Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Genealogy Blog Party - Preserving My Research

My genealogy shelf is on the left. Protected by giant robots from Cybertron.

For this month's genealogy blog party, Elizabeth O'Neal asks how we as genealogists will preserve our family history research. This topic has been on my mind off and on over the years, as I don't want all the hours and months and years I've spent researching my family's history to be lost. But how do I pass it on in a way that's accessible to someone in the future?

I know for a lot of genealogists, one simple (if not easy) way to pass on the findings is by writing a book. I've thought about doing that since I first got into family history, but a couple things have stopped me:

1. Which lines would I write about? I want to write about all my ancestors, but any book that includes my paternal line would be of little interest to my paternal relatives, and vice versa.

2. A book of any considerable size would likely be put on a shelf and seldom, if ever, remembered. That's the exact opposite of what I'm trying to do - I want to make sure the stories and details of my ancestors' lives are remembered and passed down.

3. There's also the idea of "I'm not done yet, there's more to discover first." That's not really an excuse though, because genealogy is NEVER done, so waiting until you're at a stopping point is a self-defeating proposition.

So the book idea is on the shelf (pun intended) for now at least. I may do a series of mini-books or something down the road, maybe on Lulu publishing or something where people could just order one or two when they wanted. But I haven't even started anything like that, so that's not really an option yet.

Right now, my main method in preserving my research is this blog. I like it because it's free, it's easily accessible, and I can download a copy of it to my computer whenever I want. But that's only as good as Google, and like any other piece of technology, Google could theoretically go kaput at any time. Seems unlikely today, but remember, Yahoo! was the big dog at one point, and now they're lucky to get a seat at the tech table (from my perspective at least). So this is more of a temporary rather than a permanent solution.

I don't have a lot of paper records in my family history, though I do have a number of old photographs and other artifacts I've collected that I want to ensure stay preserved. My hope is that one of my kids or (eventual) grandkids will catch the bug at some point, and I'll just be able to pass them on to someone I can trust to take care of them. My kids are only 11, 8, and 3 at this point, so any deep scholarly inclinations have yet to manifest themselves. So that idea's on the table, but not super likely to be fulfilled anytime soon.

I have a ton of digital files, as almost my entire genealogy research history is digital. That amounts to somewhere around 50GB of data. That could still fit on a flash drive, so I could just make copies onto flash drives and pass them around to family members. I may do that at some point too, that's not a bad idea.

Overall though, my number one way of preserving my research is my Backblaze account. I went with Backblaze on the recommendation of Lisa Louise Cooke, and it's affordable and easily done (though it takes a good amount of time if you're a monster digital hoarder like me). I just need to ensure that someone or someones in my family has access to it in case anything happens to me.

I guess the long and short of it is, I don't have a full-fledged plan yet, just a couple of halfway thought through ideas of plans, and a couple backup plans. Sounds like I have some work to do.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Genes Day Friday - LivingDNA

While I was at Jamboree in Burbank a couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a class taught by David Nicholson and another fellow (Martin something? Sorry, he's not named in the schedule) of LivingDNA, a UK-based DNA testing company. I've tested myself and many other relatives at all the four major testing companies stateside, either directly or by raw data upload, but I've never really considered testing outside of the US. I've heard of LivingDNA, and I've seen others talk about their results, but I didn't really pay much attention as I never seriously considered testing there. But as they were at DNA Day, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to hear from them firsthand.

Three things really impressed me. First, these guys knew their stuff really well, and had a blast presenting it. They took us through the DNA testing process from swab to results, and even passed around some of the chips they use to read the DNA. I've never seen the chips in person, that was really interesting for me, and they explained how the chips attach to and read your DNA, which was also new info to me. And the presentation was hilarious! They made it so entertaining and fun, it was a blast.

