Sunday, November 16, 2014

Of Beilsteins and Briscoes and relocations

It feels so good to be blogging again!! School has taken up so much of my time the last 6 months, I haven't had more than a few minutes here and there for any genealogy research at all, let alone blogging about it. But I've found a couple of interesting things about my 2nd-great-grandma Philena "Lena" Beilstein that I wanted to write about.

A couple years ago, I found a marriage record for Lena dated 1903, when she was about 15 years old, showing her marrying David Briscoe. I knew she was in Montana by 1907, as that's when she married what I thought was her first husband, Clarence Johnson, so I was shocked to see her in Montana four years earlier. The 1900 census shows Lena and her family - father Jacob (who would die soon after the census was taken), mother Amelia, and sister Annie Margaret, aka Maggie - living in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. I've wondered since then what Lena was doing out in Montana all alone just three years later. It finally occurred to me last week that maybe she wasn't all alone in Montana after all.

I knew that Lena wound up in Montana by 1903, and the 1910 census showed her mom and sister living in Nebraska, so I'd always thought that Lena had gone to Nebraska with them, and then somehow gone up to Montana and gotten married. That didn't make sense, but based on what I knew at the time, it's all I could come up with. So I thought I'd double check that theory, and go looking for evidence of Lena's family in Montana between 1900 and 1910. And I found it!

I found a city directory showing Amelia living in Omaha in 1901 listed as the widow of Jacob. I expected to find her there, due to her 1910 census record. But the next directory I found her in was a surprise - Carbon County, Montana, the same county Lena and David Briscoe were married in. And right under Amelia was Lena, listed as a student. Lena would have been about 15 at the time, rather young to be listed in a country directory on her own, but there she was. In addition, her brother-in-law Arthur Cooper was listed just a few names down, confirming that the whole family had moved to Montana.

And just to confirm that all the puzzle pieces were in the right place at the right time, I looked for, and found, David Briscoe's family living in Golden, Carbon County, in 1903. His father Thomas Briscoe, and maternal uncle Arthur Barney (who performed the marriage) are both listed in Golden, where they were married.

It was one thing to find Lena's marriage certificate to David. It was another to find that her whole family was living in Montana with her at the time of the marriage. It also helped explain how Lena got to Montana, met David and married him - she moved there with her family. That's a much more likely scenario than a 15 year old young girl going off on her own.

Amelia remained in Carbon County for a few more years, living in Gebo in 1905 and Joliet in 1907. In both 1905 and 1907, Lena is listed right next to her mom under her maiden name. It seems that her marriage to David was a short one. I couldn't find any newspaper or other records showing what happened between them. The only other record of the marriage is a little note in her marriage record to Clarence Johnson in 1907, that she was previously married.

Amelia next appears in the 1909 Omaha city directory, showing that she had moved to Nebraska between 1907 and 1909, putting her right where she appears in 1910. As Lena had married Clarence Johnson, she stayed in Montana, and would remain in Montana for the rest of her life as far as I've been able to determine. 

The years 1900-1910 were a lot more eventful for Lena and her family than I previously thought. They lost Jacob and moved to Omaha between 1900 and 1901; moved to Carbon County, Montana by 1903, the same year Lena and David Briscoe were married; Lena and David probably split before 1905, as she's listed under her maiden name as though no marriage had taken place; Lena married Clarence Johnson in 1907; the Beilsteins stayed in Montana until 1908-1909, when everyone but Lena moved back to Omaha. 

Not a bad weekend's work! I'm hoping to get a little more research time in tomorrow, as I think I may have found evidence that the Beilsteins lived in Omaha in the 1890s, rather than in Pennsylvania as I'd previously thought. Just when you think you know a family...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sentimental Sunday - An only child with four siblings

My seventh-great-grandfather Johannes Andersen of the Berstad/Bergstad farm married Dorethe (or Dordei) Larsdatter from Hiornevigen farm on 22 June 1751 in Evanger sogn, Voss parish, Hordaland County, Norway. It still boggles my mind that I have digital copies of the church records from when they were married.
Marriage record - Johannes Andersen Berstad and Dorethe Larsdatter Hiornevigen
A little over a year later, their daughter Marite Johannesdatter was baptized. Marite had at least four siblings that I have found records for - sister Barbru born in 1753, sister Anna born in 1756, brother Anders born in 1759, and another sister named Barbru born in 1761.

