Monday, January 6, 2020

The lost history of Rosie Sitzman

Several years ago, DNA testing and a mailing list helped me bust through one of my most solid and unyielding brick walls - identifying the ancestry of my great-grandmother, Rose (Sitzman) (Wagner) Morris. It was an amazing breakthrough, and being able to finally identify her mother's place of birth and hundreds of years of her ancestors was and is one of best moments (or series of moments I guess) in my genealogical career. Best of all, I was able to share that info with my grandma Blossom, Rosie's daughter, just a few months before she unexpectedly passed away. Even with those discoveries, something always bugged me - who was Rosie's father? And could I find a birth record for her that might give me some clues?

According to my grandma Blossom, when Mary Sitzman came over from Europe, she told her girls they were making a clean break from Europe - no speaking German, no talking about where they were from, nothing. Rosie would have been a toddler or maybe a kindergartner at the time she entered the US, so I'm not sure what she could have revealed anyways. But she never said anything to my grandma about her origins, so grandma had no info to pass on. Since it seems Mary wanted a clean break from Europe, it makes sense that she might have changed some info for her daughters' births, either with or without their knowledge. And it seems she might have actually done so.

Rosie's Social Security Application

Rosie's Social Security application, filled out by Rosie herself, gave her date of birth as 20 August 1903 in Germany, and named her parents as Mary Sitzman and Chris Schmidt. Her sister Mary's card (dated the same day as Rosie's, it turns out) names the same parents. Obviously Rosie and Mary wouldn't have come up with this information themselves, so they probably got it from their mother. Their mother Mary's death certificate (with info provided by her granddaughter Ellen Richter) says she was born in Germany, which she may have told her family, or they may have inferred it from the fact she spoke German. Once I learned Mary (the mother) was not from Germany, but from a little town in what was then the Austrian Empire, and now sits in the Czech Republic, I thought maybe Rosie and her sister Mary had also been born there too. The birth records for that area were not publicly available for the years I needed, so I searched for an alternate way of searching them. The chance came up when a coworker of mine mentioned an onsite researcher he used for researching German ancestry in the western Czech Republic. I hired that researcher to look for the birth records of Rosie and her sister, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It turns out, onsite research in this area is SLOW. The government moves very slowly, the mail moves very slowly, and the process of obtaining records is measured in months, not weeks or business days. But eventually, I received a transcription and then an electronic copy of both birth records. And the information was worth the wait.

Rosie's birth reocrd

Rosie's birth name was Rosina Zitzmann, probably named after Mary Sitzman's sister Rosina (who was actually Rosie's godmother). She was born on 27 July 1902, more than a year earlier than Rosie's stated birthdate. She was born in Zirk, a tiny little village in Bohemia near the Austrian Empire's western border with Germany. Her birth record names her mother, Maria Zitzmann (her mother's original name), and her mother's parents, Johann Zitzmann and Theresia Dorfler, but unfortunately says nothing about the identity of her birth father.

Mary Sitzman's birth record

Mary's birth record was likewise illuminating. She was born on June 23 1899, over a year earlier than the 17 July 1900 date she put on her Social Security application. Like Rosie's birth record, Mary's birth record names her mother and maternal grandparents, but says nothing about who her father was. However, there was one tantalizing clue - her godmother. Mary's godmother was Maria Schmidt, daughter of Mattheus Schimdt from Brandhauser in Bavaria, Germany. Brandhauser was only 12-15 miles away from Zirk, just over the border into Germany. As Mary's reported father was Chris Schmidt, I am very interested to see if Mattheus had a son named Chris or something similar. There are no records for Brandhauser available online, so I'll probably have to rehire that onsite researcher to see what he could dig up on the Schmidts of Brandhauser. Identifying Mary's birth father won't directly help me identify Rosie's father, as DNA testing has revealed they had different fathers, but it would be great to solve at least one half of this outstanding family history mystery.

So it feels like I am getting closer and closer to unraveling my great-grandmother's story, perhaps even parts she may not have known completely. Thanks to my dad and his siblings all testing at Ancestry, I've some preliminary leads on genetic connections that may link to Rosie's father, which is fantastic because it looks like that's how this mystery is going to have to be solved. If the identity of her sister's father is any indication, I may have to cast the net a little wider than I originally imagined. But if I can identify Mary's father, it may give me some idea of who and where to look for Rosie's when I get to that point. It's been a bit of a challenge to get this far, but I am super happy with the progress I've made so far, and I am totally up for the challenge of figuring this guy out.

No comments: