Monday, April 20, 2015

Why I am a bad genealogist

I first got into genealogy research back in 2000, when I started school at BYU. My grandma had sent me a pedigree chart of her ancestors while I was on my mission in Japan, and I had been excited to get into researching my family history and see what I could find. My first find came way too easily, but I'm glad it did. I went looking for my great-grandfather, John Frederick Gibson. I didn't know when he was born, but I was told it was around 1880, that he had been born in the city of Saint John in New Brunswick, and his parents were John and Catherine Gibson. I went to the Family History Center at BYU (the largest in the world by the way, next to the FHL itself in Salt Lake), pulled out the microfilm for the 1881 census for Saint John, and started rolling my way through it, page by page. It didn't take long before I found John and Catherine Gibson, with a 1-year-old daughter named Annie. I excitedly called my family and said "I found them!" From that moment on, I was hooked. I soon started pulling up everything I could find on every relative and ancestor I knew about. But more than anything, I wanted to know one thing about my Gibsons in particular - where in Ireland did they come from?

Since that very cold day in January 2000, I have found a lot of info on John's later life and descendants, but nothing about his earlier life or ancestry. I found a census record in 1871 that might be him, if he only aged 3 years between 1871 and 1881 (or the informant got his age completely wrong on either census, or both of them even). John said in later documents that his parents were both born in Ireland, but I had no concrete proof of who his parents were. Since I couldn't trace my Gibsons back to their origins in Ireland, I've also tried tracing my other Irish line back to Ireland - that of John Gibson's wife, Catherine Cain.

I knew from the same 1881 census I found John and Catherine in that Catherine's parents were Dennis and Catherine Cain. Dennis and Catherine were both listed as having been born in Ireland, so that gave me more immigrants from Ireland, and this time, I had names. I've tried for years to locate some document that would help me find Dennis and/or Catherine's point of origin in Ireland, but no luck. Everything that lists birthplace always said just Ireland.

Two years ago, I met a cousin of my grandpa Fred Gibson through, one who descended from Dennis and Catherine Cain (or Kane as it was spelled in America). This cousin said that they were told by an old relative that Dennis's parents (names unknown) had died in Ireland of the black lung, and that Dennis had immigrated to Canada to live with an unnamed aunt on his father's side. The cousin didn't know (or at least didn't say) where this older relative had obtained this information, so I read the information she had on Dennis in her Ancestry tree and wrote it down in my Rootsmagic database, and moved on.

That is why I'm a bad genealogist. The info that this cousin had on Dennis included a transcription of his obituary, taken from the Helena Independent Record the day after his death in May 1906. Because I couldn't find a copy of that original obituary to verify its contents, I just copied the transcript from Ancestry, and promptly (and stupidly) forgot about it. I say stupidly, because the obituary contains this sentence: He was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland and in 1833 crossed the water, locating in St. John's, New Brunswick.

The holy grail of my genealogy research - a connection to a specific point of origin in Ireland - has been sitting in my Rootsmagic database for almost two years now. Completely untouched. The only reason I came across it today was I happened to be poking around Newspaper Archive looking for an obituary for - Dennis Kane. And I found one - a copy of the one from the Helena paper, reprinted in the Anaconda Standard the next day. And guess what? The wording is almost identical to what my cousin had in her Ancestry tree.

I have spent every spare moment today joining every County Tyrone group on Facebook I could find, plus a mailing list for Tyrone, and bouncing around various websites that members in these Facebook groups have been kind enough to point me to. I'm grateful that I have this information, but kicking myself that I didn't act on it two years ago when I first came across it. Who knows what progress I'd have made in the last 20 months? All I can do now is try to make up for lost time, and hope that whatever answers might have been out there 20 months ago are still there, waiting for this (now formerly) bad genealogist to find them.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why my genealogy is so awesomely hard to trace - part 2

Picking up where I left off, here's a summary of where I'm at with my maternal ancestral lines, and what I want to do from here.

1. Bergstad - Thanks to a Bergstad cousin and the awesome online archives of the Norwegian government, I've got original records taking my Bergstad line back to the 1700s. I could try to push back further, but what I'd really like to do is get copies of the records about the farms they lived on, because that seems to be how things were organized in Norway back then. There are books in the FHL, I know which ones I need, I just need someone to get the copies for me.

2. Fadness - I've got some of the records for my Fadness lines that I have for my Bergstads, but not as many or as complete. I intended to go get them, just got sidetracked and never got back to them. I need to flesh out my record collection from the Norwegian archives for the Fadnesses I know about before going any further back on them. Plus I need to do a little more study on how the Norwegian naming system actually worked. I don't know enough about how the farm name worked, if it was considered part of the person's name or not. In both the Bergstad and Fadness families, they eventually adopted the farm name as their surnames, and there has to be a reason for that.

