The benefits of web-based genealogy

Last summer after I decided against using Geni or Ancestry.com as primary storage for my genealogical data, I had to figure out what I was going to use. There’s a number of desktop applications, some free or shareware, and some paid. I looked at a couple, and decided against them. They might have been good, but I wanted a web solution so my data would be in the cloud so to speak.

My main reasoning for that was simply for crash protection reasons. Making sure my local hard drive is backed up has always been a pain in the ass, and with every crash I invariably don’t have something backed up. The secondary reason is that I could work on my genealogy from any computer, rather than having to bring my laptop with me, or having to bring data back to a desktop.

I eventually settled on PhpGedView as the software I’d use on the web site. It’s open source, I can fix broken things if I want. I doubt I would ever do a major overhaul, but little changes here and there I can do. PhpGedView is pretty mature, but hasn’t had any major developers pushing new features for a couple of years. Unless someone takes it up, that does mean I’ll probably eventually switch to something else.

I’ve figured out an additional benefit in the last couple of months though: Google Analytics. I’ve used Google Analytics for years to track visitors and pageviews on my blogs. I added a profile for the genealogy site and started tracking there too. I can see the keywords that bring people to the site. I can see what people and families in my tree people are looking at.

The thing is, if you are looking for someone in my tree, you are probably related. That’s not a guarantee, because my tree includes in-laws as well. But I can filter those out.

A couple of examples: Last month, I started seeing a lot of hits on the Troeller branch of the tree from computers in Alaska. I had a good guess as to who they were because I’d entered in that branch just a few weeks earlier. A couple of days later, I got email from them asking if I would give them full access (information about living people is blocked unless the viewer has an account), which I did. They’ve since fleshed out a few of the details I didn’t have for that branch.

Yesterday, I noticed a big spike in traffic to the Nordvall portion of the tree, starting with my great-grandmother’s brother Fritz Arvid Nord (he shortened the name from Nordvall). That traffic is coming from Marysville. I’m willing to bet that whoever is doing the looking is a grandchild or great-grandchild of Fritz’. I’m really hoping they contact me as well, because I don’t actually have a lot of information on Fritz’ kids.

But the thing is, now I know that someone out there is descended from him, and is local. That’s actually a pretty big help.

It also means I really should make a point of calling my grandmother’s cousin in Shoreline to pump her for information. For all I know, she may continue to be in contact with that branch of the family.

Bad obituary!

That’s an obituary that appeared on 27 December 1972 in the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison for my father. It had to have been passed along from someone who knew my aunt Jane, who lived in Van Nuys California at the time. There were a few Weisses still around in Madison at the time (there’s only one now), so I don’t know who got everything garbled. It could easily have been someone who got it from one of my great aunts who got the info from my aunt.

For such a short piece, it got at least six items incorrect:

  • George hadn’t lived in Madison.
  • He hadn’t lived in Van Nuys either.
  • He didn’t die in Van Nuys.
  • The funeral was not in Van Nuys.
  • His son is named Philip, not Phillips.
  • His mother was no longer Mrs. George Weiss (they divorced in the 1960s).

I’ve run into a fair number of sources of information that were wrong. So far, this one is the wrongest. It’s a damn good thing I already knew the correct information, otherwise I might be searching all over Van Nuys for additional information. And for all I know, some of my current dead ends are wrong for the similarly bad information.

The Sorensons, found

One of the first branches of the family that I worked on was that of my grandmother, Lillian Solle. My aunts Sue and Jane put together a book of mementos about the Weiss, Solle and Sorenson families and gave it to me in 2004. Prior to that I knew nothing about my grandmother. She and my grandfather divorced in 1966. After that, according to my mother, Lillian would have nothing to do with the family.

I took the information in the memory book about Lillian and her parents and their parents, and started gathering what I could find. Lillian’s mother was Flora Sorenson, the 4th of Nels Hansen Sorenson and Katherine Hansen’s living children. Nels and Katherine emigrated to the U.S. in July of 1883, and settled in Madison, Wisconsin. They built a house at 1118 E. Gorham St., and lived there until they died. They were both from Langeland, Denmark, an island about 2/3 the size of Whidbey Island.

I’ve documented a number of other descendants of Nels and Katherine, some of whom make for a really good story. But I was kind of stuck at finding more information on their parents. I assumed the church in Denmark kept pretty good records, like the church in Sweden did. But I didn’t know how to obtain them and, being swamped with other branches, hadn’t pursued it yet. (I’m not kidding about being swamped. Click the thumbnail to the right to see my Windows desktop filled with icons of newspaper articles I’ve saved in the last few days and that I haven’t yet cataloged.)

