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 Saarbr├╝cken, 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.