Second, because LivingDNA is in the UK, they wanted to go beyond telling people they had ancestry from Britain. As David put it, "I don't need a DNA test to tell me I'm British." So their test actually helps people pinpoint where out of 19 or 20 different regions in the UK they have ancestors from. They base these reults on a testing base of thousands of people who have at least all 4 grandparents born in the area they are from. They also have thousands of other testees in other nations, so they also give ethnicity results from around the world. I have English, Scottish, and Irish ancestry, so this is all really interesting to me. Specifically I'd love more info about the Irish part of my family tree. If they can connect me to native Irish cousins still in the areas (or near them) where my ancestors are from...well that would be heaven!

Third, and this is what really caught my attention, they offer autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA results and matching. I don't remember if they do full mtDNA sequencing, or whether they do Y-DNA STRs or SNPs, so I'll have to go back and look that up. But the idea that they offer such comprehensive results from one test is astounding. I could do the same at FTDNA, but it would cost me upwards $500 - about $100 for the atDNA, $240 for the mtDNA, and $150-250 for the Y-DNA. I already have my maternal grandmother's mtDNA full sequence results, and for my Y-DNA I know I'm Z-159, but haven't tested for any SNPs further down than that. So I'm interested to see what LivingDNA comes back with, and how it will compare to those results.

So after the presentation, I decided to go buy the test. It's normally $159, but they had a Jamboree special price of $99, way too good to pass up. I completed it the next morning, and mailed it off. I was in such a hurry that morning, I didn't really get any pictures of the kit like I normally do. I figured it would take a while for the kit to be received, so I didn't really watch my email. Imagine my surprise when I got an email on Tuesday saying they had my kit! I figured they probably sold a lot of kits at Jamboree, not to mention all those that they sell day to day, so I wasn't anticipating the testing to start anytime soon. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised when they told me the testing began that same Friday - one week after I had mailed my kit off! So far I am very impressed with these guys and the speed at which they move. The only downer in the whole process so far has been the estimated completion date of my test results - the middle of September. I'm hoping they deliver the results sooner, but with three tests being run, I can understand if it takes some time.

In the mean time, I'm trying to take all the awesome info I got from Jamboree and start applying it to my own DNA and genealogy research, while also starting in on the Genealogy Gems Premium podcasts from Lisa Louise Cooke. So much to do, so little time. And I love it!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why I'm a bad genealogist - Ingeborg Fadness family edition

Have you ever set out to document one side of your family that you didn't know much about, and make some amazing discoveries (which you sourced carefully in your files), but didn't write down right away what you did or how you did it? Unfortunately, I did exactly that with the family of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Ingeborg (Fadness) Olson. I'm going to try to reconstruct what I did, based on the information I put in my file, and the timestamps on the documents I found.

I do remember that I had documentation on Ingeborg (aka Ingebor, Ingebjor, etc), going back to 1880, when she'd have been about 24 years old. At that point, she had 4 kids, ages 8, 5, 3, and 8 months. Which means she must have started having kids when she was 15 or 16! Wow, times were different back then. I also knew from later censuses that she started going by (or was at least referred to as) Emma rather than Ingeborg. I didn't have anything that directly stated she was the daughter of Gullick Knudsen Fadness and Martha Helgesdatter Kjenes, as I'd found somewhere years ago (online? distant cousin? no idea now...). So I wanted to prove it. I found online that I could order her death certificate for only $9, which I did. The problem was, they only sent them out by snail mail, so I'd have to wait a week or two to get it. I couldn't wait that long to start digging into the problem, so I launched into Ancestry to see what I could find.

First off, I found a marriage record for Ingeborg's older brother Helge Fadness to Hanna Johannsdatter Bergstad. (These families intermarried a lot - Hanna was a sister of my ancestor Knute Bergstad, and Knute and Hanna were first cousins to Helge and Ingeborg, plus Knute married Ingeborg's daughter...like I said, lots of intermarriages). Helge's marriage record said he was born in "Vos" in Norway. I thought that could be Voss parish, Hordaland county, Norway, the same parish my Bergstad ancestors are from. So I went looking in the Voss parish emigration records on the Digitalarkivet website.

And that's exactly where I found them. I found that Gullick, his wife Martha Helgesdatter, and their sons Knud and Helge (named after Gullick and Martha's respective fathers) immigrated to America in April 1854. This fit perfectly with what I had in my files for Ingeborg's family, as she was born in Wisconsin in January 1855. I also found another immigration record for this family from 6 years earlier, in 1848 (minus Helge, as he wasn't born yet). It seems the family intended to immigrate then, but changed their minds and stayed in Norway a few more years, and then left. It's really interesting to think that they had made up their minds to move to another country, and then for whatever reason, had to stick it out a few more years before leaving. I wonder what those years were like - were they anxious to move? Were they putting off a difficult decision because of cold feet? The answer is unknowable, but the fact that they vacillated on the decision makes them seem more human to me. It wasn't just a "pack up and go!" option for them - it was a tough choice, with consequences that would likely be permanent for all involved.
I kept looking for more info, and soon found Ingeborg's baptism record in the Lutheran church records in the US (though still written in Norwegian), confirming that she was born and baptized on 21 January 1855 in Wisconsin. Now that I had her exact birthdate, I just needed one thing to clinch the theory that this Ingeborg Fadness was the same as my Ingeborg Fadness - the death certificate of Ingeborg/Emma Olson.
Once the death certificate arrived, I compared it to what I had pieced together, and found what I needed. Ingeborg/Emma's birthdate was 21 January! The year was off (1851), but I've seen enough records where ages vary by more than that to know that this wasn't a deal breaker. Also, her father's name was listed as Gilbert Fadnes, easily an Anglicized version of Gullick Fadness.
Now I can finally say I have documented evidence that my Ingeborg Fadness was indeed the daughter of Gullick Knudsen Fadness and Martha Helgesdatter Kjenes. Now I can look them up in Norwegian records in Voss parish, and push the line back even further. And hopefully - I'll document it this time!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Surname Saturday - Just Shute Me

I was looking through my Rootsmagic file the other day, looking for a branch to go climb. I wound up in the Shutes, the family of my grandma Blossom's paternal grandmother. I wound up looking at the second family of my 5th-great-grandfather, Lewis Parks Shute. His first wife, Eliza Wright, died in the mid 1850s, and he remarried to a much younger woman (almost 20 years younger than he was!) named Lucinda Foote. They had three kids together, though according to a published family history, the first two passed away at ages 10 and 8. Lewis had already buried a wife and possibly several of his children, so losing two more must have been just heartbreaking. Saddest of all, Lewis himself died when his youngest son, Abraham Lincoln Shute, was only 4 or 5 years old.

I wanted to know more about Abraham, as I've always been intrigued by his name, so I started looking him up on Ancestry. One of the first documents that came up was a passport application. I've heard Lisa Louise Cooke talk about passport applications, and all the cool stuff you can get from them, so I was excited.

One of the cool things was seeing where he wanted to go. He requested a passport to visit India, Italy, Japan, China, Palestine (Israel), and Egypt. I thought I was the first missionary in my family to visit Japan, but it turns out, Abraham beat me by several decades! Pretty cool to think a relative of mine and I have something like that in common. One major difference though is his passport was for an "indefinite time" so he didn't know how long he'd be out. Makes me wonder when he came home.

Another cool thing is - pictures! You get a much better picture of his wife, Laura Belle Shute, than you do of him, though you can see him a little. The physical description of him says he was 5'10.5", high and slightly receding forehead, hazel eyes (like me!), medium straight nose, small mouth, receding chin (I never knew your chin could recede?), gray hair, medium complexion, oblong face, and his distinguishing mark was smallpox scars.

One intreresting thing really stood out. His name is written (well, typed) as A. Lincoln Shute. In the notes section, it says "First name is Abraham - but never written." He didn't like, or at least didn't use, his first name. It's rare that you get a glimpse of what your ancestors were like as actual people, and to see something like that, his own personal preference of his name, just really makes him more of a real person to me.

Another interesting thing is his half-sister, Mary Josephine Shute, wrote what looks to be an affidavit confirming his birthdate and place, and had it notarized even. Mary was about 13 years older than Abraham, so she was in a good position to know the facts personally and remember them. What struck me was the name she signed under - Mary Josephine Couse. My records showed she married a guy named Horace Tracy, not someone named Couse. So I went looking for more information on Mary and her family.

What I knew about Mary was that she was born in New York about 1852, and lived there until at least 1865 (when Abraham was born). By 1870, she was working as a teacher and living in Minnesota with Gilbert Sanford and his family, the brother-in-law of Mary's oldest brother (and my direct ancestor) Alexander Blood Shute. I found info on her marriage to Louis/Lewis Couse pretty quickly, as they were married for many years. She and Louis had already gotten married by 1880, so I started to wonder if I had the wrong spouse. When I found her death certificate, the informant was a Mr. R. H. Tracy, So there was a Tracy connection, and I wanted to find it.

I found some records for two Tracys, Roy and Alice, who said they were children of Horace Tracy and Mary Shute. But I couldn't find anything on Horace. What's more, the census records for Mary (now Mary Couse) had an Alice in the family, but no Roy. What was going on here? Then I found two records that helped put things together. One was a probate record for Horace Tracy who died in 1875 (in between the federal censuses) whose estate was administered by Alva Tracy (no relationship stated). The second was 1880 census for Alva Tracy, his wife Phebe, and his grandson - Roy H. Tracy. To double check, I went back to the 1870 census, and found Horace listed as one of the children. That's why I couldn't find him with Mary - they married after 1870, and he had died before 1875. That's a short marriage, not much time to leave records.

I still don't have a marriage record for Horace and Mary, though they apparently married in Minnesota and moved to Iowa, where Horace's family was living. They were married long enough to have two kids together, but Horace was gone by 1875. She married Lewis Couse just a month before the 1880 census was taken, and for some reason, her son Roy was sent to live with his paternal grandparents. Roy stayed a part of his family's life - he was a witness for his sister Alice's wedding, he named one of his daughters after his sister, and in her later years, his mother moved in with him until she passed away. So why would Roy not live with his mother? Louis had work as a carpenter and wagon maker, but maybe that didn't pay enough? He had two kids of his own, Eva and Willis, from a previous marriage when he married Mary, and maybe that played into it as well.

Whatever the cause for having Roy be raised by his grandparents, I'm glad it didn't cut him off from his family. He stayed close to his mom and his sister, and that's awesome. I'm glad Mary stayed involved in her kids' lives, that she didn't let the death of their father cause her to distance herself from them. I've seen firsthand how tragedy can bring a family together, and Mary seems to have drawn her family close to her, even though circumstances caused that she not raise one of her kids in her own home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Joseph family brick wall - BUSTED!

About five years ago, I found the first Polish records of my Joseph ancestors in microfilms I ordered from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I found some amazing information, and new ancestors. And then - I stopped. I ran out of time with the microfilms, and got busy with other things, and the next thing I knew, half a decade slipped by. I always meant to reorder those films, but never got around to it.

Then last year, I made contact with a DNA match who had ancestors from the same part of Poland my Josephs were from, and she had a great-grandmother who was a Joseph (Jozef in Polish)! I dug out my Polish records, dusted them off, and looked for info that matched what she had. There were three births I'd found on those microfilms that looked like they might be of relatives, but I didn't know how they connected, so I just kept them in a folder. Turns out all three of them were siblings to this DNA match's great-grandmother! So I knew her Josephs were as close in place and time to my Josephs as it was possible to get. Yet I still didn't see a connection telling me how they were related. My match said a relative of hers had some documents on this side of her family, and that she'd try to get copies of them to me.

Those copies arrived in my inbox last Saturday. And they solved everything. And started a WHOLE MESS of research and discovery on my Joseph side.

First off, the documents revealed that my match's great-grandmother was the daughter of Michael Jozef, and that Michael was the son of Krystyan Jozef and Eufrozyna Freder. Krystyan (or Christian in German) and Eufrozyna (or Euphrosine in German) are my 4th-great-grandparents!! Their son, Ludwig Heinrich Joseph, is the one who brought his Josephs out of Poland to Volhynia, and then to Canada. So Michael Jozef was Ludwig's younger brother!

I went back to those records from the microfilms, plus the records from my match, and started entering the data into my file. When I was done, I had over a dozen new people in my file! Plus it turns out my match is also descended from Samuel Brehm, who was my 2nd-great-grandfather Samuel Joseph's godfather. Makes me wonder if my Sam was named after hers. WILD!

Once the data was entered, I stepped back to look at the picture it painted. What I found is this:

Christian and Euphrosine Joseph had at least two sons, Ludwig Heinrich, and Michael. Michael and Ludwig married their spouses around the same time, and started having kids at the same time. Ludwig had two right away, Michael had three. There's a gap for both of them before they had any more children (at least I haven't been able to find any kids for those years) but they started having kids again in 1870-1871. Ludwig moved to Volhynia sometime after 1866, while Michael and his family stayed in Kepa Kikolska. Ludwig and his family eventually moved to Manitoba, Canada, while Michael and his descendants stayed in Poland. Michael died in 1908, just a couple years after the last of Ludwig's kids (my ancestor Samuel) left Europe and immigrated to Canada. The branch of Michael's family that my DNA match is part of stayed in Europe until her parents came to Canada in the 40s. By then, it seems likely that the two branches had lost track of each other, and neither family knew the other were in Canada, albeit in different provinces. The two lines lost communication with each other until last year, when the 2nd-great-granddaughter of Michael (my DNA match) and the 3rd-great-grandson of Ludwig (me) found each other through DNA testing - 150 years or so after Michael and Ludwig had parted ways. Wow!

But the coolest part? This was only the beginning of the discoveries.

The copies of the records I'd taken from the microfilms were terrible copies (the family history center I'd used didn't have a working digital camera at the time, so I'd used my cell phone to take a picture of the image on the microfilm reader). I'd gotten them translated, but the dates in the translations didn't match up with the data from my DNA match's records, so I posted my records to a genealogy translation group for additional insight. One of the volunteers there asked why I was posting such terrible copies when scans of the originals were available for free online. WHAT?????? I had no idea there WERE scans, let alone available online for free!

So I went to the link they gave me and started digging around. The website was all in Polish, and I speak and ready exactly no Polish at all. Thanks to Google Translate, I fumbled my way around until I'd kind of figured out how to find what I was looking for - better copies of the records I'd gotten off those microfilms. I found a perfect, full-color scan of Ludwig and Justine's marriage, plus one or two of the birth records for Michael's kids. Now that I had some idea of how to navigate things, I thought I'd try looking for something I've always wanted - Samuel Joseph's birth record. I didn't know if he was born in Poland or Volhynia, though I suspected Volhynia since that's what he'd said on the border crossing records when he moved back and forth between Canada and Montana. But just in case, I went looking for his birth record in Poland.

And I found it.

I know you likely can't read this any more than I can. But if you look on the 4th line up from the bottom, you'll see his name - Samuel. I started fist-pumping and happy-dancing all over the place!! Part of the reason is, I have for YEARS wanted something that definitively stated who Samuel's parents were. When I was in ProGen some years back, one of my practice projects was a paper on who Sam's parents were, and I had to lay out all the indirect evidence I had that pointed to and suggested and implicated that Sam was the son of Ludwig and Justine. But here it finally was, the proof in one sweet record. And from Poland at that!!

Having made this discovery, a new idea struck me. A crazy idea. If I'd found Samuel's birth record in this area, and I already had Ludwig's birth and marriage records, what if I went looking for the marriage of Ludwig's parents, Christian and Euphrosine? That could potentially give my all four of Ludwig's grandparents, plus the names of witnesses. Knowing that Ludwig was born in 1837, I went looking for marriages in Kepa Kikolska, the village Ludwig was born in. I found records for 1833, 1835, and 1836, the earliest marriage records available on the site. So I hoped they got married in 1836 and went digging.

And I found it.

Their record is on the left of the page. The amount of information on this one page is staggering. What I learned from it is this:

Christian Joseph was the son of Wilhelm Joseph and Elzbieta Tyka (probably Elisabetha in German. Tyka is an interesting name too - Michael Joseph's wife's name is Loise Dykau, and makes me wonder if Dykau and Tyka aren't variants of the same name). This is HUGE to me because Christian was born about 1814, and Eufrozyna was born around 1811. That means their parents were all born in the 1700s!! I never imagined I'd be able to take my Joseph line back that far!! By the time of his marriage to Eufrozyna, both of Christian's parents had passed away, and Christian himself, though he was only 22, was a widower. I can't imagine having been through that kind of and amount of loss at such a young age - both parents and a spouse. The information on Christian's wife was no less tragic. She was listed as Eufrozyna Sträubel, daughter of Krystyan Freder and Maryanna Fielandt. Eufrozyna's parents had also both passed away, and although she was only 25, she was a divorcee, though her first husband (guessing it was her first) had died by the time of her marriage to Christian. So both Christian and Eufrozyna had lost both parents and a spouse by their early 20s. Which means Ludwig and Michael never had a chance to know a single grandparent. I can't imagine that kind of world - I was born with three grandparents still living, and as I near my 40s, I still have two of them. Maybe all that loss is what brought them together. Hopefully they were able to strengthen each other and build a happy life together.

The other interesting thing that came out of the marriage record was that, since he was legally still a minor, Christian's marriage needed to be approved by a parent. As his parents were both deceased, a woman named Elżbieta Müller approved of the marriage. One translator said that Elzbieta was Christian's grandmother, the other couldn't read the word. If Elzbieta was his grandmother, I have to wonder whose mother was she - Wilhelm Joseph's or Elzbieta Tyka's? And why didn't she have the same surname as one of them? Did his grandmother also lose a husband and then remarry?

I tried finding death records for Christian and Eufrozyna's parents and former spouses, but death records before 1870 are not available, and may not even exist anymore. So all the questions I have about the rest of their family, who they were and what happened to them, may never be answerable. That's sad, because I really want to know the rest of their story.

One further wrinkle to the whole thing - in trying to find other marriage records for the Josephs, I did find one marriage for a guy named Krystyan Hilary Jozef to Eufrozyna Janke in 1835. At first I thought this was my Christian's first marraige, but it's not, because this Krystyan Hilary Jozef's parents were the late Hilary Jozef (the father) and Elzbieta Müller. Yes, the same name as my Christian's grandmother. Krystyan was born about 1816, only two years after my Christian. Could he be the younger brother of Christian's father Wilhelm? Was Hilary Jozef the father of my Wilhelm and Krystyan Hilary? 

At this point, I am just staggered and over the moon by all the information about the Josephs I've come across in the last several days. It looks like the Josephs were in the same area of Poland for at least three generations - Wilhelm, Christian, and Ludwig, maybe four if Hilary is Wilhelm's father. Christian and Eufrozyna both endured a lot of loss, yet hung on, married, and had at least two boys together. Their son Ludwig grew up to raise a large family and traveled thousands of miles with them, while their other son Michael raised a family of his own right where generations of his forebears had lived. Their families have seen much over the last 150 years, and are finally brought back into contact with each other. There's still a lot I want to know - more about the Ludwig's wife's family, and, whether it's possible to find more children and descendants of Wilhelm and Elzbieta. But I'm super grateful and excited about what I've found now, and look forward to sharing my discoveries with my relatives and fellow researchers.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Margaret Robitzer's immigration - a new perspective

When I started making some real progress on my Robitzer line last year, I found Margaret Robitzer's immigration record. She left her home in Alsace-Lorraine around 1851 and made her way to America in May 1852. She was just a month and a half past her 20th birthday when she made the journey on the ship Caspian. 

When I saw that she was listed next to some Richerts, I thought they might be related, as I saw a bunch of Richerts in the parish registers where I found Margaret's family. But not knowing anything else about her shipmates, I didn't know how to go about finding how they were connected.