All I’d found from Denmark was a record on the Sorensons in the Danish Emigration Archives that showed when they left. It’s just an index, and I haven’t yet purchased a copy of the actual records.

A couple of days ago, I came across a profile on Ancestry.com that looked very much like it matched up with the Sorenson family as of the time they left Denmark. It was entered by a woman in Denmark. I wrote to her, then sat on pins and needles hoping for a reply. I get replies about half the time when I write to relatives I find. One in Sweden wrote back once, and then didn’t reply after that when he realized I wasn’t going to pay him. Like a few genealogy people, he’d turned his hobby into a business and was looking only to sell what he knew about the family. I have living relatives in Sweden who will correspond without payment, so I didn’t bother. I was hoping this woman wasn’t one of that group, because she’s the only person in Denmark I’ve found so far who is connected to the family.

I got a reply this morning! She traces her ancestry to Rasmus Jensen Jørgensen. He married Nels’ mother Marthe Kirstine Nielsen after she had Nels by someone else. So we aren’t related by blood, but do have some of our trees in common.

I had found Niels’ marriage and the birth of his two sons and then suddenly I could not find him anywhere. I should have guess that he emmigrated. Two of his halfsisters did.

So now I have a bunch of information to add. A lot.

Stephen Parker is insane, and paths crossing

So here’s an interesting one. My third great uncle was one Stephen Parker (me → George R. Weiss, my father → George A. Weiss, his father → Frances Ryan, his mother → Mary Parker, her mother → Stephen Parker, her brother). Like all the Parker kids he was born in Canada. His birth was likely in Ramsay Township near Perth about 1937. Father Patrick Parker and mother Mary Murphy took the kids to America sometime shortly before 1860. The family shows up in Glen Haven, Wisconsin in 1860, and in nearby Patch Grove in 1870. However, Stephen isn’t with the family in 1870. He enlisted with the Union Army on 16 May 1862.

US Army Register of Enlistments 1798-1914 Record for Stephen Parker
Stephen Parker's enlistment record

In that record, you’ll see that he enlisted with his brother Patrick. But Stephen was discharged not even 3 months later on 2 August because of injury. He shows up in the 1870 U.S. Census in Clarion, Iowa as a single man, farming. By 1880, he’s married to Margaret Burk, and they have two daughters, Mary and Agnes. But he’s no longer listed as the head of the family and the column for insane is marked!

1880 United States Federal Census Record for Stephen Parker
Stephen Parker marked as insane

By 1895, he’s been committed to the Independence State Hospital for the Insane and is not longer living with the family. I haven’t been able to dig up anything that shows what his symptoms of insanity were. I thought perhaps alcoholism, but that doesn’t seem to fit with this news report filed shortly after his death, that appeared in the Waterloo (Iowa) Courier on 16 Jun 1897.

Report on Stephen Parker autopsy
Report on Stephen Parker autopsy

An autopsy over the body of Stephen Parker at the Independence hospital has explained the cause of insanity in what physicians pronounced one of the most remarkable cases ever brought to the asylum here. Parker was insane for years, all attempts to account for the malady failed. The autopsy showed that during the war he suffered a fracture of the skull, from which minute particles of bone pierced the brain. Around these osseous matter formed, which affected the sufferer’s mind and caused his death. During the many years of his confinement in the asylum, the existence of the fracture was unsuspected. Had it been a simple operation would have restored him to sanity and perfect health.

So far this is the only madness I’ve found in my family tree, but there’s plenty more people to check out.

The Stephen Parker family story doesn’t quite end there though. Margaret Parker and her two daughters moved to Seattle in 1906 where they became employed by the Seattle School District. I love it when they live in Seattle, because I have so many more tools to find them. The Seattle Times used to list who was teaching where every year. Margaret died in 1924. Mary taught elementary, mostly at Longfellow School, which I believe was across the street from what’s now Miller Playfield. She died in 1932, at 615 Bellevue Ave. According to King County, it’s the same building there now.