3. Olson - Another Norwegian line, in about the same situation as the Fadnesses - need to flesh out the documentation, but both in the US and Norway. This is one case where the surname came from a direct ancestor, not a farm.

4. Hammer - My last Norwegian line, slightly better documented in Norway than the Olsons and Fadnesses, but not by much. I do have some really cool homestead documents for the immigrant on this line, Philip Wilhelm Oleson Hammer for his settlement in North Dakota. I think this is another family that took the farm name as the surname. I want to document them better in Norway, and see what I can pull up on the farm records.

5. Krüger - One of my German lines in my mom's ancestry, and one where I have a lot of names and dates and places but no supporting documentation. I really want to research these guys and trace them back to the old country, but haven't because I've thought it would be too tough. Maybe I should test this and see what I can find out?

6. McDonald - My one and only Scottish line. Well, sorta - one line of McDonalds was apparently English, while the other was probably Scottish. The problem is, I'm stuck in Ontario in the mid 1800s, where there were approximately 50,000 George McDonalds/MacDonalds. It's like looking for a single strand (blade? string?) of hay in a field of haystacks. If I could track down a modern descendant and get them to take a DNA test, I might stand a chance of tracing them back to Scotland.

7. Harris - I've got some pretty good documentation on them going back to the late 1700s in America, and then it stops. Although I've always thought I need more solid info on my 4th-great-grandfather, Lewis Harris, tying him to his parents Nathaniel Harris and Mary Howard. That and colonial Virginia research is way beyond me at this point, so I'd really have to bone up before trying to tackle this line.

8. Berry - Lewis Harris married Lucinda Berry, so the time and location for the Berry's is pretty close to that of the Harrises. I've got some good info on Lucinda and her folks, but not much beyond those two generations. Again, this is colonial Virginia and perhaps Maryland, so I haven't really tried to push beyond what I already know about them.

9. Scribner - This is another early American family, where the data I have goes back to England, but I haven't verified it yet. I'm sure there's a lot of good info out there to corroborate it, I just haven't taken time to learn about how to winnow it out of the records yet.

10. Craddock - This is a probable English connection, but I only feel comfortable with my documentation on them going back to about 1830 (and even that's pushing it a bit). It's southern research, so you're dealing with missing/destroyed records much moreso than any other of my lines. I'd like to shore up what I have going back to 1850, and see where I can go from there.

11. Beilstein - I've written pretty extensively about Philena "Lena" Beilstein, probably more than any other single ancestor in my whole tree. Her story is just so fascinating and so tragic. I was recently able to find a little more info about her parents, and the man who married them. I have a lot more info on her ancestry, but not a lot of documentation to support it. I'd like to confirm it if I can and explore the Hessian connection.

Well, that about sums it up. Any recommendations on which line I should research first?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why my genealogy is so awesomely hard to trace - part 1

As you've probably noticed lately, my posts (and the research behind them) have been pretty random in terms of content. That's because I'm having a hard time pinning down what lines to research and what I want to know about them. I thought I'd post about each of my lines and try to sum up what I know about them, what I still need to look into, and maybe (gasp) pick a line to work on for a while. This may end up covering multiple posts, since my writing time (and attention span) are limited. Here goes.

1. Gibson - My Gibson line stops at John Gibson, b. 1850 in New Brunswick, Canada, and his in-laws Dennis Cain and Catherine (Mulhearn) Cain, immigrants from Ireland who married in New Brunswick. I would LOVE to find out where in Ireland they came from, but so far my attempts have been unsuccessful. I've gone so far as to apply to be on Genealogy Roadshow to help me track down my Irish roots on this line. I'd hire a specialist if I had the money. For this branch of my family tree, I think I need to write to the Montana Historical Society and the genealogy society or historical society of New Brunswick and see what they have on John and Dennis. I know the Montana Historical Society charges for lookups, so it might be cheaper to join for a year and then request research, or to have a Montana-based relative submit it for me (they charge less for residents).

2. Joseph - When I started researching my family history, Samuel Joseph, my grandpa Fred Gibson's maternal grandfather, was my brick wall. We didn't even know the name of Sam's wife. Now we know her name - Pauline Rosen - as well as the names of two other wives that no one in my family knew about, Elizabeth Ackermann and Julianna (Kublick) Lorenz. I've also got names and some info on all four of Sam's grandparents. What I need to do next is order the FHL microfilms for the parish in Poland where the Josephs are from and see what else I can find in there. I saw a lot of people named Arendt in connection with the Joseph records I found there, and I want to see if the Arendts and the Josephs are related.

3. Wagner - A few years ago, a friend of mine was able to gather some info on the Wagners in Chicago for me, which helped me flesh out the Wagners of my 2nd-great-grandfather Charles Wagner's generation. I'd like to revisit that info, go over it and make sure it all fits as neatly as it should. I'd also like to see if I can really, officially jump the pond and trace them back to their supposed origins in Mecklenberg.

4. Shute - One of my long-standing goals is to very the info I found on the Shutes on FamilySearch years ago when I first got started. It supposedly goes back hundreds of years, and since I don't have as much experience dealing with pre-1850 sources, I've put it off and put it off. One day I will get around to it though!

5. Groff - Thanks to the military records at, I found some letters written by and on behalf of my ancestors Paul Groff, as well as one that was written by his mother, Hannah (the only source I have for her name at this point). These documents say Paul came from Monroe County, New York, and that his mother lived in Michigan while Paul was in the Army. I haven't really followed up with those leads yet. I'd love to push that line further back, and having his mother and a brother's name (Isaac) will hopefully help.

6. Zitzmann - When my great-great-grandmother Maria Zitzmann came to the US from Europe, she forbid her girls to speak German or say anything about where they had come from. I thought for years I'd never be able to learn where they were from or anything about her ancestry. However, thanks to DNA testing, mailing lists, and especially the help of some very, very, very helpful people found through both, I've taken my Zitzmann ancestry back to the 1700s and even 1600s in some lines. I do need to flesh out the families, some of them just have my direct ancestor, a parent or two, and that's it. I would like to translate (or have someone else translate) the documents I have so far collected. That's a task a bit beyond me though, I still have trouble with the old German script, and don't know German well enough to recognize words that are written poorly. Still, it could be very educational to even make the attempt.

Well, that about covers what I'd like to do with the research on my father's side. I'll go through my maternal lines in the next post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Fillies of Roy

A few days ago, Dick Eastman wrote briefly about the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, a troop of about 1200 soldiers sent to Quebec from France by King Louis XIV to push the Indians back and help ensure the colony's survival. Once the situation stabilized, the soldiers were told they could go back to France if they wished, or they could remain in Quebec and live there. About 1/3 of the soldiers elected to remain in Quebec and settle there. Because the colony apparently didn't have enough women to offset this sudden increase in the male population, France organized the Filles du Roi (pronounced Fee du Wah, not fillies do Roy), or Daughters of the King. This group of between 700-1000 women, not actually daughters of the king but ordinary women (sometimes even orphans) basically agreed to help colonize Quebec by marrying the soldiers and other settlers and having big families. This was a big deal, because Quebec only had about 2600 people, compared to the 80,000 or so in the British colonies to the south. Dick includes several links to some very interesting articles in his post, so I recommend going through them all.

While reading Dick's article on the subject, a few things caught my eye. First was the illustration of how the soldiers dressed. To me, they look like traditional depictions of Davy Crockett but with a French hat instead of a coon-skin cap.

Carignan Soldier, courtesy of Dick Eastman's blog

The other thing was the fact that there were apparently no restrictions on who could join the regiment, except for one - they had to be at least 5'3" tall. Interesting requirement.

I wanted to see if I had any ancestors among this group, so I went through my file and looked for anyone far back enough to have qualified, and I found one! Jean Bessette, born about 1642 is the most distant paternal ancestor of Eleanor Bessette (who I have written about before), and he just happens to be one of these soldiers.

According to Sandra Goodwin of the Maple Stars and Stripes podcast, when the ladies of the Filles du Roi were brought to Quebec, they lived in convents under the care of nuns. The nuns would organize socials where the local men would come and meet the ladies. The ladies would ask them about their occupations, whether they had a house built, if it was ready to live in, etc. Sometimes there would be an offer of marriage on the spot. The ladies were not under pressure to accept, and could decline if they wanted to. If they declined, they could move on to the next town and attend the social there. They could keep doing this all the way to the end of the settlement, which was Montreal at the time (which actually led the men at Montreal to complain that all the pretty girls were getting married back east). But the end result of all these socials was that most of the Filles du Roi were married very soon after arriving in Quebec.

That seems to have been the case in my lineage. Anne Seigneur, daughter of Guillaume and Madeleine Seigneur, arrived in Quebec on the ship La Nouvelle France on March 7, 1668. She was married to Jean Bessette on July 3 that same year. Just enough time for her to get situated, meet Jean, confirm that he was a suitable match, and go and get hitched.

There's a lot more written about the Filles du Roi and the Carignan soldiers than I've had time to read so far, and it sounds like a fascinating story and time. I wonder if any other of my French lines lead back to the fillies of Roy?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Learning about Mr. Ed

I've been on a Beilstein kick this weekend. I was looking through some of the records I have on my 2nd-great-grandmother Philena Emily "Lena" Beilstein, using Rootsmagic 7's Web Hints feature to link my tree to records in FamilySearch and MyHeritage. Pretty awesome little feature, I must say! While linking records to her entry in my family tree, I noticed that my data on her 2nd-to-last husband, James Edward Layfield, was a little sparse. My grandma told me that Ed, as he was known, was the husband she was happiest with, though I don't know exactly why that was (didn't think to ask what made her happier with him than the others). So I thought I'd do some digging and see what I could learn about him.

Lena and James Edward Layfield
I found he was born in Detroit about 1874. I'm not sure who his parents were - one record says they were Edward and Elizabeth (Williams) Layfield, and another says they were Charles and Annie Layfield. I spent a little time looking, but couldn't confirm either set of parents, so for now James' parentage is unknown. He worked much of his life as a cook, including some time spent working for a hotel in Butte, Montana, but also apparently (like so many others) worked in the mines in Montana. He was of medium height and build, with blue eyes and brown hair. By 1909 he had moved to Montana, as that's when he married Agnes Browning, daughter of D.H. Browning and Jane Garner. They had been married for 15 years, thought with no children I could find record of, when Agnes passed away.

A few years later, he and Lena were married in August of 1932. They lived on Utah Avenue in Butte while Ed continued to work as a cook. Then, in early 1937, Ed became ill and a short time later, passed away on March 14, 1937. He and Lena had been married just 4 1/2 years.

If Lena and Ed were only married such a short time, where did my grandma get the information or idea that Lena's happiest marriage was to Ed Layfield? Part of me wonders if it was because (as far as I can tell) Ed was the only husband Lena lost to death. I still don't know what became of Jack White, her 4th husband, or Charles Roper, her 6th and last husband (though I suspect he may have died while married to Lena, as she's listed in a 1948 Butte directory as Mrs. Lena Roper). Theirs wasn't her shortest marriage, and I don't really have any other details about it than that one statement from my grandma. But whatever it was about their marriage, it was enough to make an impression on Lena's granddaughter, who passed it on to me.

One interesting side note. Ed's first wife, Agnes Browning, was born in Utah around 1858. That would have been just 11 years after the Mormons first settled the Salt Lake valley, which got me wondering if she was Mormon. It also clicked in my head that Jonathan Browning, inventor/improver of some types of rifles, was Mormon, and I wondered if there was a connection. A quick search of FamilySearch showed that, indeed, Jonathan Browning was her grandfather's brother. It looks like Agnes never joined the church though. That gives her something in common with Lena's first husband, David Briscoe, whose parents were also Mormon and apparently raised their kids in the church, but David never joined from what I can tell. Who knows, maybe Lena and Ed talked about their quasi-Mormon former spouses?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Beilstein connection I hadn't considered

A few years ago, I started reading a historical fiction series about the Revolutionary War period. It was my first time digging into the story of the Revolutionary War, going beyond the "we fought the British, we won, moving on" summary I got in school (yes, one of my college history classes went into more detail, but I don't remember much of that, except that it was something of a shock to realize we didn't go straight to revolution, but actually fought for rights within the British Empire for years first). But anyways, one of the things that really stood out in the story was the role played by the Hessian solders hired by the British. They were portrayed as merciless mercenaries, professional thugs basically, hired to slaughter the Patriot army. It told about one battle in particular (can't recall the one offhand), where the Hessians overran the Patriots, and the Patriots caught by the Hessians tried to surrender, only to be massacred by the Hessians while in the act of surrendering. They were also quoted as telling their British commanders that they could frighten the Patriots into losing by showing them the bayonet, because "they cannot stand the bayonet." So yeah, the Hessians were obviously cruel and vicious and so on. Bad guys who did what they were hired to do in as bloody a way as possible.

Cut to today, when I was poking around my Beilstein line, finally going after some documentation on the info I was given years ago. I started with the immigrant ancestor on that line, my 3rd-great-grandfather, Jacob Beilstein. According to a pedigree chart given to me, he was born in Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany in 1851. So I thought I'd go looking to confirm that.

