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