Saturday, June 9, 2012

Genes Day Friday - A MAJOR and I mean MAJOR breakthrough!

When my great-great-grandmother Mary Sitzman emigrated from Europe, she told her daughters Mary and Rose to stop speaking German and learn English, and to say nothing about the old country. They were basically told to forget everything about where they had come from and never speak of it to anyone. Mary's blackout was so effective that my grandmother was literally told nothing of her mother and grandmother's old homeland. It was as if everything on the chalkboard was erased, the teacher was fired, and the school was closed.

Until this week.

I received an email this week from one of the matches to my grandmother's autosomal DNA test. This cousin said he had ancestry from Rosshaupt, the same tiny German village, now located in the Czech Republic, where Mary and her daughters hailed from. I told him what little I knew - that Mary and her siblings Barbara, Rose, Franz, Sebastian, and Josef had emigrated in waves from 1883 to 1906, that her marriage and death certificates said her parents' names were John Sitzman and Theresa Doffler, and that (according to the immigration records I'd found), the surname was originally spelled Zitzmann.
Using those few details, this cousin looked into the church records posted on, a site which has the church records of many cities surrounding and including Rosshaupt. I have never seen this site before (probably because it's all written in German and Czech, neither of which I know). He quickly found the marriage record for Johan Zitzmann and Theresia Doerfler in 1865, which is just about the time when their oldest known daughter Barbara was born! Not only that, he also found mention of Josef Zitzmann in a book written by an old resident of Rosshaupt, giving the house number he lived in, and stating that Josef had left for America in 1906, the same year my Josef Zitzmann landed at Ellis Island! The match of all these details in time and place seemed too exact to be coincidence - this was my family!

Marriage record for Johan Zitzmann and Theresia Dorfler

This generous cousin has continued to comb through the online records, and has turned up many more marriage and birth records, some apparently going back to the late 1700s! Not only that, he's been giving me details of the political and religious history of the area, and explaining the details of what exactly is recorded in the records. After downloading a few of the records myself, I asked for help from the German-Bohemian mailing list in transcribing them. A very helpful professor has voluntarily gone searching for MORE records, transcribing them, and translating them! All of this has brought many new family names to light - Meyer, Daglmann, Herrmann, Seitz, and others. I can hardly beleive all the information I'm being flooded with!

Back when I started researching my family history 12 years ago, I figured that Mary Sitzman's line would be the one brick wall we'd never be able to break through. How could we, when she committed all those who knew anything to complete silence for their entire lives? However, through miracle of DNA testing, the location of a few key records, and the assistance of some VERY generous and helpful people, that brick wall has not only cracked, in many places that wall is GONE. I'm sure I'll be stumped on a few people on the other side of the wall (I still haven't yet found anything on Mary's husband and father of her two girls yet, for example) but now I know that even seemingly unsolvable mysteries can be solved.

In short - school is back in session!

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