However, Marite and her parents suffered a tragedy in 1758 when the older Barbru died at just 4 years and 19 weeks old (she never even got to see the youngest two siblings). Another tragedy struck when little Anders died in 1760, just 16 weeks after he was born. They remained a family of five - Johannes, Dorethe, Marite, Anna, and the younger Barbru - for the next 12 years. Then something, perhaps illness, claimed the lives of both Anna and Barbru, who were buried the same day, 22 March 1772. Not yet 20 years old, Marite had witnessed her family lay four of their five children to rest. I can't imagine what that kind of frequent encounter with loss and grief would do to a young girl.

Then, nearly two years later, something wonderful happened - Marite married Sjur Nielsen from Horvei farm, also in Voss parish. Part of me wonders what she thought about that day - did she remember the siblings who should have been there? Did she grieve for her parents, who would only get to see one of their five children live to be married? Or was she happy that she was able to give them that day of joy, to give them the chance to see their only surviving child find a husband and have a family of her own? It was probably a mixture of all of that, and more.

It's sad that Marite ended up being an only child, but I'm grateful that she survived. The loss of her siblings may have helped her cope with the losses she suffered as a parent - she also lost four children in infancy. Her parents lived long enough witness the first of those losses, a son named Niels Siursen who died at 8 months, and I'd like to think that they helped her and her husband get through it. But Marite also had two children, Johannes (my ancestor) and Niels, that her parents lived long enough to see. Hopefully they were able to spend time with their grandchildren before they passed away. It wouldn't have made up for all the losses they experienced, but it might have made things a little easier knowing that some of their posterity would survive.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two brothers, one name

In doing genealogy research, I've come across habits and traditions of people in different places that sometimes leave me scratching my head. I've written before about some American traditions of this nature, but in my research into Norwegian records I've come across a new one.

My Norwegian ancestors had a habit that is, from my perspective, very unusual. If the family had a child that died young, they would sometimes name a subsequent child (of the same gender) with the same name. I'm not sure if it was just a determination to have the name in the family, or the desire to see a descendant carry on a family name into future generations, or what ever else may have inspired the tradition. But I've seen it happen in multiple generations of that side of my family. For example, my second-great-grandparents Knute and Betsy (Olson) Bergstad had a daughter named Olga, born in 7 January 1900, who died before she was a year old. Knute and Betsy's next child, another daughter, was born 12 Feb 1901, and they named her Olga as well, but added the middle name Sophia. 

Knute's great-grandparents Johannes Sjursen and Brytteva Johannesdatter did something similar a hundred years earlier. Johannes's third child and second son, Johannes Johannesen, was born about September 1807, but died just 15 months later in February 1809. Later that year, Brytteva gave birth to a baby boy, whom they named Johannes Johannesen, just the same as his older brother. The name Johannes is pretty dominant in this family, so maybe they were just determined to have a surviving son carry the name forward. But it still seems a little morbid to me to give a child the same name as an older sibling who passed away. 

However, just recently, I found a new spin on this tradition in the family of Johannes Sjursen's parents, Sjur Nielsen and Marite Johannesdatter. Sjur and Marite's firstborn son, Niels Sjursen, was born in February 1775. 
Baptism record of Niels Sjursen b.1775
I knew from previous research that he died in 1779, and that a younger son, also named Niels, was born in 1779, so I assumed it followed the traditional pattern. But then I found that this wasn't the case. 

Burial record of Niels Sjursen, b.1775, d.1779
By going to the original records, I found that the older Niels was buried on 24 October 1779, but that the younger Niels was baptized on 3 October 1779, three weeks earlier. This took me by surprise; why would the family name one son Niels, and then a second son also Niels while the first Niels was presumably still alive? If the older Niels had died before the younger Niels was born, why did they wait at least 3 weeks to bury him? I am admittedly completely ignorant of Norwegian burial customs, but I doubt the family would have waited a month to bury their son after his passing. So what happened? 

Baptism record of Niels Sjursen, b.1779
After thinking about it for a while, I came upon a possible solution that made me very sad. What could have happened is this - perhaps the older Niels had taken ill or been injured at some point, but not fatally, or at least not immediately so. By the time the younger sibling was born, it was apparent that the older Niels wasn't going to make it, and they named the younger sibling Niels to preserve the name. Then sometime in the next three weeks, the older Niels passed away and was buried, leaving only one Niels in the family. I can't imagine losing one of my kids at any point in their lives. But to lose one so close to the time that another one is about to be (or has just been) born, and to know ahead of time that he was going to die, and so name your newborn son after him, is especially heartbreaking. 

If naming the younger child after the older was a form of paying tribute to the lost child, then the older Niels must have made quite the impression on his mom and dad in the short four years and eight months he was with them. And now, 235 years later and thousands of miles away, little Niels is remembered again. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday - My first foray into Norway

I was lucky enough a couple years ago to attend a class for Norwegian genealogy research at the local Family History Expo taught by Jan Sjavik, a Norwegian native who teaches Norwegian at the University of Washington. The class was awesome, full of real examples of how to use the records, and great explanations of how to use the Norwegian digital archives website. I've been a total Johnny-come-lately in getting around to making my first real attempt at original Norwegian research, but a week or so ago, I thought I'd give it a shot and see what I could find.

I've written before about getting some help in searching these archives, so I kind of knew how to go through them, I'd just never made the attempt on my own before. But I knew from Prof. Sjavik's class that the best and most reliable records for Norwegian research are the parish registers, and that all available registers have been digitized and made available online for free by the Norwegian national archives (pretty sweet deal, huh?). However, there aren't indexes for these records yet, so you have to know what parish your people came from, and then search the registers manually. Some of them are broken down by year and event type (baptism, burial, banns, etc), and some of them are just everything together in one book. Based on my previous research, I knew that my Bergstad ancestors came from Voss parish in Evanger, Hordaland county. So I decided to take a family I had some info on that I'd found in Ancestral File years and years ago when I was first starting out, but hadn't confirmed with actual records yet, and went in search of information to confirm or refute that info.

I started with the family of Johannes Sjursen Bergstad, my fourth-great-grandfather, who was supposedly born in 1777. He and his wife Brytteva Johannesdatter Horvei were the parents of 10 children:
Marita, Sjur (my ancestor), Johannes (who died as an baby), Johannes (they reused the name), Niels, Anna, Olav, Anders, Ivar, and Dordei. According to my info, Marita was born in 1803 and Dordei was born in 1820, so they had kids in pretty rapid-fire succession. Much moreso than me, I must say, with only 3 kids to show for 9 years of marriage. I figured I'd start with the patriarch, Johannes Sjursen, and see what I could find for him. I pulled up the Voss parish register book for 1777, went to the births, and started going through the entries one by one. I don't read or speak Norwegian, but I can recognize names, and I hoped that would be enough. Turns out, it was!

With some help from the Norway Genealogy Research group on Facebook, I confirmed that this was indeed my ancestor, who was baptized on the 21st Sunday after Trinity, or October 19, 1777. No actual birth date was given, but it does give his parents' names as Siur Nielsen and Mairtta Johannesdatter Bergstad, which was exactly what I have in my files. The names of the witnesses were interesting too - Knud Biørge, Knud Andersen Herveij, Niels Siursen Wasenden, Anna Biørge and Brita Andersdatter Bergstadnæs. I'm still not sure if or how Bergstadnæs is related to my Bergstad family, but I would tend to think so. That's something I still need to research. But boy was I excited by all this info! I had actually done original research, and found what I was looking for! I thought, if I could find him, why not look for all his children as well? So I did. 

I learned a couple things right away from finding all these records. First, the research I found on Ancestral file was very, very accurate. The only details that were wrong were Olav's name was actually Ole, Dordei was Durdei, and the first son Johannes died in February 1809 and not 1808. But everything else was spot on. That made finding these records a lot easier, and my confidence in the data grew with each record found. 

Another thing that stood out to me was the names of the witnesses for these baptisms. Some of the witnesses were from families whose surnames I recognized - Bergstad obviously, but Flantzaas (spelled Flansas in my files) and Horvei are both families that married into the Bergstads. There were many I didn't recognize, but kept seeing over and over again, especially Biørge. I wonder if there isn't a family connection there, maybe cousins or in-laws or something. 

