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.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Genes Day Friday - DNA Circles at last!!

One of the cool things about DNA testing at Ancestry is their use of DNA Circles. The circle is basically a group of people who share autosomal DNA with at least 3 other people in the circle and have a common ancestor in their family trees. This means that Ancestry figures, because of the comination of DNA and family tree matches, your shared DNA probably comes from that common ancestor. Because autosomal DNA inheritance is random, you won't match everyone in the circle, even though you have the same ancestor. Ancestry looks back as far as 9 generations in your tree, so you could potentially be matched with some pretty distant cousins.

When I first got my DNA results, I didn't have a tree uploaded to my account. I've kind of been holding out for Ancestry and Rootsmagic to get their sync issues worked out, so I postponed putting up my tree for a while. But when I saw their recent blog post about how the tree sync feature is delayed (as any complex software could be) I decided to post my tree. Because I had no tree, I wasn't put in any DNA circles, so I figured my circles would show up soon after uploading the tree. I was pretty disappointed when, after a couple weeks, I still had no circles. So I did what I always do when I have to wait for something - I distracted myself with other projects, and came back later. And voila - it worked!!

All I've really had time to do so far is check out which ancestors the circles are centered around. The variety is really interesting. I have 12 circles so far, and 8 of them are for Norwegian ancestors! The closest to me in generations are Betsy Martha Olson and Knute J. Bergstad, my 2nd-great-grandparents (and spouses to each other interestingly). Four more of the circles are dedicated to each of Betsy and Knute's parents - Betsy's parents were Andreas Olson and Ingeborg Fadness, and Knute's were Johannes Sjursen Bergstad and Torbjorg Knutsdatter Fadness. The other two Norwegians in the lot are Knute Gulleikson Fadness and Ingeborg Olsdatter Rongen, who turn out to be Torbjorg Fadness's parents. That means half of my circles come from one ancestral couple and their parents or grandparents. Either these ancestors have a LOT of descendants, or my Norwegian DNA is strongly biased towards them. Or both.
All of these Norwegian ancestors are from my maternal grandfather's paternal side, the Bergstads. There aren't any DNA circles for his maternal Norwegians, the Hammers. I wonder if I'll see any of those pop up later?
My remaining four circles cluster around another family group. Adoniram Shute is my 3rd-great-grandfather on my paternal grandmother's father's side. His wife was Mary Groff, and her parents were Paul Groff and Susanna Garlinghouse. So that group of circles basically covers the ancestors of my great-great-grandmother Eldora Shute (Adoniram and Mary's daughter).
Of my four grandparents, my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather have ancestors represented in these circles. That means I have no circles as of yet for any of my paternal grandfather or maternal grandmother's lines. My grandpa's lack of circles, I can understand - relatively small families and recent immigrants to the Americas (1840s-1900s). My maternal grandmother's side though, I'm surprised. Colonial English, plus German immigrants with large families, plus French-Canadians with HUGE families. And no circles for any of them? Maybe they'll pop up later. I wonder how often Ancestry updates their circle roll call.
All in all, very interesting to see who my circles center around, and what ancestors pop up in my DNA. I'm very much looking forward to delving deeper into this!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - George Waechter and Margaret Robitzer

I've blogged many times about Margaret Robitzer and her husband George Waechter (just search for "Robitzer" on this blog if you don't believe me). But thanks to AncestryDNA's email tips, I now have something I never thought I'd have on them - a photograph!


The photo was posted by a descendant of George and Margaret through their son William. This is great news, because I have previously been unable to find records on William after the 1870 census (or maybe I just got sidetracked before searching for them...I do that a lot). Either way, I am very interested to know how she came by this picture, and if there are any more out there. They look fairly young in this picture, and since George was born in 1828 and Margaret in 1831, it would have to be from the 1850s-1860s I'd imagine. Very early for a picture!

