The Joy & Fury of Genealogy Gifts

Family Historians live for those five precious words: I have something for you.

Let’s all just take a moment to remember that the amount of “stuff” I have (and believe me, I’m trying to eliminate a lot of it) in no way diminishes my deep longing (and yes, need) for mementos of familial significance. I may have no idea where I’ll put it or how I’ll document it or how to share it. Yet, I absolutely need it. Make no mistake.

Sometimes you expect it. Sometimes you almost plan it. You know that if you ask enough questions about a person or a situation, you’ll be offered a photograph or a letter or some striking piece of history that ties him into the fabric of your story.

And then, sometimes, it catches you totally off your guard. You are driving someone home after a Thanksgiving visit, and someone you haven’t seen in months greets you at the door with a brown envelope and says, “I have something for you.” Your heart races. Your pupils dilate. You feel the blood rush to your face. You couldn’t be more enthralled if it had four wheels, a hood ornament, and a bright red Christmas bow. This is the moment for which you didn’t even realize you were longing. For a moment, you even forget that your name is misspelled on the envelope. It doesn’t seem to matter at that moment.

What’s inside? Is it a letter? A death certificate? An ancestor’s attempt at a pedigree? Naturalization papers? Civil War records? Photographs? A lock of hair?

What’s inside?

What’s inside?

What’s inside?

And then you remember: It doesn’t matter.

The contents of a small brown envelope or the contents of a trunk that’s been rotting in the attic. It doesn’t matter what’s inside. What matters is this: It’s been entrusted to your care. Someone, with some appreciation of the family history, feels that the best place for this treasure is in your keeping.

That’s a humbling realization.

I’ve had two moments like this in the past year. Both situations left me silent, soaking up the incredible information that was being gifted to me. Both situations left me stunned, overjoyed, silenced. The first came about at the Schmitzer Family Reunion in August. A woman I’d never met (who, ironically, had emailed me prior to the Reunion but I didn’t read the email until afterwards) handed me a brown paper bag full of Reunion logs, letters, and other information that I will be sifting through for a long time yet. I can’t wait to share it with my family.

But yesterday, when my dad handed me this small brown envelope of papers, I could hardly stand the 6 hour drive home so I could rip it open and sort through it!

I confess that I was frustrated at first. Several of the pages have apparent coffee stains, which is certainly not worth complaining. Except the two pages of handwritten notes (my secret genealogy obsession) where the coffee stains are more like blobs, making much of the document illegible. I need someone who can pull an Abbie Sciuto on the pages and separate the coffee from the ink, or something. I was also frustrated, initially, because the pages didn’t seem to make sense in context of one another. It seemed like random information, but I’ve been doing family history long enough that I should’ve known not to jump to conclusions! The pages actually belong together.

The first two pages document the marriage and children of Joseph and Jane Moore, my Scottish (according to this person’s research; Irish, according to some others) 3xG grandparents. The pages that follow document the descendants of his children, my 2xG grandfather, Thomas, and his brothers.

The Edward clan (on of my 2xG grandfather’s brothers) has been problematic for me for some time now. I’ve connected online with one or two of his descendants, but I have better questions than I have answers. Ironically, it is the text on his family that has the Coffee Blobbing.
Coffee Blob
The experience is further complicated by the lack of authorship. It is an excellent reminder to myself (and any genealogist, regardless of experience level) to byline and date my work. As it stands, most of the information corroborates what I already know, so it’s not problematic; the information regarding Edward, however, is obviously a photocopy of a handwritten account without apparent author at present.

What is a Family Historian to do?

Simple, folks.

She rolls up her sleeves, makes a fresh pot of coffee, and begins transcribing the documents before her while she waits for her father to call and answer some of her questions about where the information came from and whether it can be replicated or attributed to anyone.

Is there a better way to spend a Friday evening? Nah. There isn’t. There really isn’t. The truth is–frustration or not, we get sucked into genealogy because we love the puzzle. And we love new pieces, even if it’s a sky blue piece and you’ve already filled in the sky.

Pax,
Sar

Schmitzer Family Reunion

In fourteen days, I will be in Frankenmuth, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my dear cousin, Cindy-Loo-Hoo.

It began last year. When Cindy’s father, my dear Uncle Wayne, passed away in September, Cindy began planning to honor his wishes and bring him home to Michigan and to celebrate his life with the family here. As we began talking and preparing for the event, as Cindy’s travel plans began to solidify, it seemed the only logical thing to do was to take advantage of the opportunity and have a good old-fashioned Family Reunion. After all, if Cindy — whom I have never met in my 30-some years of life — was going to make the trip all the way to Michigan from Florida, we had better make it worth her while and gather as much of the family as humanly possible.

In some regards, the past ten months have been a blur. The brainstorming, the planning, has taken more time and attention than I expected. In my mind, it was just yesterday that we decided to really open up the reunion and send invitations to cousins outside of the immediate clan. It was just yesterday that Cindy told me she just wanted to make it through the holidays and get to the summer, so she could hug all of her family. It was just yesterday. And now suddenly–we are fourteen days from Cindy’s arrival; fifteen from the Reunion.

Am I excited?

I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment. There is still so much to plan, to think about, to prepare (not to mention the food). And in the midst of all of it, there are personal things happening that are vying for my attention. I just want to enjoy this Reunion. The Schmitzer heritage is such an enormous part of who I am, and the family history I can glean from a gathering like this is going to be heavier than a February blizzard. I have to be prepared and be smart about recording information.

In spite of all the time and thought already invested, I feel very, very unprepared.

Still, I know that once we get on the road, I am going to be overloaded with excitement. Until then, I just need to keep focused and keep working through the wrinkles…

Pax Christi.
Sarah

How did you get here?

How did you get here?

The weekend that my Uncle Wayne passed away, Mom and I had been to Lower Michigan to brother my visit, Jeremiah. It is always so much fun to spend time with him. He is the most laid back, easy to hang out with person I’ve ever known. Truly, I like him a  whole lot (I would like him even if he weren’t my brother–and that is saying a lot). He doesn’t realize it, but he blesses me so much. I have very unique relationships with each of my siblings (as each of them are, indeed, unique!), but Jeremiah really connects to my geeky-genealogy side in a way that my other siblings don’t. I mean, they are all interested in the family history, and they all encourage me in that pursuit, but Jeremiah gets involved in it with me. It’s a lot of fun to have him (and Mom) to get into the nitty gritty stuff with.

During our short visit, Jer took us to a blast from our childhood: East Jordan. Listen, if you don’t know where East Jordan is, don’t feel bad–I don’t really know, either. You just drive and drive and drive…and then you DON’T BLINK. I digress. On our way, Jer showed us the corner where Grandpa’s brother, George, was killed in a car wreck when he was young (my dad’s sister, Aunt Georgeine, was named after him). Though I don’t know the story well, and I never knew my Great Uncle George, it was moving to see the place where he died. I know I’ve seen it before. For some reason, I remember Dad showing me once–but I can’t remember when I would’ve been driving there with Dad.

Aunt Millie, my Grandpa’s only living sibling, still lives in that house in East Jordan where we used to visit as children. Honestly?–her house looked vaguely familiar, but it was the nearby playground that I remembered. We must have walked there from her house to play. We didn’t visit with Aunt Millie, because I am not a fan of popping in unannounced–even though I know she would’ve welcomed us (Aunt Millie was always a favorite of ours). Next time, we will visit and listen to her tell stories. I can’t wait!

But the really moving part of the journey was our visit to Sunset Hill Cemetery. Now, I knew that Uncle George was buried there, along with his parents–my great-Grandparents, Fred and Lillian. Seeing their graves was emotional enough. I know very little about these people. I wish, so much, that I had asked my grandpa about them before he died.

Jeremiah had mentioned that there were a few other Moore’s hanging out at Sunset Hill, so he drove the truck to the other side of the lawn and I walked over to meet him and see if it was anyone we knew. What we found there left me speechless for several minutes. It was Fred’s father, my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Moore, who had come to the United States from Canada as a child. Buried near him is his wife, Ellen [Parker Green] Moore, and between them is their daughter-in-law, Beryl (who married Fred’s brother).

Jeremiah asked me who they were, and I told him all I could remember–which was (embarrassingly) not much. For a moment, all I could recollect of Thomas was that he’d been a mail carrier. But if we’d stood there all day, I would not have recollected much more. The truth is, I just don’t know these people. I don’t know their stories. I don’t know anything about them.

And that, more than anything, breaks my heart. I know, as a searcher of family history, I have to accept my fate: I know that I will never get to the root of each family line; I know that there will always be elusive and mysterious stories; I know that there will always be people I can’t find.

But I don’t want it to be Thomas and Ellen. It can’t be Thomas and Ellen.

As Jeremiah removed to the truck, I stood there at Tom’s grave, trying not to cry, but it just overwhelmed me. This man was my immigrant ancestor, and all I knew about him was that he carried mail–which is more than most of the family knows, I dare say. Still, it is not enough. I heard myself asking him, “How did you get here?” And then I was praying. Or talking. Or wishing. I’m not sure, really. Maybe it started as a prayer but grew into a promise. I promised Thomas that I would not let his name be forgotten, that I would search and I would find him.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we–as a culture–are forgetful. We don’t remember one another as we should. We don’t remember our heritage as we should. We don’t remember how we came to be here. And if we don’t know where we’ve come from or how we’ve come, how can we know where we’re going?

Pax.

semmie.

 

Family History, part III

Well, folks? This will be my final post about my recent Family History vacation. And what remains to be said?

There is something magical about returning to the land of your fathers (or in my case, the land of my mother’s fathers). To walk there, to breathe the air, to look upon the fields and the Cass River, to drive on the roads and see the old homesteads where their friends and neighbors lived–it is magical. It brings history to life. It takes names and dates that we’ve known in ink–on birth, marriage, death, census records, etc–and photos and memoirs, and it pulls them out of some obscure thing called “the past,” and makes it part of the here-and-now. In a sense, it brings our families back to life.

But what is especially magical, I think, is having family that still lives in those places. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The few towns I’ve ever lived in my life have been “small towns,” so I know the great honor and the great entrapment of being “a local.” Those families that have lived somewhere forever, and know all the weird little stories–that’s what the Schmitzers are in Frankenmuth. I love being able to sit at my Uncle’s house and listen to the stories of our family’s home. It’s all those odd tidbits that I was never going to find on the internet.

And…it’s more. You know, I mentioned before (and will likely mention many, many more times before I die) that my uncles’ interaction with each other reminded me so much of how my own brothers (Steven & Jer) banter. As John and David were talking about David being Grandma’s favorite, and how John would get in trouble for things that Dave instigated (which I can totally believe, by the way), all I could hear in my mind was Steve and Jer telling the story of the time they tried to move the washing machine. And the freezer. Totally unrelated story, of course (it had nothing to do with either of them getting in trouble), but…the back-and-forth banter would’ve been the same. You knew that they were going to tease and mock and blame each other without mercy, and yet, you also knew (without question) that they’d been in it together.

That’s the thing. Family History isn’t just about capturing the names and dates of your ancestors. It isn’t just about building an impressive Family Tree. It’s so much more. It’s about bringing to life the characters who’ve shaped the context we find ourselves in. It’s about seeing the similarities–not just between siblings, but among extended relatives who have no reason to be behaving the same way that you are. It’s about connecting to those who belong with us. It’s about understanding how and why we do belong with one another.

In all of this, I am quite overcome by two distinct feelings: First, it is the realization that the Schmitzer line is only one of the many I have to research, and Second, it is the awareness that it’s not enough to capture the past.

Somehow, I must also learn to capture the present.

Family History, part I

I made it! I’m home! And I am…maybe…ready to start writing about the few short days I spent in Lower Michigan. What an overwhelming and wonderful experience!

You need to know that I went with an Itinerary. In fact, further, you need to know that I’m a pain to travel with because I always get wound up tight about things being “unplanned.” So I made a plan. Mom and Jer made the trip with me, and they were so good about deferring to my Great Agenda. And OH! what an Itinerary it was! I had such high hopes. Unfortunately, my Itinerary was out the door about an hour and a half before I was–yeah, I overslept. Right. Great way to start a trip. Hehe.

Friday began at the St. Lorenz church office in Frankenmuth. In my search for birth and baptism records (trying to confirm some information I’ve known but have not been able to prove thus far), my camera batteries died. Listen, after oversleeping, being seated next to a very self-concerned family of four at the Tiger game, and scorching to a very blistery sunburn that left my face raw, the batteries were about my breaking point. I was ready to head home.

And then it happened. We found it.

Schmutzer.

Mom had told me many years ago that the Schmitzer name was Americanized, that in its original form, it was spelled with a “u”, or possibly a “ue.” That’s a nice story, of course, but until that moment in the St. Lorenz library, I had never seen evidence of it. What an unimportant revelation, in the whole scheme of things!–except that it blessed my heart. It was a tidbit that I hadn’t come expecting to find; it wasn’t on my Itinerary.

After going through birth and baptism records, we met with a church historian for a tour of St. Lorenz. Let me just offer a shameless plug here: If you are ever looking for an historian in Frankenmuth, Dave Maves is your man. We were very impressed, not only with his wealth of knowledge, but with the flow of information and his character. We could tell he was genuinely interested in the history of the church and community.

The church itself is spectacular. I’ve never been so impressed with a protestant church before. Jeremiah was blown away–and I’ll leave him to share all the interesting tidbits with you. Dave walked us through the stories of each of the stained glass windows, which was so incredible! I remember thinking how very powerful it must be to sit in that church every Sunday with the reminders of your past and your founding all around you. It must be humbling. It’s so sacred!

But if you want to know the best part about the church (and I bet you’ll be surprised), you have to see the organ!

Why am I so in love with this organ? Firstly, just as a musician, it is a gorgeous instrument. But more importantly, my Grandpa Schmitzer played the organ. Now when I was growing up, we had an organ in our church–but it as not an enormous pipe organ like this. So when my mom used to tell me how Grandpa played and how beautiful it was, I really had no idea what she was saying. Let me tell you–after hearing this instrument, I am a convert. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. It will never replace the love I have for the piano, but I am seriously amazed. I wish, more than anything, that I had heard my Grandfather play! My cousin Trisha can tell you a great story about Grandpa and this organ.

We spent Friday afternoon in the St. Lorenz cemetery, searching for graves of our ancestors and finding more than I’d anticipated. There were two really great moments there for me: First, when Jer and Mom began saying, “Bickel–you said we’re related to a Bickel; here’s a Bickel!” And, “Which List did you say we were related to? Was it Johann Adam?” At that point, I realized I’d sucked them into my filthy, wonderful world of genealogy. They weren’t just helping me find Schmitzers anymore.

Second, when I found Johann Michael’s grave.

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that I wrote about Johann Michael Schmitzer last year. Even though I know who Mike’s parents and grandparents were, I have felt a strong connection to him and the events of his life. He accomplished so much, sacrificed so much, loved so much. He came to this country as a young man, a teenager, and committed his entire life to his new home. I can only conclude, based on what I know of him, that he didn’t merely come on his parents’ convictions: Johann Michael Schmitzer came to America on a mission. He didn’t leave his heart in Neuendettelsau. What an amazing young man! His grave was the reason I wanted to do this trip–I wanted to touch his grave, see his name for myself.

That’s all I have for tonight.

Pax Christi,

Sarah

Assumptions

Assumptions are dangerous in genealogy. You may find yourself staring at a piece of information that you brain cannot accept as pertinent, simply because you’ve assumed something about your ancestor. You dismiss it and think, “that’s not my ancestor; I’ll keep looking.”

I’ve been working under a few assumptions with regards to the Schmitzer line:

  1. Chip was completely right.
  2. Georg only married once.
  3. Georg and Anna had only the six children that immigrated to the United States with them.

Chip passed away a few years ago. He was my first cousin, once removed, and I met him only once–at my uncle’s funeral in 2003. He was, without question, THE Family Historian. He had traced our line back to Germany, and he and his wife visited the village that we call home. He met our dissenters–the Schmitzers that moved to Texas. He wrote (I suspect) the Schmitzer History that the Bavarian Inn uses on its website. He wrote much more, I’m sure. Chip knew this family–of that, I am certain. I absolutely trust the information I’ve received from his work.

However, just because Chip’s work is accurate, doesn’t mean it is complete. And I have mistakenly assumed that because it is the former, it must also be the latter. I would have loved the opportunity to search with Chip, to ask questions about how he came to his conclusions, to compare notes and make sense of the mess I’m making!

As for Georg’s marriage, I have been searching with the idea that his wife was Anna. Period. Again, this may be true, but may be incomplete. I’m unsure. I’m looking at conflicting pieces of information today, wondering if it’s possible that Anna passed away, and Georg remarried. It would make a little more sense in terms of the Schmitzers that I can’t seem to connect to our family. (I mean, really–how likely is it that there are two Schmitzer families in Saginaw, and they are not related? Possible, yes, but…I can’t believe it is probable. It’s not a very common name, even for German families.)

I am also pleasantly surprised to find that Georg and Anna had a daughter after their immigration. Eva Maria Schmitzer was born in 1859 in Michigan, according to an 1870 Census of Frankenmuth.

It requires more digging on my part. It requires making logical conclusions of the information I have. It requires less assumptions.

Goals for today:

  • Find Eva Maria Schmitzer.
  • Find Anna Barbara’s death.

Trying to Organize…

I’ve been through the process twice before. I’m trying to organize my genealogy information. I am brilliantly awful at organizing for myself. Put me in an office and ask me to organize your files? Absolutely. But my own? Agh! What a mess.

Ideally, an organizational system needs to accomplish a few things:

  • It must be functional on a day-to-day basis.
  • It must aid in the preservation of documents.
  • It must be separate from everything else in my life (lest I lose it completely).
  • It must be backed up.

So the questions are as follows:

  • What is the best way to organize files so that I can find them when I need them?
  • What is the best way to back up the files so I don’t lose them (both paper and disc are vulnerable)?
  • What is the best way to preserve paper documents?

So far, all I’ve decided for certain is that my paper files and electronic files should be identical. And…that paternal lines will have a blue file, maternal lines will have a red file. Any thoughts/tips?