Thursday, March 31, 2016

Those Places Thursday - Amanda Belknap dies in a stranger's home?

Let me just say, I have been on a roll this week! After finding Adoniram Shute's obituary earlier this week, tonight I stumbled upon an obituary for another ancestor - Amanda (Belknap) Garlinghouse. I haven't been able to find any death info for her until now, so this was really exciting. It was also slightly confusing. Here's why:

Amanda died on March 31, 1882, exactly 134 years ago today in Princeton township, Mille Lacs county, Minnesota. According to her (all too brief) obituary, it said she passed away in the home of George Prescott. I searched for him in the 1880 census and quickly found George Prescott, age 46, wife Olive, age 22, and three children, Perry (11), George E. (9), and Burt O.(1).

So who was George Prescott to my ancestor, and why was she in his home when she was dying? Finding good information about him has been difficult. There are several online trees, of course, but  trying to find original sources to back them up or disprove them has been frustrating. I've also tried looking for information on his wife Olive. I have been able to confirm that Olive's maiden name was Garlinghouse, the same as Amanda's married name. Olive's parents were David and Catherine Garlinghouse, and could be relatives of Amanda's husband. David and Catherine were enumerated just before the family of Amanda's daughter Susanna (Garlinghouse) Groff in the town of Greenbush in the 1875 Minnesota census. Five years later, Amanda and her husband were in Milo, 18 miles north of Princeton. Were George and Olive such good neighbors to Paul and Susannah that Susannah recommended them to her mother when she was ill? It seems unlikely that Amanda would travel almost 20 miles to die in the home of someone that wasn't family.

I don't have a death record for Josiah, so I'm not sure what happened to him after the 1880 census. Was he not around to care for his wife? If he hadn't passed away yet, why was his dying wife in another man's house? There is the Garlinghouse connection, so maybe trying to find out how Olive was related to Josiah could help answer the question.

I think part of the problem lies in the fact that I've researched back to Susannah Garlinghouse, and linked her to her parents, but I haven't traced any of her siblings forward in time. That leaves a lot of unexplored territory in Amanda's circle. There's also the question of whether the connection could be found among Josiah and Amanda's own siblings and their connections, and I haven't gotten very far yet on exploring their branches in my family tree. If he's not connected there, I'll try digging deeper into newspaper articles, maybe some city directories (if they're extant for this time and place), or try tracing George and his wives further back in time to see if there's another explanation. (I say wives because it's obvious Olive, at age 22, couldn't have been the mother of George's 11- and 9-year-old children, so there had to have been a previous wife).

So buckle up Scooby-Doo, we're off to Princeton, Minnesota and we've got a mystery to solve!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday - Signatures!

A kind-hearted soul on the Alsace-Lorraine mailing list I joined scanned and sent me images for several legal documents relating to my Robitzer ancestors. From what he told me of them, and from what I can gather from my Google Translate rendition of his transcription, Margaret Robitzer inherited some land from her father when he died in 1875. She worked through agents in Pennsylvania, where she was living at the time, and sold the land. It shows me that she stayed in touch with her family back in France, since they were able to find her, communicate her father's death and her inheritance, and that she was able to sell off the land through the help of her family and agents there.
The best part of all? Margaret and her husband George Wachter both signed the document!!!

I love getting signatures, even if it's just them leaving an X, because it means you're seeing something they physically put their hand to. It really drives home that these were real people, and that at this moment in their lives, they were doing something I've done countless times as well - signing their names.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday's Obituary - Adoniram Shute

Adoniram Shute and his wife, Mary (Groff) Shute

I found the death certificate for my third-great-grandfather Adoniram Shute a number of years ago, and was surprised at the amount of detail it had. It listed his name as "A. A. Shute", and said he was a 56 year old widower, that he was a laborer, was born in New York, and had resided in Montana for the last 8 weeks. There was no information on his parents, and the cause of death was one word - paralysis, with acute dysentery listed as a contributing factor. The informant is listed as "Quigley" of Culbertson, Montana, where he was buried two days after passing away.

Death certificate for Adoniram Shute
All this information, however, didn't tell the full story. A relative told me years ago that Adoniram died on a train in Montana, but didn't have anything to backup his story. I've wanted to try and get some more detail on what exactly happened, but have been unable to. Until now.
I splurged and renewed my subscription to (I mean, really, 8 bucks is a Value Meal these days, and this will get me SO much more than a McWhatever would). While searching for various family names, I got the idea to look for info on Adoniram's passing. Knowing that his death certificate had little personal identifying information, I went looking by place (Montana) and date (October 1909) but instead of a name, I searched for "train", "Culbertson" and "died". I found a couple of random stories, but a bit further down the list of hits, I found this in The Searchlight, the Culbertson, Montana newspaper, dated October 8, 1909.

