Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wedding Wednesday - The Binding of Lewis Harris

The Harris and Berry families are unique among all my family lines in that they are the primary reason I go into genealogy. Way back in 1998, while serving a mission in Japan for my church, I got a letter from my grandma Sally about some family history she had found. I don't know when she got started, but she'd put together a pedigree chart of her ancestors, and included pictures I had never seen. Seeing those old pictures struck something in me, and I had to know more. I had to wait until after I got home the following year, but when I did, I immediately dove headfirst into family history research, and have loved every minute of it since. So when I get a chance to find something new on the Harris or Berry families in my tree, I usually jump on it.

While doing research for a client recently, I traced part of their family tree back from Texas into Kentucky. While looking for records of the family in Kentucky, I came across a record set of Kentucky marriages that included images of the original records. As my Harris and Berry lines came from Woodford County, Kentucky, I wondered if I might be able to get actual images of some of their marriages. Up until now, all I've seen are indexes and extracts, which are not the same. So when I took a break from the work, I went back to the database and went looking for the marriage of my 4th-great-grandparents, Lewis Harris and Lucinda Berry. I found two hits for their marriage. I wondered why there would be two, thinking maybe there was some kind of second return, or a duplicate record or something. So I pulled up the first one, hoping to get some new information from these records.

The first record was basically just an index - date of the marriage, names of the contracting parties, and the name of the officiating minister. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but it is cool to know the name of the person who married my ancestors. So I saved it and went back to the second record.

The second record was much more interesting! It was a marriage bond for Thomas B. Berry (probably Lucinda's older brother) and Lewis Harris. Thomas and Lewis put themselves on the hook to pay 50 pounds if the intended marriage of Lewis Harris and Lucinda Berry did not take place. If the marriage did go through as intended, the obligation was made void and neither party would have to pay anything. I was fascinated that even though the marriage occurred in 1826, a full 50 years after the Revolutionary War began, they were still using pounds for money. I wonder when the US finally, officially dropped the pound as an acceptable currency. Might need to go look that up.

The other part of the record that interested me was the note included at the bottom. It was apparently written (or at least dictated and approved) by Lucinda's father Benjamin Berry. I love the way the note sounds when read aloud, as it makes me think this is the accent they may have used. The note was apparently written to the minister or government officer responsible for issuing the marriage license, and reads as follows (spelling as written in the original):

It is with my apperbation that Mr. Lewis harris weights on you For Licins to Inter marry with My Daughter Lucinda.
Benjamin Berry

I love seeing those little individual quirks in how my ancestors and their associates wrote. Things like "apperbation", "weights" for waits, and "Licins" make me wonder if this is how they sounded when they spoke.

I went back to my file and saw that Benjamin was born about 1755, so he would've been about 71 years old when writing this. 71, with an 18-year-old daughter! She wasn't his youngest either - she had three younger sisters and a younger brother as well. These were all children of Benjamin's second wife, Nancy Blanton, who was about 25 years Benjamin's junior. The handwriting on the note is really clear and smooth so either Benjamin had a very steady hand at 70, or someone wrote it for him. I'm inclined to think he wrote it himself, as Thomas' signature is on the note as well with the note Test, which I take to mean Testator or witness. But for Benjamin the signature is in the same hand as the rest of the note, with no note for "his mark" or the word 'seal' with a squiggly cloud drawn around it, or anything else to indicate that it's a copy of an original note. So this is probably his own signature and handwriting. Wow! His handwriting at 71 is better than mine has ever been.

