Using records to reinforce family stories, part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my most memorable genealogical finds is in regards to newspaper accounts that verified some old family stories that have been passed around the kitchen table for years. A lot of times these stories can sound pretty far-fetched or unlikely, or have been too vague to seem possible.  But when I start digging around in old newspaper accounts and searching for records on these family members who lived long ago, I’m sometimes surprised by what I find.

Wally Struck often told his grandchildren this story about a tragic drowning, and a psychic who helped find the lost soul buried deep in the Lannon quarry. He said that a boy was swimming there and drowned, but even though they sent divers down and dredged the lake, no one could find the body.  Then they sent to Milwaukee for a famous psychic, and he came to the small village of Lannon to help.  Grandpa mentioned that they called the man Doctor even though he wasn’t truly one, although he couldn’t remember the man’s last name.  He went on to tell us that when the “Doctor” came to the quarry, he pointed to one area of the lake and told the people they would find the body there, and that it hadn’t surfaced yet because it had been caught under a ledge.  According to his story, divers found the body exactly where the psychic had told them to look.

By chance one day I was scanning the old Waukesha Freeman newspaper, and found this article in an edition dated November 13, 1924:

“Mrs. Wilhelmina Busse, aged 69 years, who disappeared from the home of her daughter, Mrs. Herman Joecks, Lannon, on Nov. 5, was found dead on Sunday, in a quarry pond east of Lannon.  Mrs. Busse, who suffered from attacks of extreme nervousness, used to take long walks when the attacks came and it is believed that she took the wrong road when it became dark and by mistake walked the road leading to the quarry and accidentally was drowned.  The pond was dragged for three days before the body was recovered.  Dr. Roberts, Milwaukee, a spiritualist, was consulted.  He told the family the mother would be found in the quarry pond.  Sunday morning Dr. Roberts came to Lannon and told the searchers just where to locate her body.  It wasn’t long before the body was brought to the surface.  Coroner Lee was called and the remains were removed to this village.  Funeral services were held on Tuesday from the Herman Joecks residence in Lannon and thereafter in St. John’s Lutheran church.  Interment took place in Sunnyside cemetery.  The deceased is survived by one son, C.A. Busse, Sussex, two daughters, Mrs. Joecks, Lannon, and Mrs. Ryan, of Arizona.”

There are so many facts in this article that match Grandpa’s story, that it can’t possibly be coincidence.  The only real difference is the age and sex of the person who drowned, although this can be explained when you remember that Grandpa was only 9 years old when it happened and would understandably have forgotten some details.  But it is quite intriguing just how much information he DID remember.

What I also find very interesting is that it turns out that the drowned person, Wilhelmina Busse, was in fact related to the Struck family by marriage – Grandpa Struck’s aunt Ida had married into the Joecks family.  So this sad tale is interesting to our family on several levels.

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Using records to reinforce family stories, part 1

One of my most memorable genealogical finds is in regards to newspaper accounts that verified some old family stories that have been passed around the kitchen table for years. My grandparents Wally & Esther Struck each had a story they loved to tell. Each story was later reinforced by a newspaper account I happened to stumble across during my family tree research. Finding the newsclippings was such a neat “a-ha!” moment, because they established a point of time and some relevant facts that only served to reinforce the tellings.

Esther’s story was about a cousin who was beheaded by a train. According to the story, which was passed down from her mother (Ida Krueger-Heling), the cousin was walking along the railroad tracks and, guessing he was either drunk or had fallen on the tracks, was hit by the train and killed instantly.   The part of the story that always fascinated us children was that she said because his head was crushed by the train, and the tradition in those days was to hold an open casket viewing in the front parlor, they replaced his missing head with a large ball of cotton.

Esther’s grandmother was a Moede, and it was while researching her family line that I came across this story from February 7, 1907:

“Paul Moede Killed: Head Severed From His Body By Railway Train”
    “Paul Moede’s body was found on the Central Railway track near the crossing of the Milwaukee Railway east of this city on Sunday, the head being entirely severed and lying some distance from the trunk.  He was an employe of the Central Ry. Co., and when last seen alive was at work on the track near the crossing.  The body was discovered by the crew of a freight train and Coroner Chas. E. Hill was at once notified.  He caused a jury to be summoned and an adjournment was taken to this Thursday when evidence will be taken and a verdict returned.  
The deceased was 29 years of age.”