Obituary for Mary Parker
Obituary for Mary Parker (Seattle Times, 11 Nov 1932)

Agnes taught high school mostly. She first taught at T.T. Minor. For several decades she taught at the Broadway School which used to be where the Broadway Performance Hall is now. But in the 1942 school year, she taught history at Ballard High School. Unfortunately, the paths between the Weiss side of my family and the Hathaway side did not cross; my grandfather graduate in the spring of 1942 and joined the merchant marine in May for the war.

Agnes Parker retired in 1947. She was very involved as a supporter of the Seattle Art Museum throughout her time in Seattle. In addition to listing the teachers every year, the Time also listed who bought season passes for S.A.M. every year. And you think you give up privacy with Facebook! Agnes became friendly with the Considine family, local vaudeville and theater promoters until they moved to the burgeoning entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles. It was on a visit to Hollywood producer John Considine Jr, that Agnes died.

Obituary for Agnes Parker
Obituary for Agnes Parker (Seattle Times, 12 Jan 1949)

Neither Mary nor Agnes had any children, so that branch of my family is not running around locally. I had hoped at first though, when I first found them in Seattle.

Agnes Troeller leads to Celia Weiss Klindt

I wrote about tracking down Clara Weiss, my second great aunt, in Upland California. I didn’t really know what had happened to her sister, Cecilia Celia. Turns out she was just down the road.

Finding a girl through the census records is hard, because they usually changed surnames when they got married. Celia shows up in 1860, 1870, and 1880. Then she disappears. She got married and doesn’t show up anywhere. Ancestry.com tells me the most likely entries are: Cecilia Garthwaite, Cecilia Lindsey, Cecilia McCready, etc. All of them born about 1858 in Wisconsin. Ancestry seems to rank them in terms of how close they are to Celia’s birthplace of Cassville, Wisconsin. In fact, Celia doesn’t show up at all in the first five pages of possibilities for censuses after 1900. I checked a lot of them, and most didn’t match up. Some could have been Celia, but I had no way to know via the census records.

So I kind of sat on that for a bit and pursued other Weisses. I got to Clara. She appeared only in 1900, and later I figured out why she wasn’t in 1910. Before I’d done that though, I started looking for her children. Her third child, Agnes Marie showed up in 1910, but not with Clara or Clara’s husband Conrad. She was part of the Henry J. and Anna C. Klindt household in Ontario, California. Her relationship to Henry was listed as niece.

1910 United States Federal Census Record for Henry J Klindt

Agnes is listed as the niece of Henry Klindt. So either Conrad Troeller is the brother of Henry or Anna, or Clara was the sister of Anna. There were no daughters of Anton Weiss listed as Anna in the 1860 through 1880 censuses. However, it was possible that Cecilia was a middle name. Among my grandparent’s family, George Archibald went by Arch, Florence Marie went by Marie, Richard Glenn went by Glenn and Laura Ann Francis goes by Francis. Perhaps that was common in their parent’s family as well, and Anna C. is Anna Cecilia.

Anna C.’s other stats matched up: born in Wisconsin around 1858, with both parents from Germany. Not enough to confirm it, but enough to start digging more. Luckily a few other things turned up. One other person had listed the wife of Henry Klindt as Anna C Weiss in their family tree. Still tenuous, but looking better. Around then I found Frank Smitha’s biography, and his page about his grandmother Clara.

My mother’s sister, Agnes, four years and three months older, was sent to live with Clarissa’s sister, Celia Klindt, whose husband, according to my mother, owned the main grocery store in Upland. Celia and husband were the family members on a path to wealth. They were putting their spare cash into buying property and in a few years, according to my mother, “Aunt Celia’s family owned flats as they called them, on Lake Street in Los Angeles. I think the property has been absorbed into McCarthur Park, as near as I can figure.”

The weight of the evidence was enough for me to put it in a confirmation column, even though some of the other facts on Smitha’s page are wrong.

The Klindt’s lived in South Dakota and Iowa for a bit, then went overseas to Germany for a couple of years. When they returned, they moved to Ontario. Henry’s passport application gave birth dates for his children as well as his intention to return in a couple of years. That’s awesome, because the census only gives approximate birth years and was generally transcribed as told to the census taker by the head of the house. The head of the house might not remember birth dates as well; the transcriber could mishear; the transcriber could miswrite it; the transcriber could have a bad sense of policies about first names vs. middle names. Some of them are really bad spellers.

