Monday, February 20, 2017

Margaret Robitzer's immigration - a new perspective

When I started making some real progress on my Robitzer line last year, I found Margaret Robitzer's immigration record. She left her home in Alsace-Lorraine around 1851 and made her way to America in May 1852. She was just a month and a half past her 20th birthday when she made the journey on the ship Caspian. 

When I saw that she was listed next to some Richerts, I thought they might be related, as I saw a bunch of Richerts in the parish registers where I found Margaret's family. But not knowing anything else about her shipmates, I didn't know how to go about finding how they were connected.

Then a few days ago, my grandma got an email from FamilySearch telling her of her connection to one Margaret Madden. The email even included a 4-generation pedigree chart for Margaret. She forwarded it to me, and I took a look. Turns out Margaret Madden's maternal grandfather was a Richert, and she had a great-grandmother who was a Robitzer!

Using the information in the pedigree chart, I went back to the parish registers in Alsace-Lorraine, and connected Margaret Madden to the Richerts in the passenger list. She was a direct descendant of the Jacob and Catherine Richert that accompanied my ancestor Margaret Robitzer to America. The pedigree chart also helped me find the connection between the Richerts and my Margaret Robitzer - Jacob Richert's wife, Catherine (nee Robitzer) was Margaret's first cousin!

I followed the Richerts forward a few decades, and found they settled in Trumbull County, Ohio, two counties north of where Margaret ended up after she and George Waechter got married. And like the Waechters, the Richerts later moved a little east into southeastern Pennsylvania. It's fascinating how similar their migrations were. I wonder if they kept in touch after landing in the US.

I'm glad Margaret didn't have to make the journey to the New World alone. It must have been quite a trip, but going with family hopefully made it more exciting than frightening. It also reinforces my opinion of Margaret that family was very important to her. She passed family information from the old world to her children in the new; she kept in touch with her family back in France; and when left home, she left with family. What an amazing woman she was.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Robitzer family tragedy of 1826

The last few days, I've gone back to researching my Robitzer family in Alsace-Lorraine, fleshing out the family trees and downloading records for the various branches of my family from that part of the world. It's a very fruitful record group for me - the records were beautifully kept, preserved, and digitized, and are very easily accessed for free online. Add to that a very accurate family tree created by a distant cousin, and you have a perfect setup for me to learn a lot about this branch of my family very quickly.

While going through the records, I found something I've never seen before - a death epidemic for one extended family all in the same year (well, half-year really, as the deaths occurred in a 4-month period). The town was Uttwiller/Utweiler (depending on if you spoke French or German),which was not a huge town, and they usually registered 10 or fewer deaths per year around this time period. The year 1826 seems to have been a particularly bad year for Uttwiller, as they registered 15 deaths that year. Of those 15, 7 of them were my relatives, and all 7 of them died between July and November that year.

Death register for Uttwiller in 1826

First in July, Anne Catherine Boos, wife of Johann Jacob Robitzer, died at the young age of 49.

Then in August, Anne Catherine Robitzer, a niece of Anne Catherine Boos, died at the age of 4 years.

September saw the death of little Eve Robitzer, the daughter of Anne Catherine Boos's husband's cousin, who was only 4 days old when she passed away.

In October, two of Anne Catherine Boos' sons, 23-year-old Johan and 20-year-old George both died within 4 days of each other.

In November, Anne Catherine Boos' youngest child, 2-year-old Anne Marie Robitzer, passed away. Two and a half weeks after Anne Marie's passing, her 10-year-old cousin (and brother of Anne Catherine Robitzer) Johan Michael Robitzer died.

With so many deaths in so short a time, I wonder if there was some sickness going around. Or maybe, with so many deaths in one extended family, was there some kind of hereditary disease or vulnerability that cost them their lives? Having recently experienced the pain of losing a child, I can't imagine going through that over and over again. The range in ages is pretty widespread - 4 days, 2 years old, 4, 10, 20, 23, and 49. And yet the families stayed in the area for many more generations. So whatever caused these losses, the family stayed put. Maybe they felt they couldn't leave, as it had been home for their family for so long. Maybe they just lacked the means of leaving. Most of the families were farmers, which tends not to be a very lucrative profession. But whatever the case, I'm glad they stuck it out. They kept raising their families and making their livings, leaving records behind for me to find. Family stories, family tragedies like this one, remind me that life has always been hard. But the hard times help you see the good times for the treasures they are, To really appreciate what you have, you need to experiences hard times, even terrible times, once in a while,
or life gets out of focus. Grief and loss have helped me see what really matters most to me, and maybe it did for the Robitzers in 1826 as well.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Genes Day Friday - DNA Circles at last!!

