Sunday, March 13, 2016

Census Sunday - Margaret Robitzer in Alsace-Lorraine

Having spent the last decade and a half working with American and Canadian census records, I was very interested to find out that the French and German governments took census records for the citizens of the Alsace-Lorraine area. Finding Margaret Robitzer in this census was fascinating; being able to see this German ancestor of mine, listed as a five-year-old girl living with her parents and siblings in their home country really brought home the fact that she left a large family behind when she immigrated to the US.

Marguerite Robitzer and family, Uttwiller census, 1836
The French government took censuses every five years, as opposed to every ten here in the US, so I was able to find Margaret in three different censuses - 1836, 1841, and 1846. And unlike American censuses, every member of the household was listed in all of them, which America didn't start doing until 1850. She wasn't listed with her family in the 1851 census, though she didn't arrive in New York until May 1852, so I don't know where she went or what she was doing between 1846 and 1852.

The Alsace-Lorraine censuses also taught me other things about Margaret's family. The 1856 census had Margaret's father Johannes (listed as Jean) living with his children George and Catherine, as well as a young girl also named Catherine Robitzer, age 4. That led me back to the birth records, where I found one for young Catherine. She was Johannes' granddaughter, daughter of his Catherine and an unknown (or at least unrecorded) father. That kind of thing happened a lot with my Germans in Bohemia, and it seems to have happened here in Alsace-Lorraine as well.
That wasn't the only time Johannes lived with his grandchildren. The 1861 census shows him living with his son Michael, Michael's wife Marie (nee Baltzer), and their 1-year-old son, also named Michael. So while his children did grow up and leave home, it's cool to see that he was able to spend at least a little of his grandchildren's formative years with them.
The only thing that's really missing to make these census records more accessible is an index. There may be one out there and I just haven't found it yet. Given how many little villages and towns there were in the area, going through each town separately is too daunting a task to contemplate. I am having a lot of success using online family trees at the Geneanet website as a tool to point me towards more of the vital records for my ancestors in Alsace-Lorraine. I might go looking for some of Margaret's siblings in other census records once I have the birth, marriage, and death records for them, their spouses, and their children. I've gathered over 60 individual records so far, and I'm sure there are plenty more out there just waiting to be found. There is so much to find here, I can hardly believe it!

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