Then, just for funsies, I went looking for the marriage record of Benjamin and Nancy, just to see if they had it. They did! This was made a while after the fact, as it looks like it's a summary of marriages performed in Woodford County either by a man named Carter Tarrant, or for a church or court Carter was affiliated with. The marriages are all out of order chronologically, so it might even be a summary of several churches or courts or something. But the amazing thing is this record is over 210 years old, and has information about my family! Simply amazing how much information is available to researchers these days, and how easy it is to find sometimes. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Black Sheep Sunday - The Lies of Philip Hammer

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I can finally begin to talk about Philip Hammer's second, and much more serious, episode of...misrepresentation of the facts, shall we say. In my beginning stages of research on Philip, I found he was born in Norway in 1848, and immigrated to the US sometime in the 1860s as he married his first wife Christine Steenson in Wisconsin in 1869. I couldn't find him in any 1860 or 1865 censuses, but I did find him in various federal and state censuses in 1870, 1875, 1880, and 1885, and various other documents I came across for him along the way. Through the help of distant cousins I connected with over the years, I received copies of a record Philip's son Peter Hammer made in 1940 as part of a historical data project on early North Dakota pioneers. The information from this record was apparently all provided by Peter, with no original documents (at least there were none in the copy I received), just a typescript of Peter's answers to various questions about when the family entered North Dakota, what they brought with them, where they lived, and so on. As part of the record, there was a typewritten document written by Guy M. Chance, the field worker who documented Peter's father's story, that told the story of Philip's life. Interestingly, the first full paragraph of the story is all about Philip serving in Civil War - that he was a member of Capt. H. M. Stocking's unit in Co. G, 48th Wisconsin Regulars, and that he even marched with General William T. Sherman on his march through Georgia to the sea. My first reaction was "wow, my ancestor was right there in Sherman's famous march!"

When I asked my cousin about it, she said that Philip probably never actually served in the Civil War. I asked how she knew that, and she said she had a copy of the pension file created for Philip's second wife Mathilda Kruger, and that his service was disputed in the file. At the time, I didn't go any further, and sort of let it sit there for a couple years. I attribute the wait to my genealogy ADD, where I get sidetracked on another line, and revisit things years later when they randomly pop in my head again. That happened with Philip earlier this year - I got hit with the "whatever happened to him?" bug and started digging.

I noticed on the 1885 Minnesota census, Philip was marked positive for the column "Served as a soldier in Federal army during rebellion." So he apparently said himself that he'd served in the Civil War. That was interesting, and led me to wonder whether Philip would appear in the 1890 Veteran's schedule. I went looking, and found him. By that time, he was living in New Rockford, North Dakota. He told the census taker that he did serve in the Civil War as a private in Company C, 15th Regiment of Wisconsin Infantry from 27 November 1861 to 2 July 1865. Pretty detailed information, right?

Philip Hammer in the 1890 Veteran's Schedule

So I went looking for information on the 15th Wisconsin Infantry, to see if there was any record Philip having served with them. It turns out, this regiment was known as the Scandinavian regiment, as almost all the soldiers in it were Norwegian, with some Swedes and Danes thrown in. Company C, where Philip allegedly served, was mostly from Racine County, at the southeastern corner of the state. Philip was living in Pierce County, in the far west of the state, in 1870, though he could easily have moved over the years since the war's end if he did serve. So if Philip was going to serve, that would be the perfect unit for him. Luckily, the FamilySearch Wiki has a link to the roster of Company C, so I went looking, and guess what?
No Philip Hammer. No Hammers at all. Not even a single Philip.
So I asked my cousin if she could send me the pension file she mentioned. It turned out to be about 100 pages of various documents - depositions, statements, inquires, letters, all kinds of stuff. Some of it was hard to read, and it wasn't in chronological order. So I started going through and transcribing it, and putting my transcriptions in chronological order, to make easier sense of all the documents. What I found surprised me.
Apparently Philip told Mathilda that he served in the Civil War, but never told her any details about the company he supposedly served in. Mathilda also recalled that he had a military discharge that was framed, but had been lost in all their moves. She also recalled visits from a man named "Big" Peterson and a man named Christianson, who she said were war buddies of Philip's. With that information, I went back to the roster of Company C, and was blown away. There was indeed an Ole Peterson, Sr., as well as an Ole Peterson, Jr., who both served in Company C. The senior Peterson could easily have been "Big" Peterson. What's more, there was a Christian Peterson as well. Could Philip have indeed served in the war, and the roster somehow missed him?
Since I couldn't find Philip in any Civil War rosters from this Company or Regiment (I searched various databases, as well as the entire 15th Regiment manually - no Philip Hammer), I figured the only way to answer this definitively was to look for him in Norwegian records. If I could prove he was still in Norway during the Civil War, that would put this to bed once and for all.
I went back to the files I had on Philip, and found that one record that I had labeled as a birth record for Philip wasn't that at all. I don't know if someone told me it was his birth record and I just noted it as such, or if I just guessed because the first couple columns are information about his birth. But upon closer inspection, it not only noted his birth date and place, it also noted the place and date of his confirmation in the Lutheran church - Domkirken parish, Bergen County, Norway, 4 October 1863.
Military lottery book for Bergen, 1850-1875
Here was proof that Philip not only did not enlist in Company C in 1861 (as he told the census taker in 1890), it was physically impossible for him to have done so, as he was still in Norway.
I later found out that this was a record of entries in the military lottery for Bergen, 1850-1875. Men were noted in this book, and (if I'm remembering correctly) were randomly selected for military service, kind of like a random draft. Kind of ironic that the first confirmation that Philip did not serve in the Civil War was a military record from Norway.
So then I wondered, did Philip come to the US before the Civil War ended at all? I went looking in the 1865 Bergen census to see if Philip was listed in it. It tallied all the people living in Norway as of 31 December 1865, 8 months after the end of the Civil War. A few mouse clicks, and I had my answer.
Philip Hammer in the 1865 Bergen census
I found Philip living in the household of Nils Bessesen, working as an uhrmagerlærling, or watchmaker's apprentice (along with Nils' apparent son Johannes). As an aside, the name Nils Bessesen was very interesting, because on the death certificate for Philip's first wife Christine, her father's name is listed as Nels A. Bassens, not Steenson as was given on the marriage record for Philip and Christine. Makes me wonder if he lived with his future father-in-law before emigrating to America, where he married his former landlord's daughter. But there we go with my genealogy ADD again.
So Philip was indeed in Norway throughout the Civil War, and immigrated sometime between the beginning of January 1866 and May 1869, when he married Christine in Wisconsin. He definitely did NOT serve in the Civil War in any capacity, because he was an ocean away when it happened. So how do you explain his listing of Company C, 15th Regiment of Wisconsin, the fact that the 15th Regiment was the Scandinavian Regiment, listing specific dates of service, and receiving visits from veterans of Company C? What about the framed discharge?
My guess is while living in Wisconsin, he met "Big" Peterson, Christian Peterson, and other war vets. He learned from them the units that they served in, and the dates that regiment was put together and mustered out. Then he, for whatever reason, at some point began telling others that he was a veteran of that war. The earliest mention I have of him putting himself forth as a veteran is in 1885, 9 years after the death of his first wife, who may have known him back in Norway, due to his probably living with her father, and would thus have known that he did not serve in the war. Philip's second wife Mathilda maintained that Philip told her he was a Civil War veteran, though she did not know the details of his service, and I wonder if Philip ever told her he was from Company C like he did that census taker. If he did, she didn't remember as she stated repeatedly in her depositions in her pension file that she did not know where and when he served, only that she believed that he did serve. As for the pension, I don't have any other record or mention of a framed document being kept or lost by the family, so I can only guess that it wasn't a discharge (since he never served) but some other document, perhaps from Norway, so Mathilda wouldn't have been able to read it.
After Philip's death, Mathilda, in good faith, applied for a pension. Since she didn't know the details of her husband's service, she was initially rejected, and told to come back with more information. A friend and neighbor of hers, James Patch, did some research for her, and found mention of a Philip Hammer who had served from Wisconsin, but from Company G of the 48th Regiment of infantry. Believing this to be his neighbor, Patch passed on the info to Mathilda, who updated her application and resubmitted it. Imagine her surprise then, when she was told Philip Hammer of the 48th already had a widow drawing pension on his service!
Upon learning this, the pension department launched an investigation as to why there would be two widows claiming service from the same soldier. They sent out special examiners who interviewed Ricke Hammer, the widow already receiving the pension, as well as people who knew her, and then did the same for Mathilda and her neighbors. They compiled detailed records of the ages, birth dates, and birth places of the children included in the two pension applications, and contacted the midwives and doctors who helped deliver those children. It was a pretty big deal, and a lot of effort was put into the investigation.
The end result was this - the Philip Hammer who did serve from Wisconsin had died back in the 1880s, and his widow had filed for a pension soon after. Mathilda's husband had died in 1899 in California, after being struck by a train. There was ample evidence that though they shared similar names, they were not the same person (so no bigamy here, thankfully!). But the inquiry was launched primarily to determine whether Mathilda had intentionally sought to draw pension on someone she had never been married to, and determined that she did not do so. Mathilda mentioned how Patch had gotten her the information, and that's why she used the service info she did, as she had no other details to go on. Patch likewise stated Philip had told him he had been in the war, but did not get any details of service from Philip.
My heart goes out to poor Mathilda in all of this. She trusted her husband's word, and applied for a pension in good faith, believing that she was indeed the widow of a veteran. She stated several times in her depositions that she was not well off at all, only getting a little income from some property she owned. So the pension wasn't meant to fatten her wallet - it was meant to help her survive. Sadly, she did not get it. I can only guess and hope that her children stepped up and helped her get by until she passed away in 1932.
Philip Hammer, his wife Mathilda, and two sons in 1884
I try not to judge my ancestors too harshly, but I really am left shaking my head at Philip on this one. He repeatedly misrepresented himself, to his friends, to his poor wife and kids, and to the federal government. I can't help but wonder why on earth he took this story to such great lengths. Did he have something to gain? Something to hide? Was he just jealous of those who were veterans? He never applied for a pension himself. Mathilda is quoted as saying "My husband never applied for pension. Blanks were sent him but he said he was able to make a living." So if it wasn't for financial gain, then why? Maybe one day I'll find the answer. But for now, it's at least an object lesson on the consequences of not telling the truth, one that I can pass on to my kids, and encourage them to be honest. You never know what the end result of your actions will be, and how long the aftershocks will continue to ripple.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Black Sheep Sunday - When Ancestors Go Bad

A couple months ago, I was digging through some online newspapers at, and came across a few articles about my 3rd-great-grandfather, Philip Wilhelm Hammer. A couple of them mentioned his watch and jewelry shop, which I found fascinating - not many of my direct ancestors were entrepreneurs. Many were farmers, or worked in the mines, or for retail establishments or canneries or other occupations. But the idea of this one ancestor being a watchmaker and jewelry salesman has always stood out in my mind. But I digress - back to the articles.

What caught my eye that day was the content of two articles from late 1880, when Philip and his family were living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. These articles made it plain that Philip had gotten himself into some trouble. 

The first article laid out the charges - he was accused of "designedly, by false pretenses and with intent to defraud, obtaining the goods of another." That's a pretty serious accusation, though it didn't tell me who was defrauded, for how much, or any other information about the crime. The second article wasn't super informative either, but at least gave me some details about the outcome. 

Despite pleading not guilty, the jury convicted him, and turned him over to the "leniency of the court." I'm still not sure what that means, as it sounds like it could be either saying "yes he's guilty but go easy on him," or "he's guilty as sin, throw him to the dogs." Either way, he did not get out of what he was accused of. 

These articles let me wondering - were there court records made of this case? It was a district court, so it seemed likely there would be. That led to the next question - could I get a copy of them? I asked around some genealogy groups on Facebook, and one recommended I try the Minnesota Historical Society, as they were known to have some court records. A cousin of mine, also descended from Philip, chipped in and we sent off a research request for the records. After a few emails back and forth explaining what exactly I was looking for, I was told they didn't have the records for the time frame I needed, but that they knew who did and they were refunding my fee Wow!! 

So I contacted the Hennepin County court house and after once again explaining what I was after, I was told they did indeed have the records I was looking for! I was told they were in poor condition and hard to read, but I could still have them if I wanted. I asked if there was a way to see a sample page, and the lady scanned and emailed one to me. The handwriting was a bit difficult, but the image was clear. I figured if all the pages were like this, I'd be fine. I paid the fee and submitted my request and waited. For those of you who know me, you know I hate waiting. But this time I was plenty busy with a rush research project for a client, so before I knew it, the records arrived! 

