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


Gibson Family said...

That is awesome. Makes you wish everyone kept journals so we would have these insights available.

Unknown said...

Brandt, I am a student of Landscape Architecture at Penn State and I am wrapping up a project I had on the site of the church. Although there are possible remnants of the church left, they are difficult to determine. The church was located at 1426 Juniata St. in Manchester, Pittsburgh. If you search on Google Maps and get to street view, you will see the same fire hydrant from the picture of the Presbyterian Church. The place is in bad shape as you can see from the overhead picture. Contact me at or my gmail if you would like any other info or some pictures from within the site.