Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I hail from a tiny town in Bavaria...

I guess I've always been aware of this but it's striking me now, in particular, as I'm looking into the Stutzmann branch of my tree, that while my background is diverse and taken as a whole, I come from all over, from general areas like "Germany" or "Western Europe," that each of my individual branches come from specific localities and in many cases, from a single town, for many generations back.

I guess it's like over here, on Long Island, I'm not just from New York or Long Island, I'm from Freeport. My family is from Freeport. For generations back, my family is from Freeport and if you go far enough back, I can claim the whole village as relations.

So, I'm looking at the Stutzmanns, my father's mother's family, who I've always known are from a tiny town in Bavaria called Grossbockenheim. Grossbockenheim doesn't exist anymore, having merged with nearby neighbor "Little Bockenheim" to form just the regular town of Bockenheim, but looking at this particular branch, it's striking me that the Stutzmanns are really from there. Their fathers and mothers, their grandparents, their cousins, their great-grandparents. Each of my ancestors married someone else from the town, as their parents did before and their children would do after. Everyone was married in the same church and the cemeteries there are probably filled with my relatives, both near and distant. Grossbockenheim is full of Stutzmann history, and the Stutzmanns are intregal to Grossbockenheim history. Ah, the intertwining of genealogy and history yet again. It's just so exciting. And finding all of this out really makes me want to go there and see where the Stutzmanns hail from, to walk where they walked, to breathe the air they breathed. And then repeat with all the other branches of my tree :)

Just as an added note, I have always felt that, Raynor American-English colonial research aside, that I would have the most genealogical success with my German roots, and it appears, at least from the FamilySearch website, that they did in fact keep meticulous, detailed, and organized records. So it seems that while I very much identify with my Irish roots, that I may in fact be much more German in personality than I originally thought...

Monday, July 19, 2010

FamilySearch: Following the Stutzmann-Schlick line...

Last entry I talked about this project I had just found out about on the FamilySearch website and how excited I was about it. Well, the excitement continues. The problem with the normal FamilySearch website is that while a lot of their information comes from actual vital records and is therefore accurate, a lot of it comes from user input, and is therefore in many cases very inaccurate, and you have to figure out which of the entries to trust and which to discard. But this new project seems to be based solely on input from vital records, and even though many of them do not have an original image indexed, there are many that include a transcription of said vital record.

So in that vein, let's talk about the Stutzmanns. As any of you have read this blog know, the Stutzmanns (my paternal grandmother's family) had been a fairly prominent family in the Ridgewood area of Queens and Brooklyn and within that local German community, so some work had already been done on their family tree (some of it not at all right, but for the most part fairly accurate) before I even entered the genealogy game. So, thanks to the work of others, I could go back 8 generations to the late 1700s in a town called Grossbockenheim in Germany to the parents of Peter Stutzmann, who with his wife Charlotte Schlick had a bunch of kids whose lines have all been pretty well traced down to now.

Through my own research I had discovered that Charlotte's real first name was probably Louise, since in Germany apparently every kid gets the Christian name and then the middle name, and no one goes by their Christian name and everyone goes by their middle name, so you end up with a bunch of sons named Johann and a bunch of daughters named Maria. Anyway, today I decided to focus my search on this line, since in all my own research, I've never been able to get past Peter's parents, who I knew to be Christoph Stutzmann and Jacobine Last Name Unknown, or Charlotte. Today I found a transcription for a marriage certificate for one J. Peter Stutzmann and one Charlotte Schlick. A birth certificate transcription for one of their kids showed that Peter's real first name was Johann, which to be fair, I should've guessed anyway. So, this marriage transcription - the ages for both Peter and Charlotte are right, the year, 1841, jibes with when they started having kids, the town is right, and lo and behold, we have parents' names for both of them. Score!

So, according to the transcription, Peter's parents are Michael Stutzmann and Jacobina Blasius. Though the father's name doesn't match, wacky German naming traditions means it's possible that both Michael and Christoph are the right name for Peter's dad. Or, with the spotty accuracy of the original info I built my research on for this branch, it's possible Christoph is completely wrong. But Jacobine and Jacobina jibe, so that's another point in this transcription's favor. And we also have names for Charlotte's parents - Rudolph Schlick (which seems right seeing as how many Rudolph's, including Charlotte's son, as well as my great great grandfather, ended up on this Stutzmann branch) and Ottile Elisabetha Dhuy (which, it seems her last name should probably be D'Huy, which seems to be a Belgian name).