The earliest record from the States that I have on Jacob is the 1860 census, where he's listed as a 9-year-old boy in the household of Frederick and Maria Beilstein (who are obviously not his parents, given they are ages 26 and 23, and that he is listed last in the family, under Fred and Maria, their 1-year-old daughter Sophia, a 50-year-old Sophia Beilstein, and 13-year-old Christian Beilstein). Jacob's birthplace is listed as the Grand Duchy of Hessen. I knew FamilySearch had a big database of German BMDs (birth, marriage, and death records) so I thought I'd start there. Searching FamilySearch led me to a birth record confirming that he was born 5 January 1851 in Groß-Bieberau, Starkenburg, Hesse-Darmstadt.

I wanted to learn more about Groß-Bieberau, so I Google searched it, and found this little Wikipedia page. And I mean little - the whole entry is two and a half sentences (really, the last sentence isn't even complete). It does manage to say that Groß-Bieberau is a town in Hesse, Germany, with a link to a page on Hesse, so I went there.

Once there, two sentences immediately struck me - "The English name "Hesse" comes from the Hessian dialects...An inhabitant of Hesse is called a Hessian."

A Hessian. My Beilsteins were Hessians.

Being a linguist, I should have clued in the Hessians might be from Hesse a little earlier, but for some reason it never dawned on me. But now it's got me wondering - were any of my people among the Hessians that were rented by the British? Do I have any relatives, perhaps even direct ancestors, that were involved in that bloody battle I mentioned earlier? Jacob went to school in America, and must have learned about the American Revolution as a boy. What was he taught about the Hessians? Being only 80 years removed from the war, did he have any stories of relatives who fought on the German side? What did he think about or feel towards them?

Unless I find a journal written by him or his children, I'll never know the answers to those questions in this life. But it does make me want to learn more about my Beilsteins, and find out whether they had any military service back in Hesse. Perhaps I'll get lucky and find out they were ordinary civilians. Either way, I'm really interested in finding out!

Friday, March 13, 2015

My first time researching a FAN of an ancestor

John Edward Ferdinand Schmidt von der Launitz (aka John Launitz) was born in Tivoli, Italy about 1829. He seems to have been a very smart fellow, as he was reportedly fluent in German, English, French, and Italian. The son of Edward Schmidt von der Launtiz and Francesca Ferriri, he attended school in Germany between 1838 and 1850, and emigrated to the US in the mid 1850s. He studied theology in Pennsylvania from 1857-1860, and while studying, he married Anna Katherine Rado in 1859. That was a banner year for John, as that was also the year he founded the First German Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. He remained its sole pastor until his death in 1913. It was while he was serving as pastor for this church that he came into contact with my third-great-grandparents, Jacob Beilstein and Amelia Wachter.

I don't know the full extent of the relationship between John Launitz and my ancestors, but I do know one thing at least - he was the minister who performed their marriage. I know this because his name is written (in tough-to-read handwriting) in the bottom right corner of their marriage certificate.

Marriage certificate for Jacob Beilstein and Emilie Wachter
Here is Jacob and Amelia's marriage certificate. Because the version I have is a copy of a copy (at least, perhaps even one or two more generations removed from an original), it's hard to read some of the writing. I find it fascinating that it's all written in German, despite the fact that the marriage was performed in Pennsylvania in 1873.

It took a couple hours of searching Google, Ancestry, and FamilySearch using various combinations of John's name to find out who he was. His first name is written Johann on the certificate, and I couldn't tell if the surname was Lumitz, Bumitz, Lurnitz, or several other possibilities. I got some help from Kerry Scott (of Clue Wagon fame) and Dear Myrtle in finding the church in Pittsburgh. But after finding out his name was listed in American records as John Launitz, I found a whole plethora of records on the minister himself. He appears in an old copy of Who's Who in Pennsylvania (whence most of the biographical info above is taken), several books about the church he founded, not to mention city directories, census records, and other normal genealogical fare. Almost makes me wish I was related to him!

I've known about Elizabeth Shown Mills' teaching about researching the FANs (friends, associates, and neighbors) of our ancestors for years, but never really put it into practice until now. It was really fascinating to study, even briefly, the life of someone who knew my ancestors but was not directly related to them. I wonder if they attended his church and heard him preach. Was he chosen to perform their marriage because they believed what he did, or was it more of a matter of convenience? My Germans from Russia were apparently Lutheran (that's the church they attended in Manitoba), and my Germans from Bohemia were all apparently Catholic. It would be pretty cool to find out my Beilstein-Waechter Germans were Presbyterians! I'm still trying to find out if the church is still in existence to see if they have anything else on my ancestors. Having had previous success with German church records in Manitoba, I would love to see what this church might offer.

First German Presbyterian Church, from the book
Allegheny City, 1840-1907