Paul’s father, Carl F.W. Moede, was brother to Hulda Moede-Heling, Esther’s grandmother – thus, Paul was a first cousin to Esther’s mother Ida, who originally told her this story.  I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to prove that the family used a ball of cotton in place of his head at the funeral, but the evidence is certainly compelling.

Why does this find matter? It connects the family, both by identifying the subject of the family story as well as connecting future generations to the events that mattered in their ancestors’ lives. This story, as it has been passed down, captures attention because it is gruesome, and tragic, and at the same time holds a bit of dark humor in the image of the cottonball in the casket. Who doesn’t wonder how they would react if they attended a funeral such as this?

What is particularly tragic about this story is that Paul’s brother Herman had committed suicide less than 5 years before this.  Could it be that their mother, in her grief over losing two sons at such a young age, made the unusual decision to hold an open-casket funeral despite Paul’s missing head?

That, incidentally, corroborates another Heling family story, told by Grandma’s brother Rudy – he said he had been riding beside his father in a wagon after taking their crops to market, and while passing a cemetery he noticed a headstone set apart from the others and bearing the familiar family surname.  Rudy’s father explained that because Herman had taken his own life, he was not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as his family.  He added that the family did not speak of him any longer.

Herman Moede’s lonely marker remains to this day in a small cemetery on the outskirts of Sussex, while the remainder of the Moede family are buried in Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery in Pewaukee. His headstone contains his name and dates of birth and death, as well as the statement “Simply to thy cross I cling”.

moede

Trick photography

Just a short, fun one today:

Krueger, William - trick photography

My great-great uncle William Krueger had this photo taken of himself pre- and post- shave shaking his own hand. From what I’ve read, trick photography like this was a popular idea since cameras were first invented. William was born in 1881, so I would estimate that this was taken right around the turn of the last century.

William seems like he would have been a fun guy to know.

Remembering our veterans

Much of what I remember from past Memorial Days is my father talking about the loss of his childhood friend, Paul “Butch” Vanderboom in Vietnam. Paul’s family moved away from the neighborhood when they were still quite young, but he never forgot his friend. To the end of his days, he treasured a rubbing he received from a Vietnam vet of Paul’s name on the memorial wall in Washington DC. I posted a photo of them together on the virtual Vietnam Veterans memorial wall last year. I’d like to think my dad would be pleased to know it’s there.

But for this Memorial Day, I want to talk about a veteran who made a difference in my own life.

03 Herb and Kay Pfaff_Topeka KS April 1945My grandparents Herb & Kay Pfaff in 1945

Sadly, I don’t remember my grandpa Pfaff ever talking about his wartime experiences. I was told that he had served in World War II, and have two vague memories about it: one, that our extended family once went to the EAA airfield in Oshkosh to see some vintage B-52 bombers, and my grandfather said he flew in planes like them; and two, that sometime during my childhood, my family gifted my grandfather with a very cool leather bomber jacket that they said was similar to the one he wore during the war. I remember my grandfather was really affected by that gift.

One lesson I’ve learned again and again about family tree research is that you have to be creative in searching for information. I lamented to my husband today about how little I knew about my grandfather’s service to his country, and how frustrating the lack of information I had found online. Both Ancestry.com and the NARA database had nothing listed for Herbert Pfaff. A fire in the National Military Personnel Records Center in 1973 means the records of many servicemen are not readily available online.

One option is to fill out a request form for his official military personnel file, but I don’t know enough at this point for researchers to locate his file among the millions of records stored there. As I told my husband, the little I know is that he must have been in the Air Force because I have photos of him in uniform. My husband asked if I was even sure of that much, at which point I showed him the photos, and the little wing medals on his lapels.

01 Herb3

This is where my husband pointed out that I do have some clues in those photos. He suggested I do some research on what all those pins on his uniform mean. Some googling brought up a very informative website: American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham.

One disclaimer: I know very little about this topic, and there is a strong possibility that some or all of the information I’ve gleaned is inaccurate. Until I can gain better information, I’m taking all this with a grain of salt (and you should too)!

The first thing I learned was that the Air Force was not its own division until after World War II. I’m going under the assumption that my grandpa served with the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces).  The easiest to identify from the website guide was the pin on his hat. It appears that there were different cap insignias for officers and enlisted men. Looking at reference photos, it appears that my grandfather was an officer! This was a surprise to me.

It’s always good to be cautious with assumptions, however. There is one other item that reinforces the idea that he was of officer rank – this photo to the right.02 Herb2_Olan Mills Studio_Tuscaloosa Ala_C-42514 I always assumed this was taken early in his enlistment, because he was not wearing the full dress uniform of later pictures. However, I found mention of the fact that officers were issued different shirts than enlisted men, particularly in that the cloth “tab” on the shoulder that buttons to the collar is unique to an officer’s shirt.

One other insignia pin provided more clues: the one on his left breast (top photo) appears to be a bombardier pin. Lack of detail in these old photos makes it hard to be certain, of course. Other patches and pins seem to denote that he was part of the general Armed Air Forces unit, and not a specific “sub-group”.

There are a few items I wasn’t able to properly I.D. – the rectangular bar pin in the photo to the right and a patch on his right sleeve in a later photo that was probably taken in Milwaukee circa 1945 (below left).

There’s one thing I do know: Herbert Pfaff married Katherine Baker in 1941, and started a family a few years later. I presume he was still actively in the service for at least a few years after their first child was born, based on other photographs I have with him in uniform holding her.

These photos have a few other small clues on the back of them. While they are unfortunately undated, the photo above right is noted as having been taken in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. There is also a code written in: C-42514. Unfortunately I have no idea if that is a reference to his service, or simply some sort of filing system for the Olan Mills photo studio that processed that image.

One photo taken of Herb & Kay with their first daughter was placed as Ardmore, Oklahoma. And yet another image of the couple is marked “Topeka, KS – April 1945”.

To the best of my knowledge, after the war ended my grandfather returned to his family’s bakery business, which he was involved in until 1965 when his father passed away. He then worked for Crestwood Bakery until his retirement. Herbert Pfaff passed away on December 28, 1994 at the age of 73.

It is admittedly frustrating to  know so little about such a significant time in my grandfather’s life… and indeed, a time that would likely have affected his entire family. I wonder about how hard it was for a young couple to start their lives during wartime, and how they both felt to be raising a family while living apart. Until I determine my grandfather’s dates and branch of service, I don’t know if I’ll have much more info about his experiences in the USAAF. But the little clues I’ve garnered today already make me feel closer to him, and honored to be a part of his family tree.

Morgan Gail HerbGrandpa Pfaff taking me on my first pony ride.

Happy Birthday to…

April 28th marks Gust Johns’s 130th birthday according to my records. Gust was born in Door County, WI, the first generation to be born in America of German-born immigrant parents. Early records indicate that their name was originally spelled Jahnz, and that this name was “Anglicized” somewhere around the turn of the last century.

Gust’s first marriage didn’t occur until he was 31 years old, but this marked a very sad time for him. His wife, Emma Smith, was just 16 years old when they married in the summer of 1915. Their son Emery was born January 2nd, 1916. Sadly, Emma died just days after childbirth:

Johns Emma death notice The Sturgeon Bay Advocate 06 Jan 1916From The Sturgeon Bay Advocate – January 06, 1916

Faced with raising a newborn, it appears Gust enlisted the help of his sister Ida for a few months. After this, his sister Minnie (and her husband William Sitte) took Emery into their home. From all accounts, it appears that Emery was raised as one of their own. But sadly, Emery died young from appendicitis. He was the same age as his mother when he died.

Johns Emery death notice Door County Advocate 22 Sept 1933

From The Door County Advocate – September 22, 1933

Gust remarried a few years later, and raised several children. I bring up these sad events because there are two things I’ve learned in researching Gust’s life, and the tragic events he endured:

First, that Gust’s first marriage, and the son that resulted from that marriage, were previously unknown to my family until researching the Johns family in the archives of the Door County Library, and in particular, their online collection of Door County Newspaper Archives from 1862-1941. I learned of this resource via the Peninsula Genealogical Society, and it is hands-down one of the most accessible archives I’ve discovered. Their search function is greatly effective, saving me many hours of fruitless searches through irrelevant search results… (ask me sometime how depressing it can be to search newspaper archives for the surname Struck!!).

The second reason I note these events is because it is a great demonstration of how the community drew around this grieving father – not just the family members that helped raise his young son, but also the friends that helped celebrate his milestones:

Johns Gust birthday celebration North Bay section of Door County Advocate 07 May 1920From The Door County Advocate – May 07, 1920

Happy 130th Birthday, Gust!

Discovering Mary’s Beginnings

STRUCK Frank and Mary wedding pic

Frank & Mary on their wedding day.

I’d now like to turn my attention to Frank Struck’s wife, Maria Anna Bloedel (also written as Blödel). Frank and Mary were married in Lannon, Wisconsin in April 1901, six years after Frank’s arrival in America. The local newspaper reported their marriage on April 18, 1901:

BLOEDEL Mary marries Frank Struck news 18Apr1901_edit

Mary traveled to America with her mother Elizabeth and three siblings (William, Carl and Barbara) when she was just five years old. Research shows that other members of the Bloedel family had already established roots in the Wisconsin community in earlier years, and it is believed that Elizabeth chose to join them after becoming widowed in Germany (some family notes list Mary’s father’s name as Maechel or Michael Bloedel).

I haven’t been successful at untangling all of the Bloedel family line at this point, but it does appear that many Bloedel family members had emigrated to the Lannon/Menomonee Falls area. There is one clue in researching this line that might help corroborate Mary’s birthplace: several Bloedel “cousins” had opened a blacksmith shop in Lannon. As you’ll see further in the post, I found someone else of the same surname emigrating to Wisconsin with the listed occupation of blacksmith.

THE FAMILY LEGEND

Our family recorded Mary’s birthplace as Dodgelsheim, Germany. As with the Struck family, I haven’t found evidence of such a place. But looking for similar place names in a German gazeteer led me to find a town called Dolgesheim in Germany. It seems very similar in name, but are we correct in assuming this is the right place?

THE CLUES

I start by again turning to the ship transcript. Unfortunately, this manifest for Mary and her family only lists that they were German born (we are rarely lucky enough to get a hometown recorded on these, as it was in the Struck family example).

Bloedel Mary ship manifest 13 Sept 1888 Noordland_edit

Click on this image to view it at full size.

However, while searching to find Mary’s ship records, I came across a different manifest that lends us a small clue. Carl Bloedel arrived in America two years before Mary’s ship sailed. He lists his occupation as blacksmith, his intended destination as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his “starting point” as Dolgesheim.

Bloedel, Carl ship manifest 12 Aug 1886 The Rhynland to NY_edit

Click on the image to view it larger.

Is this 100% verification of Mary’s birthplace? Unfortunately, no. As I said earlier, I’ve had difficulty tracking all of the Bloedel relatives sufficiently to be sure this Carl Bloedel is even a relative. But it remains our best guess at this point.

You’ll note that there is something scribbled in the far right-hand column on Mary’s ship manifest that is hard to decipher, but it appears to be “settler”; in studying the full page, I find that the word “citizen” and “settler” is written beside some names in that section.

FURTHER RESEARCH

One interesting thing to note in the ship manifests above is that Mary’s family is travelling with two other Bloedels who are of unknown relation. It’s also interesting that the C. Bloedel in her group is the same age as Carl Bloedel in the second manifest.

A bit about the ship that carried Mary to America: the Noordland was built for the Red Star Line’s Antwerp-New York route and launched in 1884. It held accomodations for 619 passengers, 500 of these in third-class (steerage), which is where Mary’s family was housed.

Bloedel ship Noordland2

The Noordland

In 1886 the Noordland was disabled after colliding with the Cunard liner Servia in the North River because of thick snow and heavy mist. It resumed service in July 1888, two months before Mary’s trip. It was scrapped in 1908.

One other thing to note is the information I’ve found in German Genealogical Database, which lists a significant number of Bloedel persons living in Schornsheim, Germany. This might prove to be an important resource to pursue further as I research the Bloedel family line.

RESOURCES

I have bad news for my cousin: Dolgesheim is a good 8+ hour drive from Mietno, where our Struck ancestors originated.

Map - from Mietno to Dolgesheim

Dolgesheim is in the Rhineland-Palatinate state of Germany, also known as the Rheinland-Pfalz or Rheinhessen region. This is wine country, and Dolgesheim looks to be a charming village with a rich history according to their city website (in German). Schornsheim is only about 8 miles NW of there, and worthy of some genealogical investigation as well.

As you can see from these posts, the story of Frank & Mary’s ancestral origins is one that holds much yet to be discovered.

Frank and Mary Struck - 1951 - 50th wedding anniversary

Frank & Mary Struck on their 50th wedding aniversary in 1951

Herkunft der Familie Struck

A relative recently asked me what research I had on the origins of our Struck ancestors, because he is planning a trip to Germany in the near future. I thought I would share this information on my blog instead of a private email, so that it is available to anyone else interested in this.

Here’s the good news for my cousin: I think I have a pretty good idea of the location of our German origins, and even where the old church records are kept.

The bad news? That region is now a part of Poland, since World War II. Let’s hope our relative decides to expand his trip! One day I hope to commission an experienced genealogical researcher to search those archives.

THE FAMILY LEGEND

To begin, let’s take a look at where this information comes from. Family stories say that my great-grandfather Frank Struck emigrated from Plummer, Germany. My research has not identified the existence of such a place; my best guess is that this may have been derived from Pommern, the German word for the region of Pomerania. The only other clue given was that Frank studied to be a cobbler in Berlin as a youth; this might lead one to think that the family lived fairly near that city, but it is certainly inconclusive.

THE CLUES

My first step was to look for historical documents that might shed some more light. My best sources are the ship manifests from Frank’s journey to America in 1895 on the S.S. Wittekind. These documents are readily available, courtesy of Ellis Island and Ancestry.

Struck, Frank ship records The Wittekind arrived 10 April 1895 departed from Bremen_edit1

A little side note on the S.S. Wittekind: when our Struck ancestors sailed to Baltimore (and then Ellis Island) in 1895, the ship was just one year old. It was built for the Norddeutscher Lloyd German sailing company,to use on their Bremerhaven-New York line. It took a fortnight to travel the route, and it was the first twin-screw steamer built for them. In 1917 it was seized by the US Army and renamed the Iroquois, and later the USS Freedom. It was scrapped in 1924.

Struck, Frank ship records The Wittekind

Here’s a close-up of the ship manifest created when they first arrived at the Port of Baltimore (before they sailed on to Ellis Island):

Struck, Frank ship records The Wittekind_edit3

The first person in this group is Friedrich Birkholz, a 30 year old laborer. His wife Wilhelmina is Frank Struck’s sister. Below their three children is Albertine and Caroline Ziemann. You’ve seen in a previous post that the Ziemanns are known cousins to the Struck family. My best guess is that Caroline Ziemann is actually Frank Struck’s mother (there is much evidence to corroborate this). Below these two women is Ida Struck, another sister to Frank. And finally, we have Frank Struck himself, age 20.

What’s most helpful here is the column titled “Last Residence”. All of the family state that their previous hometown was Minten, except for Frank: he says it is Naugard. Simply to muddy it up a bit more, Frank’s brother Carl Struck emigrated to America two years before this group. On his ship manifest, he listed his hometown as Glietzig, Germany.

Struck, Carl ship record 02 May 1893 ship The Stuttgart_edit

DECIPHERING AND TRANSLATING

Where do we go from here? A whole bunch of Googling to learn more about these towns! Some trial and error led me to discover the current names of these communities as they are now listed in Poland:

Naugard (town) = Nowogard
Naugard (district/county) = Gmina Nowogard
Minten = Mietno
Gleitzig = Glicko

What I’ve also found is that the small, rural communities of Minten/Mietno and Gleitzig/Glicko are very near the larger town of Naugard, and all are within the county of Naugard. Here is a current map that might help illustrate this:

Map of former Struck homeland Nowogard_close-up

If you look at the scale reference, these tiny towns are only about a mile or two apart, and quite close to Naugard/Nowogard. It appears that Naugard county has long been a rural one: in 1925, the community of Minten had 197 residents living in 37 households, while Glietzig boasted 189 residents in 33 households!

The proximity of these locations seems to help explain the varying answers given on the ship manifests. One word of caution: it is admittedly not completely verified that this is our ancestral home, particularly as we are taking these facts from one primary source. However, it is a very likely connection, and one that I look forward to expanding my research on.

One other interesting fact: all of the residents in Minten and Gleitzig were of the Protestant faith. This will be important when I discuss resources below.

RESOURCES

There are a few resources that have been immensely helpful to me in researching my Pomeranian roots: The Full Wiki contains a list of Pomeranian place names, and their Polish name today. Secondly, the Pommerndatenbank contains some amazing genealogical resources concerning both Pomeranian communities and the families that lived there. Finally, the Information System for Pomerania lists a bounty of historical information about these communities that can help provide some insight into the lives of our ancestors.

Traditionally, our European ancestors recorded their most important life events in the church register: births, confirmations, marriages, deaths… all would be written into the book. So it is quite exciting to learn that the church registers were in fact saved, and archived in the Kirchenbücher im Landeskirchlichen Archiv in Greifswald, Germany. It should be a bit easier to research since all of these families attended church in one denomination. I’m eager to see what information might be available to us in researching our Struck family roots!

Frank & Mary Struck Family_1955

Frank & Mary Struck Family in 1955