You always have to take new information with a grain of salt, but you have to start someplace, and these new leads give me a place to start to build my own foundation for this information as I go about trying to verify or disprove. The point is...the Case of the Stutzmann Tree continues!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

There you are, Sophia Ricklefs! That rumbling sound you hear is another brick wall being knocked down with a giant sledgehammer

So I've been telling my friend Sam lately about my interest in genealogy - gushing more like it. I blame him, because unlike my other friends who just tune me out, he actually pretends to be interested. And not only does he pretend to be interested but seeing how passionate I am about it, he's been pushing me to pursue a career as a professional genealogist. So today he sent me several links about websites and Youtube channels and New York metro genealogy associations and whatnot. The Youtube channel he sent me was the Genealogy Guy. I clicked on a video at random. Well, I'm guessing not at random - I'm pretty sure the universe, or maybe someone in my family, was guiding me. The video was about a project being conducted by our good friends the Mormons to make original copies of all sorts of genealogical records available online, and so far, for free. God bless those Mormons - if they didn't have to keep all their family lines straight, we might still be in the genealogy stone age. The best part about this is it's on their website, www.familysearch.org. I am on that site all the time, all the fricking time, and I never knew this project existed. From the home page, you go to the section "What's New" and click on the link "see prototype for searching millions of records." I haven't explored it thoroughly yet. I only just discovered it about 10 minutes ago but the results were already so exciting that I had to post and share about it.

I typed in "Meta Ricklefs," just because she was the first name to come to my head. The typical, Ancestry.com fare came up - 1900 census, 1920 census. But then I saw 1905 New York Census...1892 New York census...both with original images available. I had never seen those censuses before. 1905 didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, though the fact that it's there is amazing. 1892 was a whole other ballgame.

The 1890 U.S. census, as we all know, was mostly destroyed in a fire. For those of us living today, 1880-1920 is an important period for us...that's when many of our families came over. That's when many of our grandparents and great grandparents and even great great grandparents, for whom we have later census records or military records or whatnot, were born. So the loss of the 1890 census is a huge loss in genealogy research. Well, the 1892 New York census was taken only 2 years later. (Duh). It doesn't have much information beyond name, age, and place of birth. What it does have, in regards to my research, is a person I've only seen in other people's records and who I had no idea had even come over to America - Sophia Ricklefs.

Now, I had looked up Meta (Tiedemann) Ricklefs, who was living with her husband, John, and their kids John, Meta (my great great grandmother), and Olga. And right below 4 month old Olga is listed Sophia Ricklefs, 57, born in Germany. Now, no family relations are given, but I know from John and Meta's marriage record that John's mother's name is Sophie or Sophia. The age puts her at the right age to be his mom. If she was living here, that means she might have died here, and there could be a death record for her. There could be a passenger manifest record of her. I mean, I can't wait to go and check. 10 minutes and I've already opened new research avenues. It's amazing, how you can be standing still, banging your head against a wall over and over and just when you're about to give up, you bang one more time, and that's what knocks a hole in it.

So, new Ricklefs avenues to pursue, and I haven't even looked up anybody else in my tree yet. I can't wait to see what I discover...so thank you, Sam, for being such an annoying, pushy bastard :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Raynors, Raynors, everywhere...

You can't get away from those Raynors or any of those pesky Hempstead founding families anywhere on Long Island, it seems. Last Friday I had to go to Riverhead for work. Riverhead is a good 60 miles east of the Hempstead Plains, where the families originally settled, and even a good almost 20 miles west of Southampton, where many of those founding families ended up. Yet, I was walking around town following my assignment and suddenly found myself on Ackerley Street. Followed by a Hallett Street. And a Duryea Street. The same good old names you find over and over again here. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Anyway, there was also, of course, a Raynor Street. I tried to find it but my GPS wasn't working and it was too hot to go wandering around for long looking for it. I was disappointed, since I wanted to take a picture that I could post in this blog, but the fact remains, on Long Island, you can find Raynors or evidence of Raynors just about everywhere.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A wealth of resources, the luck of the draw

We have pretty good genealogical records here in America. We have church archives, local government archives, federal government archives, military records, passenger manifests, census records, and all preserved pretty well and made reasonably available to the public, both key to successful genealogical research.

Europe seems to have pretty good records as well - of course, no government is perfect. Ireland, for some reason, destroyed all of its census information after it had been collected. I still wish at certain moments that I could go back in time and keep the 1890 U.S. census from being almost completely destroyed in a fire. For almost everyone living in 2010, that was an important piece of somewhat recent research that's just gone forever.

But lately I've been thinking about how lucky we are here by all the resources that are available to us - I know it's something I tend to take for granted, and in fact so much information is so readily available that I can get kind of impatient (what, me, get impatient?) when I have to actually look hard and dig deep for a piece of the puzzle. But I guess governments are kind of like people, with different personalities. Some of them, like me, like to make and keep lists. Others couldn't care less about that kind of thing. Some countries don't have a high enough literacy rate to make keeping records feasible. Some countries that are too poor have more important things to worry about like feeding people. Others have volatile tempers and are too busy with civil wars and internal fighting and the records get lost, usually for good. But I think of some of my good friends, most of whom come from Latin American countries, and their parents never had birth certificates. And their town churches back home, along with all their records, have burned down. No census was ever taken, and their grandparents or great-grandparents died too young to ask them about passing on an oral history.

But in those cases, especially, is when oral histories become important, because that's all you have. And while it's not hard evidence as far as genealogical research goes, it's good evidence - your grandmother might not be able to tell you about her grandparents, but she can tell you about her parents and her siblings and what it was like growing up, and depending on who you talk to, other people will remember other things and other people. And if you write that down, straight from the horses mouth so to speak, or record them recounting their own stories, then 100 years from now, that's pretty much primary source information, and it helps to start your family story, at the very least, for future generations.

But I think of my friends a lot when I do this research and when I'm getting really frustrated and they're laughing at me because I'm always looking to be able to go further back, and there's no way they'll ever be able to go further back, and it makes me realize how lucky I am and how important keeping these records for future generations is.

A slow summer...and a trip to Oyster Bay

So it's been slow going on the genealogy front lately. Maybe I've currently run out strands to follow. Maybe the sweltering heat is making me lazy and unmotivated. But it's been rough.

I haven't done much research over the past couple of months, but on another front that's slightly related to genealogy because it has to do with local Long Island history, my dad and I took a trip up to the Brookville/Oyster Bay area a couple of weeks ago. I was doing research for another project I'm working on and it's been interesting research because the founding families of the Town of Oyster Bay, which is north of the Town of Hempstead, where my ancestors settled, aren't the same families as the ones who founded Hempstead, but they're so close to each other that their histories can't help but bleed into each other. My dad and I stopped at a small local cemetery on Northern Boulevard in, I think, Upper Brookville, where I was looking for particular plots related to a 19th century double murder that happened there, and I saw all the names I knew from the research I had done, but there some of your Hempstead area staples as well, like the Remsens and the Seamans.

What was particularly interesting were how many Dutch names were in that cemetery, and of course it makes sense because it was Dutch territory. You don't get as many Dutch names in Hempstead because it was an English settlement, but this whole area, all of Kings and Queens and Nassau Counties belonged to the Dutch.

Other notes of interest, pertaining more to local history than to genealogy...

- Driving through that area of the North Shore, the so-called "Gold Coast" is amazing. All the old mansions and estates and even the newer mansions that have been built - it's kinda like being in another world. My jaw hurt from being agape for so long.

- One family name that was also prominent in that cemetery was Van Velsor, a family in the Oyster Bay/Huntington arena. That's a name that you should know if you're an American history buff because all those Van Velsors in that tiny, rundown cemetery were probably cousins of the famous American poet Walt Whitman, whose mother's maiden name was...Van Velsor.

So, visit cemeteries. They're full of useful information, full of surprising information, and just as genealogy is a way to remember and pay tribute to the people who came before us, taking a stroll through a cemetery is another way to honor and remember our families, as well as those families who no longer have anyone to remember them.