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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Family History Adventures with Ash and Leah

I've known for several years that my 3rd-great-grandparents, Paul Groff and Susana (Garlinghouse) Groff were buried not too far from where I live, in Thurston County, Washington. For a long time, I was content to have pictures of their graves that I found on But earlier this week, I had an idea - I could take my family down to visit their graves, and on the way down, tell them Paul and Susana's story, to make finding their graves more meaningful. This weekend seemed the perfect time to do it - I wasn't busy, my wife had no plans, and the weather was supposed to be nice and sunny (a rare thing for western Washington in February). I told my wife of my plans, and she was fully supportive. It was gonna be great!

And then, life happened.

My wife got sick Friday night, and by Saturday morning, she was feeling no better. But she was still supportive of me taking the older kids on the adventure, as she called it. I felt bad she had to miss out, but I thought the three of us could still have a good experience, so after a quick stop at McDonald's for lunch, we were off.

I didn't tell the kids where we were going, and they were happy just to be going somewhere. I put on their music CD (a kids' music group called the Not-Its) until we were about 20 minutes away, when I told them I was going to tell them a story. I think it helped that I told them ahead of time that I'd play their music for part of the trip, and tell them a story for the rest of the trip down, so they knew it was coming.

I told them the story I was going to tell them was all true. It was about a man named Paul who was born in New York. He had a mom named Hannah, a little brother named Isaac, and a sister whose name I didn't know. He grew up and worked as a mason, making bricks and building bridges and buildings with them. He joined the Army and went all over the place - Mexico, Missouri, lots of far away places. While he was gone, his mom got sick and his little brother broke his leg. His mom wanted him to come home, but he couldn't because he was in the Army. So she wrote to the President of the United States asking him to let her son come home. But the President said no. So Paul stayed with the Army until he was allowed to go home.

When he went home, he took care of his mom and brother, and eventually he married a girl named Charlotte. They had a little girl named Sophronia, and everything seemed to be going well. But then Charlotte got sick and then died. He needed someone to take care of Sophronia while he went out and worked on his farm, so he married again. His second wife was a girl named Susana, and they had eight more kids (they actually had 10, I couldn't remember the actual number). Their kids all grew up and got married and moved away. Paul wanted to live near one of his kids, so he and Susana packed up and moved out to Washington to live near his first daughter Sophronia. Soon after they got to Washington, Paul's wife Susana got sick and died. So Paul lived with Sophronia and her family until he died in 1912.

Once I finished relating Paul's story (and they listened much better than I thought they would) I told them that Paul had a daughter named Mary, who had a daughter named Dora, who had a son named Charles, who had a daughter named Blossom. Then asked them if they knew anyone named Blossom. Leah said "Yeah, Grandma Blossom!" I said "that's right! This story was about Grandma Blossom's great-grandpa, Paul Groff!" The kids couldn't believe the story was about someone in their family. One of them asked me how I knew so much about Paul. I said "remember all those nights I spent doing genealogy? I was finding things that told me the stories of our family." They both said "ooooooh." It was a really cool moment.

Right as I finished the story, we got to the cemetery (talk about perfect timing!). As mentioned before, I had a picture of the graves thanks to, so I had some idea of what to look for. The cemetery was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be, so we ended up hiking around most of it in big circles for close to a half hour. I showed the kids the picture, and they were really helpful in finding stones that looked like it. After a while, with the cold wind blowing in our faces for so long, the kids were getting pretty worn out of tromping around looking for a grave we couldn't find, when suddenly I spotted it. Well, them. There were two of them, one for Paul, one for Susana, right next to each other. One thing we noticed right away, and which had made the graves harder to find was the lack of the tree/bush right behind the graves, as is shown in the Findagrave picture. All that's left now is a little stump, which you can see poking out from behind Paul's stone on the left below.

Paul's stone is still in really good condition. The writing was nice and legible, and the designs on the top and bottom were pretty easily seen. Susana's stone has not weathered as well. The picture on her Findagrave memorial shows a bit more of the wording than I could see on the grave now. I could still read "Susana, wife of Groff" (the P. was no longer visible) and "born" and "died" but the dates weren't really legible. The top of the stone looked like it broke off at the anchor and was glued back on. Glad it's still standing though. 

On our way out, Leah found a stone with the name Asher on it. We stopped, and found a whole family plot, with a man named Asher, and an apparent grandson right next to him named Asher as well. The kids got a kick out of seeing someone with the same name as my son. We looked around the plot, and found there were four or five generations of this family all right next to each other. We talked about how cool it will be on resurrection day to have this whole family all together there.  I've noticed that family plots are a pretty rare thing in my family, so it was really neat to see a family all together like that. 

We had a fun time, and the trip back home was over before we knew it. The only thing that could have made it better would have been my wife and baby being there with us. We'll have to take another family history trip. Where should we go next time? 

My grandparents' DNA trails, Part IV - "Harris" mtDNA

Now we come to the last of my four grandparents' DNA trails, the mtDNA of my grandma Sally (Harris) Crawford. In case it wasn't clear last time, I put the surname for the mtDNA lines I trace in quotation marks because the last name changes with each generation. So, let's see where this DNA line leads us.