Update: Turns out, I spoke too soon. This is actually not a picture of George and Margaret Waechter. It's actually their granddaughter Sara Waechter and her husband George Diest. That's what I get for jumping the gun on posting a picture. She's still family though!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Genes Day Friday - My AncestryDNA Results: Ethnicity Breakdown

It's been a few weeks since my AncestryDNA results came back, so I thought I'd take a minute to start looking at them, see what they have to say. In this first installment, I'm taking a quick look at the part everyone seems to think of first/most when they think of DNA tests for genealogy - the ethnicity results.

My genetic genealogy research thus far has taught me that ethnicity results can reveal a lot, both by what you see and what you don't see. It was one of my grandparents' ethnicity results that tipped me off that something was not as it should be, and led me to one of the most shocking discoveries in all of my family history research. Thankfully, with my own results, there was nothing so earth-shattering. But it has been interesting to analyze.

So according to Ancestry, my genetic heritage comes from three main areas - Europe West, Scandinavia, and Ireland. Knowing what I know from paper trail research, this sounds pretty good so far. Let's take a look at my pedigree and compare. FYI, the names of living ancestors have been removed to protect the innocent.

Let's take the smallest of the three main percentages first. Ireland is where my paternal grandfather's father's side is from. Four of my 3rd-great-grandparents - the Gibsons, Cains, and Mulhearns - all came from Ireland, Gibsons from County Fermanagh, Cains from County Tyrone, and Mulhearns from parts as yet unknown. (Nice rhyming!) Ireland got 6% of my genetic heritage, while my Irish ancestry is about 1/8, or 12.5%. So what gives? Given that my Gibson surname isn't your typical Irish name, I have a sneaking suspicion that they were originally from England. When I went to a workshop put on by the Ulster Historical Foundation, and bought a book called 'Men and arms' - The Ulster settlers, c. 1630. It's all about military men from England moving into Ireland in the early 1600s. There were even records of at least 3 Gibsons moving into County Fermanagh. I kind of fancied that my Gibson ancestors were among them, moving into Ulster, and settling down in County Fermanagh for a couple hundred years, until they moved to Canada. I have no proof of that, of course, so I'll need to do further research and see if I can't go back beyond Henry Gibson and see where those Gibsons originated from before they got to Ireland.

Scandinavian was the next highest percentage, with almost 20%. I have a lot of Norwegian ancestry on my maternal grandfather's side - his last name was Bergstad, if that tells you anything. On that side, I have Olsons and Hammers and Fadnesses and Sjursens and all kinds of good Norwegian names. Out of my 32 great-grandparents, 5 of them were Norwegian, 4 of them born in Norway and one being the child of Norwegian immigrants. Mathematically that works out to about 16%, so that's right on the money. I'm ok with a little extra Viking blood in my veins!

Now for Europe West. Ancestry defines their Europe West area as covering "Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein," and also "England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic." If I stick with just France and Germany, that covers 17 of my 32 3rd-great-grandparents (counting the Germans from outside of Germany as Germans). Then I have a couple of English or presumed-English/Scottish lines counting for another 6 of the 32. So that's 23 out of 32, or about 71%. Ancestry gives me 65%, so that's pretty dang close!

I know that ethnicity estimates are exactly that - estimates. As Judy Russell has said more than once, these numbers are really good for conversation pieces and not much else at this point. But on the whole, I think my numbers look pretty good when compared to my paper trail genealogy. And that is really encouraging, both in germs of genetic genealogy matching paper genealogy, and paper genealogy matching the DNA report. I'm looking forward to even more detailed analysis as these tools get more and more precise and refined.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Terrible anniversaries

I wanted a better title to this post, but this seemed the most fitting. I don't know what else you'd call the anniversary of losing a loved one.

Grandma Sally and Grandpa Jim

January 6th this year marked three years since my grandpa James Lee "Jim" Crawford passed away. The last few years of his life, he'd had a number of close calls, and I honestly thought that there would be more before he actually passed away. But the last one hit, and he was gone before we got a chance to go over and say goodbye.

Grandma Blossom in 2012

Today marks four years since my paternal grandmother, Rosemary Blossom (Wagner) (Nelson) Gibson went to heaven. I find myself unable to believe it's been that long, yet it feels like forever since I heard her inimitable laugh, or the way she exclaimed "well forever more!" at something she couldn't believe. She passed away a year and two months before my second son was born, so she never got to meet him.

Levi in early December 2016
Monday marked one month since my little Levi joined Grandpa Jim and Grandma Blossom in heaven. I cannot believe it has only been one month - it has felt like years, many years. Not a day has gone by that I don't spend time looking at a picture of him (I have a picture of our family at the church Christmas party on my wall at work, taken one week before he passed away). I make sure to show pictures of him to my 2 year old, and talk about him, and mention him in our prayers. I don't want his memory to fade or be forgotten. He is and always will be a part of our family. He's just moved to the next stage of life earlier than the rest of us. I'm at peace with that - I know where he is and how he is doing. I just miss him so, so much.
As time goes on, I know there will be more of these terrible anniversaries to remember. But with each parting, my family in heaven grows. And especially since Levi's passing, I find myself not being so anxious or unsure of my own eventual crossing of that gateway. Instead, I have a growing number of sweet reunions to anticipate, in a place removed from all the difficulties and problems of this world. So while I will work and fight to stay in the here and now, I have so much to look forward to in the there and then. Not the least of which is some quality time with loved ones who I am dearly missing.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Wills - The sons of William and the daughters of Jessie

I had some free time the other night, and jumped into my own family tree for an hour or two. I was looking through my lines, trying to decide which one to research, when my Bergstad line caught my eye. I started sifting through them, and came upon Turby Bergstad, the oldest child of my 2nd-great-grandparents Knute Bergstad and Betsy Olson. As I was looking at her husband, William Clyde Cornell, and their children (among whom was Andy Cornell, my grandpa Tom Bergstad's cousin and close friend), I saw that I didn't have really any info on William - no parents, siblings, or anything. I went digging, and pretty soon found his family in census records in Wisconsin, where he was from. I found his parents were William H. Cornell and Jessie Butterfield. William the dad was from Vermont, while Jessie was from Wisconsin. William's parents were Stephen Cornell and Almira Wolridge, while Jessie's parents were Thaddeus Butterfield and Jessie Webb. I have always liked the name Thaddeus, ever since I saw Disney's Atlantis, and now I'm (distantly) related to one!

I wanted to see what happened to William and Jessie, so I poked around Ancestry for a while, and found that they both left wills. Bonus! I found Jessie's first, but as I read through it, I found something I have never seen in a will - she deliberately left her sons out of her will, and said so. She even said why she was doing it - because they would be provided for in her husband's will. The exact language is:

I do not devise or bequeath to my sons any of my property, for I expect they will be taken care of in the will of my husband. 

She left everything to her daughters, and described how everything was to be divvied up between the three of them. The will was dated 4 December 1917, but I haven't found Jessie's death info yet, so I don't know how much time passed between when her will was written and when it was probated. Unless Jessie's husband was near death though, she was leaving her sons' inheritance to be settled potentially decades in the future.

So how long was it between the two wills? About ten years, as William's will was recorded on 4 October 1927. And just like Jessie's will, William's specifically leaves out his daughters with these words:
I do not make any bequests or devises to my daughters, Jessie Bredesen and Grace Browning, for the reason that I have helped them some what in the past and because they have been provided for by the will of my deceased wife, she having made certain provisions for them in her will.

So obviously this was planned out intentionally by Jessie and William (and it looks like one of the daughters died between the making of the two wills). I have to wonder what made them decide to do this. There doesn't seem to be any ill will for the sons or daughters by either parent, or bad feeling for either parent for each other. Maybe they thought that was how you do it - men for men and women for women. Would they have still done this if they had had fewer children? I wonder what their children thought of the deal, and whether either group thought they were being dealt with unfairly. There's no way to know for sure, of course, but I do wonder.

It just goes to show you, every ancestor, every document, is an individual case, and you really could find anything in it.