I was originally told there were 9 pages, but it turns out there were 14. A couple of the pages turned out to be rewrites of each other, but there was quite a bit of interesting detail in there. Here's what I gather happened: 

On Saturday, November 6, 1880 Philip Hammer and another, unnamed person (one witness says it was his brother, but I have no record of any of his siblings ever living near him) approached a guy named John Mayer and offered him a satchel (or sachel as they keep spelling it in the court records) of jewelry. There was quite an assortment of items - 30 pairs of gold-plated earrings, 12 silver-plated sugar spoons, 6 4-bladed Jack knives, 24 gold-plated cuff links, and 3 gold collar buttons. They dickered about the price, and settled on $15 for the whole set (about $300 in today's terms). Philip and his buddy went outside for a minute, supposedly to talk it over, but went into a saloon across the street and removed most of the goods from the satchel, and then returned to John and accepted the offered price. John paid them and they left and went back to the saloon. John gave the satchel to his wife Mary, who dumped it out on her bed to check out the goods, and saw what had happened. She went over to the saloon and publicly accused Philip of fraud, which he denied. So John took the matter to court, swore out an affidavit against Philip (whose name he didn't know) and Philip was arrested the following Monday. 

The testimonies in the court records are pretty clear. The saloon owner saw Philip take the goods out of the satchel, John and Mary's testimonies were consistent, Other people testified that they saw Mary accuse Philip. Interestingly, there is no testimony from Philip himself in the file. I wonder if it's because he plead not guilty, so they just compiled evidence against him?

One other thing caught my attention. At the top of the arrest warrant, it says "Arrest on Sunday or at Night time." Why would it say that? What would be the benefit of arresting him on Sunday or at night vs during the day on a weekday or Saturday? Was it that they didn't want to cause a public scene? Very intriguing.

The records also state that he signed a bond that stated he would have to pay $200 if he didn't appear in court when appointed. Given the articles mentioned above, it looks like he stuck to it and appeared in court when he was supposed to.

The whole episode is a mystery to me for several reasons. Why did he do it? Did he think he could get away with it? Who was the co-conspirator, and why wasn't he charged? Or was he? Maybe I can find some more answers back in the newspapers, even though an index search didn't turn up anything further. So many questions, some probably unanswerable.

Given another major event of apparent dishonesty in Philip's family life (which I hope to blog about soon) I'm left to wonder if he was fundamentally honest or not. I try not to judge my ancestors too harshly, as I don't and can't have their life stories, just a few moments of time here and there captured in a few documents. But when two of the major events they are involved in both occurred because of that ancestor's dishonesty, it makes me wonder what drove him to do such things. Then again, I've made some poor choices, and if by chance the only record of my life were accounts of two of those poor choices, future generations would probably get the wrong impression about me (at least I hope it'd be wrong). So I think I'll give old Philip the benefit of the doubt here, and hope that the rest of his days were filled with better choices. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Is professional genealogy all it's cracked up to be?

I wrote about six months ago that I was officially in business as a professional genealogist. Since that time, I've been blessed to have requests come in from family, friends, and strangers to research their families. So now that I have a taste of what it's really like to be a professional genealogist, I wanted to ask myself - is this all it was cracked up to be? Am I happy doing it? Am I as passionate about researching the families of others as I am my own family?

The answers to those questions are: Yes, absolutely, and definitely! It's more challenging than I thought it would be, as you really have to focus your efforts because you're billing clients for your skills by the hour, and you want them to get the most bang for their buck. Obviously you can't control what the results of the search will be, but you certainly can give them the best research and reporting you're capable of doing. It's also been a stretching/growing experience, as I've been asked to research families in Washington, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, Mexico, and Sweden. I've done research in some of these areas, but others were brand new to me. I really pushed myself to get in there, see what was available, and try to find as much information as I could for these clients. So far, they've been happy with the results!