The name is a bit off (Shultz vs Shute) and the date of death is off by one (Saturday was the 2nd, not the 1st), but everything else matched - the mention of paralysis, his being buried in Culbertson, and even the name Quigley (which seems to have been a company or worksite name, rather than a person). Also, Adoniram's mother, Letitia (Sanford) Shute was indeed enumerated in Milaca, Mille Lacs County, Minnesota in the 1910 census. I had found his obituary!
I find it very interesting that the information about his mother was mentioned in the obituary but not in the death certificate. Perhaps they didn't know her name or where she was born (the only info the death certificate asked for), just that she was alive in Milaca. I'm also struck by the language used in describing the cause of death - a "stroke of paralysis". Does that mean he died of a stroke? How would dysentery have played a contributing role to such a death?
The last sentence is the most intriguing. All of Adoniram's kids were grown by 1909 (the youngest was 25, the oldest over 40). His wife Mary Groff had died over 20 years previously, so there was no one at home for him to care for of the family he raised. His father, Alexander B. Shute, had died in 1897, but his mother was still alive (and would live until 1912). As the oldest of three boys, he probably had the responsibility to provide for his widowed mother. He was apparently out west working for a railroad and sending money back to her, literally until the day he died. (Interesting side note - the informant on his mother's death certificate is Warren Shute, the older of Adoniram's two younger brothers, so he probably took his mother in after Adoniram passed).
I've had the facts about Adoniram's life for a long time, but this one short paragraph I found in a newspaper today really helped turn those facts into a story. Adoniram seems to have been a good man. He carried on for decades after losing his wife, raised their children, and after his father died, took care of his widowed mother in the best way he could. He was a loyal son and provider right to the very end. I see those same traits in my father, Adoniram's 2nd-great-grandson, and I can't help but feel proud that we have a history in my family of such a good work ethic, family loyalty and devotion. I hope that I can live up to their examples and instill that same loyalty in my own kids.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday's Child - A Tragic Reality

This Sunday is Easter Sunday, and my research lately has me thinking about Easter in a new way.

One of the facts I've heard repeated over and over again, in school, in genealogy classes, just in general, is that child mortality rates used to be very high in most places (and in some places, they are probably still that high). Modern advances in nutrition, sanitation, and medicine have made me blessedly unfamiliar with this fact in a personal way. I do have two cousins that died as infants, but I was yet unborn when those deaths occurred, and since that time none of my aunts, uncles, or first cousins have lost any babies after they were born.

So this idea of a high child mortality rate has been something that I knew intellectually, but never really had anything to drive it home in an emotional way. Until I started branching out on my Robitzer family lines, that is.

My 4th-great-grandmother, Margaret Robitzer, was the eighth of nine children of Johannes and Anne Catherine Robitzer. Of those nine children, two died as children - Johann Michael at age 10, and Anne Catherine at age 4, both in 1826. I thought these losses were bad enough in Margaret's family, but as I kept searching the records, I found many more.

- Her brother Johann Heinrich Robitzer lost sons Jacob at age 1 and Johann at age 2.

- Her brother George lost three children - Christian, 2 months; Michael, 1 month; and Mathilda, 8 months.

- Her first cousin Jacob Robitzer lost two children - Anne Catherine, 9 months, and Michael, 11 months.

Seven members of the same generation, all gone at age 2 or younger. And though the deaths were many years apart (Johannes's children died in 1826, Jacob's in the 1850s, Johann Heinrich's in 1869 and 1875, and George's in the 1890s), it saddens me to picture this family hit again and again by the loss of yet another little one. This is especially poignant to me because my younger son is just about to turn 2, and we are expecting our fourth child in October. The families were (as far as I can tell) all Lutherans, so hopefully they were able to take some solace in their religious beliefs, particularly the message of Easter - of hope, resurrection, and eternal life. So while I am sad for these little ones whose turn on earth was so brief, I am grateful that records of their lives still exist. I am also grateful for Easter, and what it means for those families and those little ones - that life does not end at death, and that all will be made right for them one day.

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!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday - What one maiden name can lead you to

Having recently come upon the maiden name of my ancestor Margaret Robitzer, I've been engaged in discovering her roots in the town of Uttwiller (aka Ottweiler), Alsace-Lorraine, France. It's amazing how knowing that one name has led to so many new discoveries. To give you an idea, here's a screenshot of my family tree at, showing what I knew about Margaret before her maiden name was confirmed.

Here's a screenshot of it now, with all the info I've found so far.

This is why I love genealogy. No brick wall is permanent, and amazing discoveries could be waiting for you just behind the next document you find.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday's Obituary - John Frederick Beilstein

A few months ago, I wrote about the most bizarre and tragic family history story I've ever discovered in my family - the story of Bertha Beilstein. At the time, I went through newspapers on Ancestry. and Newspaper Archive, and various websites found through Google searches and pulled together over 70 different articles on the story. Somehow, in all that searching, I was not able to find a single obituary for her father, John Frederick Beilstein, whose death was the trigger (no pun intended) for the whole series of events. Then recently, I saw an ad for, a site I haven't previously subscribed to, saying they were offering a discount price of $8 a month. I thought, I can spend 8 bucks to take a peek in a new database. So I did.

The first thing I found? John Frederick's obituary.

There was some new information in this that I haven't seen anywhere else. It says he came to the US at the age of 5 with his father Philip Beilstein (a name I haven't seen anywhere else yet) and that his wife Mary was in fact his cousin (something I've long suspected). It also says he learned the butchering trade from his father, which means that my ancestor Jacob Beilstein (John Frederick's brother-in-law and apprentice) owed his profession to Philip. Interesting side note - the obituary gives Nicholas Voegtly's last name as Beckley in the list of survivors, but spells it correctly when it gives the name of the cemetery where John Frederick was buried (Voegtly cemetery).

It just goes to show you, you really do need to fish in all ponds if you really want to find all the information you can about your ancestors. Ancestry, FamilySearch,, and many other sites all exist separately for a reason - they may share some record sets, but they each have some unique records that no one else does, and you never know which pond may have that one document that you're looking for.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Going Professional

When I was a student at BYU back in 2000, I decided I wanted to major in genealogy. My plan was to graduate with a bachelor's in family history and genealogy, then set up shop as a professional researcher. A conversation I had with one of my professors changed my mind, however. He said genealogy was a great career so long as the economy was doing well. If things went south, people's interest in researching their ancestors dried up quickly, he said. So with two semesters left until graduation, I changed my major, and used my genealogy skills and knowledge solely for my own personal research.

The desire to work as a genealogy professional never left me, though. It was always in the back of my mind, and every once in a while I'd toy around with the question "what if I actually did it?" But the demands of providing for a family seemed to be too much to risk changing careers, even to something that I loved as much as I love genealogy.

Then a couple years ago, I heard about the ProGren program. I was very interested, and soon signed up for ProGen9. It was a year and a half commitment, and really stretched me as a genealogist and in my knowledge (or lack thereof) of running my own business. But I realized that I really, really wanted to be a professional genealogist. I talked things over with my wife, and with her full support, we met with our accountant and set about creating my very own genealogy business.

I am happy to announce that I am, as of now, in business as a professional genealogist! My business name is The Generations Welder, because to me, no generation is an island. We are all linked to the generations that came before us, whether we know it or not. My goal as a genealogy professional is to help people discover those links to their family's past, and hopefully strengthen that sense of connection to their forebears.

You can visit me at my website,, or on social media. I'm on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Google+. I am really excited to use my skills and education to help people come to know and appreciate their ancestors.  If you're interested in starting a research project, contact me and I'll be happy to see what I can do for you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wedding Wednesday - Tina Leistiko and John Levick

Wedding photo of Tina (Joseph) Leistiko and John Levick
Among all the photos I've collected in my genealogy research, there are a few that I just love looking at again and again. They just stand out to me, either because of the people in them, the significance or provenance of that particular photo, or what I've learned as a result of that picture. The above photo, a picture taken for my great-great-grandaunt Tina (Joseph) Leistiko's wedding to her second husband John Levick, hits me on all three points.

1. People in the photo - Given that my middle name is Joseph, a name I share with my grandfather and passed down to one of my sons, I've felt a particular connection to my Joseph relatives. This was the first picture I was shown of my Joseph relatives (and the only I saw for many years), and I just love seeing them all together like this. You can see the resemblance between my great-great-grandfather Samuel Joseph (seated second from the right) and his brother Gottlieb Joseph (seated second from the left). This is also the only known picture of Marie Joseph, the little girl sitting on her father Elmer Joseph's lap. She was two years old in this picture, and died seven years later in a car accident. I also love the fact the my great-grandmother Augusta (Joseph) Staffen is in this picture, standing third from the right. She died when my grandpa was only 5, so we have very few pictures of her.

2. Significance or provenance of the photo - Unlike some families I know, my family doesn't really have any heirlooms. No rings or jewelry that belonged to a great-great-grandparent, no desks or chairs or armoires passed down, no family Bibles (though I should point out there are family Bibles out there, just none made it down my line). The one thing I do have that's been handed down to me are some family pictures and a few postcards. I was just recently given the original copy my grandpa owns of Tina and John's wedding picture, which makes it at 98 years old one of the very oldest pictures I have. As far as I know, this was my great-grandmother's own copy of the picture. And to think I now have something in my possession that was once hers, that she actually handled and looked at, is thrilling to me.

3. What I've learned as a result of the picture - This picture has been the instigator of many genealogical conversations with my parents and grandparents. We've talked about Augusta and her background, about her father and aunts and uncles, about her grandfather Ludwig Heinrich Joseph, seated in the middle of his two sons, and how large his hands are (I can't help but think he could easily palm a basketball). It even taught me something today, if indirectly. While looking at this picture again, I thought I'd go back to John and Tina's marriage record, which I found in FamilySearch's database of Montana county marriages. Looking through it, I noticed something I'd forgotten.

The witnesses for the marriage were written as Chas. Staffin and Augeta Staffin. These would be Charles Staffan, first husband of my great-grandmother Augusta, and Augusta herself. I only have one other record of Charles with Augusta, and that's their marriage record from 1910. Given that John and Tina were married in January 1918, and Charles died later that same year, this is likely the last record he appeared in before his death. Kind of a sobering thought. But in a way, I'm glad that the last time he appears in a record, it's with family.

Do you have any pictures that are as meaningful to you in your research? Comment below and let me know!