I was also interested in how rare the name Johannes was, comparatively speaking. I thought it would be tough finding my Johannes, given how common the name John is in English speaking countries, but it actually turned out to be pretty rare. It made finding the birth records a lot easier, as the records all start with the name of the father, and I learned to skim the page for the father's name and just search for Johannes. 

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the search for Johannes' family was concluded, and how I was able to put the family together so quickly. I now have baptism dates for all of his kids, and exact birth dates for a few of them. Plus there's just something magical about seeing a two hundred-year old record in a foreign language, with the name of your ancestor in it, and you're one of only a few family members to see that record since it was written. I am really looking forward to finding more of my relatives in these records, and maybe (hopefully) learning how to read more than just the names.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - My Family-The Next Generation

Below are pictures of the next generation of my family - my kids, and those of my siblings (including siblings-in-law) and cousins. The next generation is growing fast - already 20 strong (with one more still on the way). It's crazy to think that my generation is all grown up, raising families, and in some cases, not far from watching those kids go off and start life as adults. Kinda can't help but think of the Lion King theme song, Circle of Life, but it's true. We're part of something much larger than ourselves - an endless stream of families going back in time, laying the foundation for the generations yet to come. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Obsolete German villages in Bohemia

I recently learned of something terrible that happened in Bohemia, the homeland of my great-grandmother Rosie (Sitzman/Zitzmann) Wagner. After World War II had ended, the Sudeten Germans, the German-speaking inhabitants of the Bohemian part of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), were brutally attacked, killed, and driven from their homes. According to one source, 3.2 million people were forcibly relocated to Germany, with no say in the matter, and only with those possessions they could carry with them. I've spoken recently to a survivor of this tragedy, who provided me with the above map. Each red dot represents one settlement where German-speaking residents, some of whose family had lived in the area for centuries, were beaten, killed, or forcibly driven from their homes and country. Most of these settlements were left uninhabited, and are now gone.

This really struck home, as my great-grandmother and her family lived on the western border of Bohemia, in the Tachau region, which is on the far western edge of the region. Her family had lived in the villages of Rosshaupt, Neuhasl, Ströbl, Zirk, and others since at least the late 1700s. To think that her relatives were treated in such a brutal way is unthinkable, yet it happened. Maybe that was one reason she forbade her daughters to speak of where they were from.

To learn more about these events, and to read English translations of first-hand accounts, please visit

Sunday, March 16, 2014

52 Ancestors, Week 3 - Margaret Waechter

This is a photo of my fourth-great-grandmother Margaret Waechter. She was my great-grandmother Edna Craddock's great-grandmother on her mom's side. I don't have a lot of details about her life, but I do have enough to have a rough sketch of who she was. She was born in Europe, probably in March 1830 or 1832 (despite what's written on the photo). Her birth place is given in the census records as Germany, Prussia, and France, which kind of suggests Alsace-Lorraine (especially since her husband's birthplace is given as Alsace the same year hers was given as France). She emigrated to the US in 1851, and married George Waechter soon after, probably around 1853. They had 11 children together  - my 3rd-great-grandmother Amelia was the oldest, followed by Elizabeth, Caroline, William, George Jr, Edward, Frederic, Ida, Maggie, Clara, and Harry. The first four kids were born in Ohio, the rest in Pennsylvania. She was alive in 1910, living with her daughter Clara McClelland and her family. If she did pass away in 1917, she would have been about 87 years old.

She's an important ancestor for me, because she is my oldest known mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) ancestor. My mtDNA haplogroup is H3v, or part of "Helena's" descendants (from "Seven Daughters of Eve"). I would love to find a match (ideally one I could find our ancestral connection with) and see where our DNA comes from beyond Margaret.

I have one important lead to follow up on in my research about Margaret. While getting ready for this blog post, I went looking for more info on Margaret herself, and the daughter she was living with in 1910. It turns out, this daughter, Annie Clara (Waechter) McClelland, was born in 1875, and lived to be 92 years old. She lived long enough to apply for, and receive, a Social Security Number. If I can get a copy of her SS-5, it might just tell me Margaret's maiden name! I plan on ordering that this week. The hard part will be waiting the weeks or months it takes the Social Security Administration to get around to filling requests. But I'm cautiously optimistic about this. I'll do a follow up post when I get the form.