Then a few days ago, my grandma got an email from FamilySearch telling her of her connection to one Margaret Madden. The email even included a 4-generation pedigree chart for Margaret. She forwarded it to me, and I took a look. Turns out Margaret Madden's maternal grandfather was a Richert, and she had a great-grandmother who was a Robitzer!

Using the information in the pedigree chart, I went back to the parish registers in Alsace-Lorraine, and connected Margaret Madden to the Richerts in the passenger list. She was a direct descendant of the Jacob and Catherine Richert that accompanied my ancestor Margaret Robitzer to America. The pedigree chart also helped me find the connection between the Richerts and my Margaret Robitzer - Jacob Richert's wife, Catherine (nee Robitzer) was Margaret's first cousin!

I followed the Richerts forward a few decades, and found they settled in Trumbull County, Ohio, two counties north of where Margaret ended up after she and George Waechter got married. And like the Waechters, the Richerts later moved a little east into southeastern Pennsylvania. It's fascinating how similar their migrations were. I wonder if they kept in touch after landing in the US.

I'm glad Margaret didn't have to make the journey to the New World alone. It must have been quite a trip, but going with family hopefully made it more exciting than frightening. It also reinforces my opinion of Margaret that family was very important to her. She passed family information from the old world to her children in the new; she kept in touch with her family back in France; and when left home, she left with family. What an amazing woman she was.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Robitzer family tragedy of 1826

The last few days, I've gone back to researching my Robitzer family in Alsace-Lorraine, fleshing out the family trees and downloading records for the various branches of my family from that part of the world. It's a very fruitful record group for me - the records were beautifully kept, preserved, and digitized, and are very easily accessed for free online. Add to that a very accurate family tree created by a distant cousin, and you have a perfect setup for me to learn a lot about this branch of my family very quickly.

While going through the records, I found something I've never seen before - a death epidemic for one extended family all in the same year (well, half-year really, as the deaths occurred in a 4-month period). The town was Uttwiller/Utweiler (depending on if you spoke French or German),which was not a huge town, and they usually registered 10 or fewer deaths per year around this time period. The year 1826 seems to have been a particularly bad year for Uttwiller, as they registered 15 deaths that year. Of those 15, 7 of them were my relatives, and all 7 of them died between July and November that year.

Death register for Uttwiller in 1826

First in July, Anne Catherine Boos, wife of Johann Jacob Robitzer, died at the young age of 49.

Then in August, Anne Catherine Robitzer, a niece of Anne Catherine Boos, died at the age of 4 years.

September saw the death of little Eve Robitzer, the daughter of Anne Catherine Boos's husband's cousin, who was only 4 days old when she passed away.

In October, two of Anne Catherine Boos' sons, 23-year-old Johan and 20-year-old George both died within 4 days of each other.

In November, Anne Catherine Boos' youngest child, 2-year-old Anne Marie Robitzer, passed away. Two and a half weeks after Anne Marie's passing, her 10-year-old cousin (and brother of Anne Catherine Robitzer) Johan Michael Robitzer died.

With so many deaths in so short a time, I wonder if there was some sickness going around. Or maybe, with so many deaths in one extended family, was there some kind of hereditary disease or vulnerability that cost them their lives? Having recently experienced the pain of losing a child, I can't imagine going through that over and over again. The range in ages is pretty widespread - 4 days, 2 years old, 4, 10, 20, 23, and 49. And yet the families stayed in the area for many more generations. So whatever caused these losses, the family stayed put. Maybe they felt they couldn't leave, as it had been home for their family for so long. Maybe they just lacked the means of leaving. Most of the families were farmers, which tends not to be a very lucrative profession. But whatever the case, I'm glad they stuck it out. They kept raising their families and making their livings, leaving records behind for me to find. Family stories, family tragedies like this one, remind me that life has always been hard. But the hard times help you see the good times for the treasures they are, To really appreciate what you have, you need to experiences hard times, even terrible times, once in a while,
or life gets out of focus. Grief and loss have helped me see what really matters most to me, and maybe it did for the Robitzers in 1826 as well.