This line of DNA goes back to a lady named Margaret (last name unknown), born about 1830 or 1832 in Germany or France (she listed both in the census records, which makes me think it may have been Alsace-Lorraine, but at this point I don't know). She married John Georg Waechter in Ohio around 1853. Margaret's mtDNA came down to me through her granddaughter Philena Emily "Lena" Beilstein, Sally's grandmother, who I've written about many times before.

My grandma Sally has three kids, two girls and a boy (a nice inversion of the typical pattern of two boys and a girl). My aunt has four children, one girl and three boys. The boys can't pass on the mtDNA, but their sister can. So far, she has one child, a boy. So at this point, the mtDNA on that branch stops with my cousin.

My mom has three kids, with (you guessed it) two boys and a girl (I swear that pattern is engraved in our DNA, because that's exactly what I have too!). My brother and I can't pass on the mtDNA we carry, but my sister can. At this point, she doesn't have any kids. So like with my aunt's line, the mtDNA on my mom's line ends with my sister. So at this point, we don't have anyone among my grandma's descendants who can pass on her mtDNA.

I don't want to leave it at that though. So let's see if there's anyone else who can pass that mtDNA on. My grandma did have one sister, who had three kids (anyone want to guess the pattern? Kudos if you guessed two boys and a girl). The girl, my mom's cousin, has one child, a daughter. So far, she doesn't have any kids, so the mtDNA line on that branch ends with my 2nd cousin.

Ok, that didn't pan out either. My great-grandma, Sally's mom Edna Craddock, had three sisters. I have identified a couple of their grandchildren, but don't have any info on great- or great-great-grandchildren. Maybe I can pick the brains of a couple of Grandma Sally's cousins and try to fill in the gaps. I don't want to see my own line die out, but even if it does, odds are there are others out there of my more distant relatives carrying the torch for Margaret Waechter's line.

My grandparents' DNA trails, Part III - "Wagner" mtDNA

The next DNA trail I'm tracing is the path of my paternal grandmother, Blossom (Wagner) Gibson's mtDNA. I've traced this DNA back to Anna Kreutzer, my 6th-great-grandmother, who married my 6th-great-grandfather Georg Adam Salfer in Rosshaupt in the Bohemia region of the Austrian Empire in 1756. My grandma inherited it from her mother, Rosie Sitzman [Zitzmann], who married Charles Frederick Wagner.

Blossom had three daughters, one from her first marriage and two from her second. I know mtDNA is also passed on to male children, but as they can't pass it on to their kids, they are left out of this analysis. Her first daughter had three kids, one girl and two boys. The daughter, my cousin, had two children but both are boys, so they can't pass on the mtDNA. As it looks like they aren't having any more kids, the mtDNA on that branch ends with my cousin.

Blossom's second daughter had two kids, both daughters. The older daughter has three kids, one daughter and two boys. The younger daughter has one child, a daughter. So both of my cousins on that branch each have a daughter that can pass the mtDNA from my grandma on down to another generation.

Blossom's youngest daughter had three kids, one girl and two boys (noticing a pattern here?). The daughter, my cousin, has two kids, a boy and a girl, with a third on the way (so far gender is unknown). But my cousin's daughter gives us another candidate for passing on grandma's mtDNA to a new generation.

So between my two aunts that have girl grandchildren, there are three girls of the latest generation that could pass on grandma's mtDNA. Given that there are currently 18 kids of that generation, I'd say that having a full 1/6 of them be girls in the direct maternal line is pretty good. Hopefully they'll be able to keep Anna Kreutzer's DNA going to a new generation of descendants.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My grandparents' DNA trails, Part II - Bergstad Y-DNA

Next up on my DNA trails is the Y-DNA of my maternal grandfather, Roland John "Tom" Bergstad. He was the one grandparent I never got to meet, having died two years before I was born. He was the sixth of nine children of Jack Bergstad and Katherine Jane (Hammer) Bergstad (though Jack's first two children were from his first marriage to Mamie Wells). I haven't had much contact with the Bergstads, and online sources for North Dakota (where my Bergstads lived for a long time) are far and few between, so I don't know all the descendants of my grandfather's siblings. Thus I can't say for sure how many Bergstad men are out there from those lines. But I do know my grandfather's descendants pretty well.

Tom and Sally Bergstad had three children, two girls and a boy. They later divorced and remarried, but never had kids with any of their subsequent spouses, so that limits the Y-DNA carriers in my grandpa's line to his only son, my uncle.

My uncle has lived a very eventful life (at least what I know of it seems eventful). He is married with four kids, three sons and a daughter. None of  his sons have married and had kids yet, so at this point, that's where things stand. With three sons, I'd say there stands a pretty good chance of the Bergstad Y-DNA carrying forward to future generations.

Just out of curiosity, I looked my grandfather's siblings, to see what I do know of their male descendants. Again, my knowledge is spotty at best on some of these lines, so if anyone out there reading this knows these folks, by all means speak up! Here are the results, as I have them:

Clayton Bergstad - one son, who had one or two sons
Virgil Bergstad - two sons, one of which had a son
James Bergstad - no known descendants

So even if my uncle's boys for some reason didn't have any sons, there would be some second and third cousins out there who could carry the name forward. The Bergstads have been in this country since 1847, and it looks like they'll be here a while longer yet.