I think the most difficult part of things so far was right at the start when I had two clients at the same time. I didn't have any trouble keeping the research separate in my head, thankfully (taking classes in multiple foreign languages helped me learn how to compartmentalize my learning, it seems) but finding the time to do the research for multiple clients, with similar deadlines, was interesting. But it all come together, and I got both of them done on time.

One interesting challenge has been waiting for paper documents or lookup requests to come in. Normally, in my own research, I would keep plugging away, looking other places while waiting and hoping that the records I ordered would provide the answers I needed. When doing research for hire, however, I don't have the luxury of unlimited time - I have to be selective about where I research, so I can't just keep looking and looking and looking. It's kind of hard to put the research on hold until that document comes in, but as the direction of the research may depend on what that document says or doesn't say, it's in the client's best interest to wait until it arrives. Then you can see what information is still needed, and get back to it.

Writing up the research reports has been an experience too. In my perfect world, the client would want to know everything about everything I looked up, what it means, and treasure every detail. Realistically, they have a question that needs answering, and including anything that doesn't help answer that question is basically wasting my time and their money. For example, a recent client commissioned research to get some information on the ethnic background of an ancestor. In the course of the research, I found records of a member of that ancestor's family that had married young and had a son soon after the marriage. The son died of seizures at only 5 days old, and the mother passed away two days after that. It was a tragedy for that poor family that I personally felt was worth remembering, but because it didn't help answer the client's question, I had to leave it out. It makes me want to include a "misc. stories I came across that didn't fit in with your request" section to my reports.  I wonder if any clients would want something like that?

All in all, I am absolutely LOVING being a professional genealogist. One night, while telling my wife about some of the discoveries I had made for one project, she commented that I never talked about my office job (or any other previous job) the way I was talking about my research. While I have appreciated the jobs I've had in the past, the experiences there and the people I've worked with and for, I have to agree - this is where my heart is. This is what I love. And I am beyond grateful for the chance to do this as a professional and help others discover things about their family they never knew. I know there will be ups and downs, and not every project will have that nice little "here's the answer to your question" bow on it. But I wouldn't trade the chance to do this for anything.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday's Tip - Why I bother going after original records

About 10 years ago, I somehow came across a printout from the Norwegian digital archives website, that showed information extracted from the 1865 Norwegian census. It listed the names of all Hammers living in Bergen county, Norway, among whom was my 3rd-great-grandfather, Philip Wilhelm Hammer. I took the information from the extract, noted it in my files, and moved on.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was revisiting the info I'd collected on Philip, as well as going through some new documents provided by my awesome cousin Jackie. She's done a lot of digging on the Hammers, and had uncovered about 100 pages of data on Philip and the runaround his poor wife was given while applying for a Civil War pension (that is a whole nother story, to be discussed in a future post). But while going through my files on Philip, I saw that same printout from the 1865 census and realized I've never seen the original article. Really good genealogists will always tell you to go after the original document because there is often information that didn't make it to the transcription for whatever reason - it was in the sidenotes, or hard to read, or the transcriber didn't think it important enough to extract, or any number of reasons. So I figured I'd go after the original census and see what I could find.

After finding the census (which was super easy, thanks to the awesome website the Norwegian digital archives has) I didn't see anything new right away. The names were there, the information was all there, same as in the extract. So I flipped a few pages back and forth, and it turns out every farm had its own kind of title page, with instructions on how the document was to be filled out, and when it was due by (no later than 8 January 1866). It also gave the address of the farm, the name of the principal owner, and the name of the area the farm was in. Then down at the bottom of the page, it gives a place for the person completing the farm census to sign his or her name. I knew from the census data that Philip was living on Nils Bassesen's farm in Bergen county in 1865, who was probably connected to the trade he was learning (watchmaking and jewelry making). Imagine my surprise, then, to see this signature for Nils' farm census:

So far in my research, this is the only time I have ever seen his actual signature. And had I not gone after the original document and poked around, I never would have found it. This is a great example of exactly why it's so important to go after the original documents. You really never know what you will find there.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party - Pool Party and Ancestor Dunking!

Undated photo of Charles Wagner

The last time I attended the Genealogy Blog Party, I talked about my great-grandmother Edna's trials and struggles, and how she endured them. This time, we're having a little more lighthearted party - a pool party! And what pool party would be complete without someone getting unceremoniously pushed into the pool? The Genealogy Blog Party theme this month is to pick an ancestor who has caused you all kinds of genealogical grief (name changes, lots of moves, disappearing from the records, etc.) and push them into the pool! My party's lucky stiff is none other than my great-great-grandfather, Charles Wagner. 

The biggest question I have about him is simple - where was he born? Going through the records I have of him and his children, there was either a lot of confusion, a lot of deception, or lots of both. I don't know how else to explain this. Here's what I mean, from the documents in chronological order of creation: 

1. The 1880 census says he was born in Mecklenberg, as was his older brother Henry and his parents Charles and Friedericka "Rika" Wagner. Pretty straightforward, right? 
2. The 1900 census says he was born in New York. The birth certificates of his daughter Gertrude, son Charles, and the 1905 Minnesota state census all likewise say New York. 
3. Birth certificates for his sons Donald Roscoe "Bill" Wagner and Ralph Wagner both say Charles was born in Ohio. 
4. The 1910 census says Charles was born in Kansas. 
5. I have no idea where he was when the 1920 census was compiled, so I don't know what state or country he would have said then.
6. In the 1930 census, his then ex-wife Eldora (head of the household and presumed informant for the family) said her children's father was born in Ohio (which matches the birth certificates of Bill and Ralph, who were living with their mom at the time). At the same time, his son Charles, then on his own, said his dad was born in Minnesota, while his other son Howard said Germany! 
7. To top it off, his son Howard was the informant on Charles' death certificate and said his dad was born in - Illinois. *facepalm* Though the Illinois connection was interesting, as that's where Charles was living in 1880...

I haven't gone through the 1940 censuses yet, though those were all created after Charles' death in 1934. If this kind of confusion reigned while he was alive, it stands to reason that it would only increase and multiply as time passed and generations handed down what information they had. 

Happy swimming Charles! 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What's in a name? No seriously, what?

While going through some recent finds on, I came across an interesting article about one of my wife's relatives, named Wakon Iron. It was brief, but advertised Wakon's upcoming performance at a meeting of the Pythian association, of which he was a member.

This caught my eye for a couple reasons. First, the article included a picture, the first I've seen of him. He reminds me of pictures I've seen of my wife's grandfather on that side, so it's really interesting to see a family resemblance there. Second, he was apparently an accomplished singer, given that the article touted his upcoming performance as "one of the outstanding numbers" to be given at the lodge meeting. 

But the most interesting thing about the article is what it says about his name. It gives both his English name, Wakon Iron (including a nickname "Wake" that I hadn't heard before), and his Osage name, Wah-Kon-Te-Ah. The Osage name is spelled exactly as I've seen it written in the Osage censuses, so either the article's author was familiar with Osage names, or maybe it was dictated by Wakon Iron himself. The article says Wakon did not know the exact meaning of the first half of his name in English, which I found interesting. Having studied a few languages myself, I know that there are some words you just can't easily translate from one language to another. "Ganbare" in Japanese comes to mind - it kind of means good luck and try your hardest at the same time, so how do you express that succinctly in English? 

We tend to think of names as being different though, especially surnames. Someone's surname is usually understood to mean something, and just that something. For example, Gibson means son of Gib, which I'm told is a pet name of Gilbert. So way back somewhere there was a Gilbert who had a son, and his descendants were known as Gib's sons, or Gibsons. Japanese names are similar - Yamanashi means mountain pear, Nakayama means middle of the mountain, Kamiooka means up big hills. Apparently Osage names are not so easily translated. 