One of the cool things about DNA testing at Ancestry is their use of DNA Circles. The circle is basically a group of people who share autosomal DNA with at least 3 other people in the circle and have a common ancestor in their family trees. This means that Ancestry figures, because of the comination of DNA and family tree matches, your shared DNA probably comes from that common ancestor. Because autosomal DNA inheritance is random, you won't match everyone in the circle, even though you have the same ancestor. Ancestry looks back as far as 9 generations in your tree, so you could potentially be matched with some pretty distant cousins.

When I first got my DNA results, I didn't have a tree uploaded to my account. I've kind of been holding out for Ancestry and Rootsmagic to get their sync issues worked out, so I postponed putting up my tree for a while. But when I saw their recent blog post about how the tree sync feature is delayed (as any complex software could be) I decided to post my tree. Because I had no tree, I wasn't put in any DNA circles, so I figured my circles would show up soon after uploading the tree. I was pretty disappointed when, after a couple weeks, I still had no circles. So I did what I always do when I have to wait for something - I distracted myself with other projects, and came back later. And voila - it worked!!

All I've really had time to do so far is check out which ancestors the circles are centered around. The variety is really interesting. I have 12 circles so far, and 8 of them are for Norwegian ancestors! The closest to me in generations are Betsy Martha Olson and Knute J. Bergstad, my 2nd-great-grandparents (and spouses to each other interestingly). Four more of the circles are dedicated to each of Betsy and Knute's parents - Betsy's parents were Andreas Olson and Ingeborg Fadness, and Knute's were Johannes Sjursen Bergstad and Torbjorg Knutsdatter Fadness. The other two Norwegians in the lot are Knute Gulleikson Fadness and Ingeborg Olsdatter Rongen, who turn out to be Torbjorg Fadness's parents. That means half of my circles come from one ancestral couple and their parents or grandparents. Either these ancestors have a LOT of descendants, or my Norwegian DNA is strongly biased towards them. Or both.
All of these Norwegian ancestors are from my maternal grandfather's paternal side, the Bergstads. There aren't any DNA circles for his maternal Norwegians, the Hammers. I wonder if I'll see any of those pop up later?
My remaining four circles cluster around another family group. Adoniram Shute is my 3rd-great-grandfather on my paternal grandmother's father's side. His wife was Mary Groff, and her parents were Paul Groff and Susanna Garlinghouse. So that group of circles basically covers the ancestors of my great-great-grandmother Eldora Shute (Adoniram and Mary's daughter).
Of my four grandparents, my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather have ancestors represented in these circles. That means I have no circles as of yet for any of my paternal grandfather or maternal grandmother's lines. My grandpa's lack of circles, I can understand - relatively small families and recent immigrants to the Americas (1840s-1900s). My maternal grandmother's side though, I'm surprised. Colonial English, plus German immigrants with large families, plus French-Canadians with HUGE families. And no circles for any of them? Maybe they'll pop up later. I wonder how often Ancestry updates their circle roll call.
All in all, very interesting to see who my circles center around, and what ancestors pop up in my DNA. I'm very much looking forward to delving deeper into this!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - George Waechter and Margaret Robitzer

I've blogged many times about Margaret Robitzer and her husband George Waechter (just search for "Robitzer" on this blog if you don't believe me). But thanks to AncestryDNA's email tips, I now have something I never thought I'd have on them - a photograph!


The photo was posted by a descendant of George and Margaret through their son William. This is great news, because I have previously been unable to find records on William after the 1870 census (or maybe I just got sidetracked before searching for them...I do that a lot). Either way, I am very interested to know how she came by this picture, and if there are any more out there. They look fairly young in this picture, and since George was born in 1828 and Margaret in 1831, it would have to be from the 1850s-1860s I'd imagine. Very early for a picture!

Update: Turns out, I spoke too soon. This is actually not a picture of George and Margaret Waechter. It's actually their granddaughter Sara Waechter and her husband George Diest. That's what I get for jumping the gun on posting a picture. She's still family though!