US census record (say 1850) she is recorded as Kate S. For whatever reason, over the course of ten years, Kate decides she prefers her fourth name; so for the 1860 census, she identifies herself as Carrie M (taking from Caroline and Magdalena). By 1880, maybe she’s back to Kate.  
  • Long story short: having up to four given names wasn’t unheard of, and at any given time an individual could be using any combination of those names as a first and middle name in American records.

  • It appears that some women may have adopted their maiden name as their middle name after they were married. Virginia Mary Kingston, after marrying William Smith, might appear as Virginia K. Smith in records. I notice this custom more in families of English descent.

  • Dates were not an exact science; especially, the older the person is, the more room for error there is when they self-report on census records. This makes more sense to me the older I get; at the ripe old age of… 27? I think? I really have to stop and think about how old I am. It’s not at the front of my mind as it was when I was a child. So, I imagine if I was a 50-year-old immigrant farmer with no digital technology keeping track of dates for me, and the census taker came by and asked me things like how long ago I was born, how long ago I came to America, and how long I’d been married—not gonna lie, I’d be making those numbers up. My husband will tell you how upset I get when he asks me what years events happened in.  
  • In short: birth dates, arrival dates, marriage dates, etc. obtained from census records, etc. should be taken only as an estimation of the true year (which may never be known with absolute certainty unless the original document from that event is available). 
  • As a rule of thumb, I take dates from gravestones as having the most weight, as they are carved in stone. (Hah! Hah! Puns!)

  • A further note on  dates: birth/marriage/death dates and locations may come up with several options for each individual. This appears to be because these records are filed at different government levels (say, county and state). A person may have been living at an address in Lancaster, died at a hospital in Madison, and was buried in Platteville—so that leads to different records in different municipalities, leading to multiple interpretations for the death location. Dates can also be off by a few days, probably because of the date the event happened vs. the date the event was filed with the government office. Another oddity I’ve noticed about dates is that different government-issued documents may have very similar dates, only missing a digit or a year just one off—for example, 12 Nov 1882 vs 2 Nov 1882, or 12 Nov 1882 and 12 Nov 1883.  
  • Short story: Absolute values of dates and locations can be tricky and open to a certain amount of interpretation.

So, these are my own amateur observations that I keep in mind as I explore family history.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Klar Origins in Platteville

One of the places this story can start is with Christian (Johann Christian) Klar and his wife, Mary Catherine Micka. They were born (both around 1797) and married in Dudweiler, Prussia (and presumably the family had its roots there for quite some time). Dudweiler is located very near Germany’s current border with France, just about 15 miles away. The borough is today part of the city of Saarbrücken, and I hear it has some background in mining. We’ll come back to that detail in a future entry.

Anyway, in winter of 1852, a group of relatives from Dudweiler headed to America! The passenger list of the ship Globe that departed from Le Havre, France and arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana on 19 Nov 1852 contained these people—Christ Klar, age 50; George Spies, age 39; Marg. Klar, age 37; two Spies children; and Jacob Holzer, age 53 with three children. These are important names! My current research points to these Dudweiler natives settling in Wisconsin:

*Christian and Mary Catherine (Micka) Klar and their children John, Margaret, and Christian
*Margaret Klar’s husband, George Spies
*Margaret Micka (Mary Catherine’s sister) and her husband  Jacob (Johann Jacob) Holzer; and their children.

Why the other family members aren’t on the ship manifest is anybody’s guess. The handwriting is pretty fancy, so it’s possible they’re on the list and I’m overlooking them. Or maybe they didn’t write everybody down; it was probably pretty chaotic, getting people on and off a boat. In any case, one way or another, the next place these families show up is…

Grant County!

The 1860 Census for the Town of Platteville shows the families of John and Lena Clair, George and Margaret (Klar) Spear , Christian and Christina (Mary Micka) Clare, Christian and Susan (Quast) Clare, Jacob and Catherine Quest, and Margaret Holzer (Jacob died in 1859) all living in the neighborhood together. (Yes, spelling was all across the board. Dates, too.)

Check out this 1877 map of Platteville. Southwest of the town (in the yellow block) you’ll see the property of C. Klar Sr. Nearby are C. Klar Jr., J. Klar, and H. Holzer. You might recognize some other names, too, that we’ll touch on in the future!

For a sneak peak of what is to come in the next generation, take a look at the marriage certificate of Christian's son Christian when he married Susan Quast.
This document was very useful because it lists the original home towns of both Christian and Susan!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Purpose

Follow me on my trail of family research through Grant County, Wisconsin. This is a project involving hot summer days spent in lonely old cemeteries, scanning album upon album of old family photos, exploring records at the county courthouse, and putting everything together into a relatable format!

But what name could I give my project, I wondered? How could I label it with a surname or two to fully describe what it encompasses? Klars, Kleins, Neids, Fures, Wunderlins--all have had their part in the creation of me. And as I researched more and found little connections between families, I realized that I am so much more than a simple mash-up of Klar, Klein, etc. DNA. I am the product of all their combined experiences with friends, neighbors, and relatives. All the families of Grant County have had some little piece in the making of me. For example, I'm not a blood relative of anyone in the Fritz family, but my great-grandmother's friendship with one of them had an incredible influence on the course of her life. All of Grant County is entwined in one large amazing crazy quilt. So, though I will concentrate my most direct ancestors to begin with, I am keenly interested in the connections among all of Southwest Wisconsin and neighboring regions. After that epiphany, I also had a title, and now here you are: Six Degrees of Grant County.

So I had a title, but my next hurdle was how to share my love of family history with, well, my family. There is a certain kind of person that is diverted by lists of names and dates and ages (census records oh my!). To the rest of the population, however, those are dry details, and it is hard to keep someone's attention. The true goal of the family researcher is to find a way to drill down to all the dry, hard facts and then create something living and relatable out of it, something that non-historians will appreciate. To that end, as I sift through source materials, my goal is to write a series of articles to share my findings in a hopefully entertaining and interesting manner.