So that got me thinking - what about my wife's most distant Indian ancestor's name? His name was written Wy-e-gla-in-kah in the Indian census rolls, the earliest of which I'd found dated to 1888. Unlike US Federal censuses, the Indian censuses were taken every year (makes me wish all censuses were done that way!) and Wy-e-gla-in-kah dutifully shows up in many of them. However, from 1888 - 1896 he had no English name given, just his Indian name. There are two listings for him in 1897 (one is a school census, one is the general population census). The population census lists him with no English name, but the school census gives him an English name - Ray Nosent. His son Tsa-Moie was listed with the English name of Raymond Nosent. I didn't know what "Nosent" means - not sent? No scent? No sentence? Something else entirely? 

From 1898-1906, he is back to just his Indian name, no English name. However, his son Tsa-Moie starts appearing in 1904 as Raymond Red Corn, first with his Indian name, and later without it. Then in 1907, Wy-e-gla-in-kah has an English name of Red Corn for the first time. He keeps that name for the rest of his life, until his passing in 1927. 

I'd always thought Wy-e-gla-in-kah literally translated to Red Corn, and that he went by that name and passed it to his son Raymond/Tsa-Moie as they adopted the Western practice of surnames. Judging from the census records, it almost looks like Red Corn was an invention of his son's that he adopted. So if his name didn't mean Red Corn, what does it mean? Is a literal English translation of his name possible? 

I went back to the censuses, trying to look for clues about some of the other members of his family - his son Wah-kon-te-ah, as well as an aunt of Wakon Iron's named Moh-se-che-he that (judging from the censuses) raised Wakon Iron from the time he was a toddler. While going through those records, I found Red Corn in the 1887 census, a year earlier than the earliest record I'd previously found. This one was different - it gave English names for both Wy-e-gla-in-kah and Tsa-Moie, but names I'd never seen anywhere else. The father's name was "Thoughtless" and the son's name was "Dead Beat". 

When I showed this to my wife, her reaction was the same as my initial reaction - that the agent taking the census had taken some...liberties in translating their names and called them whatever he wanted to. Some quick research showed me that guidelines regarding the literal translation of names and rules against the use of demeaning names didn't come down until 1902, or 15 years after this census was taken. So why would he be given the name "Thoughtless" if not as a jab at the fellow, one that he would probably never know had been given? 

But then, while flipping through the pages of the 1887 census, I found something unexpected - another Osage named Wy-e-gla-in-kah, several years younger than my wife's ancestor, Somehow I'd gotten the idea that no one else would have that name, as though everyone in the tribe would have a totally unique name that exclusively belonged to only them. Obviously that's not the case (has it ever been the case in any society? I highly doubt it). But this younger man had an English name as well - Thoughtless. The idea that an agent would insult two Osages several years apart in age in the exact same way just because they had the same name seemed very unlikely. Maybe there was more to this name than I originally thought. 

Wy-e-gla-in-kah in Osage clothing
So I turned to that never-failing source if knowledge and wisdom - Facebook. I quickly found a couple Facebook groups regarding Native American genealogy, and one specifically geared towards Osage language and culture. I put my questions to them, and they responded with some very interesting information. I was told that "the name referred to him being enraged in battle and fearless so much that he fought like he was out of his mind. Hence the literal translation of-"Without a Mind" or "No Thought"." The "Nosent" name was another translation, and actually should have been written "No sense" with the same idea of bravery to the point of senselessness. That put a very different spin on the name! The gentleman that gave me this information gave another example of a name's translation causing confusion: 

"Once, when I was a teenager, I heard the named of Osage man called by his name "Big Ugly". I chuckled at the name and my Elders severely criticized me for "thinking like a white man". They said to them, when they heard that man's name, they all saw a clear image of the face of a very large angry Buffalo bull that was ready to charge."

Wy-e-gla-in-kah in Western clothes
He also recommended I get an Osage dictionary, and suggested an edition written by Carolyn Quintero. My genealogy budget is still in recovery after my trip to California, but I look forward to picking it up and seeing what else I can learn about the names of my wife's Osage ancestors. 

I still don't know where the name Red Corn comes from, but I do now know who first used it, and that's a clue. I also have a better idea of what the name Wy-e-gla-in-kah really means, and it makes me more curious about the man that was given that name. Did he actually fight in battle? If so, did he fight Indians, whites. maybe both? More questions!