I’m not sure the Klindts were wealthy, even though Smitha’s mother seemed to think they were. There were five children. Pauline, who married one Fred Jacobs. They moved back to Iowa where Fred died about 1916. Pauline moved back to California, and as best as I can tell never remarried or had more kids. Daughter Agnes married a George Bunker, then divorced him just a couple years later. She never appeared to remarry and the Bunkers had only one child George Jr. Daughter Mildred died about 1916 without marrying. Robert married Jessie Hermes around 1916, and by 1930 they had not had any children. The youngest child, Irving, married Edith Smith and they had a couple of daughters by 1930. None of the Klindts appeared to have lived in particularly wealthy neighborhoods, and I haven’t found any of them among the movers and shakers of southern California. But perhaps they were quietly wealthy. Who knows?

Neither Henry nor Celia lived to see 1930.

Geni

I know you’re thinking, why hasn’t Phil written about that genealogy stuff in two weeks? So I give you this to sate your desire.

Last spring, when I first started poking around this, Sharon recommended I take a look at Geni. It has a nice and easy graphical user interface. Just click on add node, fill in a few details, and you can start building a family tree.

Geni Diagram
Basic Geni data entry dialog

I plugged in a bunch of people from Hathaways of America to get used to what it can and can’t do. It’s designed to be super easy to use.

What’s the major feature for Geni? Collaboration. Geni is constantly attempting to match the data I entered with thousands of other users. If a profile closely matches what someone else entered for one of their ancestors, Geni proposes a merge. If both users agree, the two users trees will share a profile for a single historical person, and their trees will be connected. Anything the other user enters affects my tree. The connected trees are no longer separate trees. They are one family tree.

I only had to enter the Hathaways up to my third great grandfather, Abner Hathaway. He’d already been entered by someone else, Geni proposed the merge, and now I share a family tree with the person who entered Abner.

This is very powerful. If someone else is able to document something for one of my ancestors, I don’t have to. I don’t even have to copy their information. It’s already there.

Geni has a number of these connected trees. Most of their users are connected to what they call The Big Tree. This has allowed me to find and chat with relatives that I didn’t know I had. The fellow who had also entered Abner Hathaway is Chad Bouldin. Abner is his wife’s fourth great uncle. I’ve found a 4th cousin in Sweden, and my grandfather’s cousin.

Geni has a fair number of celebrity profile entered. Because Geni has a big tree, I can tell you how I am related to a number of them. One of the Hathaway wives was descended from English royalty, so there’s a lot of documented connections. Through that, I can tell you that I am Eminem’s 22nd cousin, twice removed. That’s if people have the connections correct.

Which brings me to the first of a large number of problems with Geni, and ultimately why I don’t use it except to find these connections. The first is that there’s lots of bad and speculative information there. If I want to draw up my own family tree based on a family legend that grandpa Patrick (not my real grandfather) was Elvis’ illegitimate brother, I can do that. When you do it on Geni, everyone is now affected. And there are lots of people who insist on putting in very bad and incorrect information. Kings who were the sons of giants in mythology, for instance. I am not the 44th great grandson (it says 50th great grandson now) of Jesus Christ. But since a gnostic gospel says Christ fathered so-and-so, and there’s a large contingent of biblical and mythological literalists on Geni, there’s no changing it.

The second big problem is with data entry. There’s lots of events in a person’s life that genealogists care about and want to record. My great grandfather Johan Oman came to the U.S. in 1909. There’s no good way to record immigration in Geni. Birth, death, baptism, marriage and burial (and their locations) are the pieces of data that Geni records well. As for relationships, it records parent-child and husband-wife relationships. Geni cannot record adoptions.

A third major fail is with recording sources. Ancestry.com is the king of handling sources for genealogy. Geni lets a user upload documents and associate which facts are documented in each. But the user interface is clunky and weird and it’s difficult to share sources.

The fourth major lack is with data portability. I can only import data the first time I sign up. Afterward, it has to be entered manually. The export options are awful. Export of data is fairly complete. But Geni limits the set of profiles I can export. I can do ancestors, descendants, blood relatives, and forest. There’s no option to export data for all people I’ve entered. If I enter the wife of a second cousin, that person is not a blood relative, ancestor, descendant or even a blood relative. I can’t export it easily. The forest option allows this, but that exports everyone I’m connected to, and that’s a 50 Mb file containing 100,000 people that is too large for most genealogy programs. And you have to pay for that export too.

I realized most of this in June, but I’d already entered a fair amount of information. I was locked in to some degree. But problems #2 and #4 got to be annoying enough that in August I decided I would make something else my primary genealogy data storage. Geni is still useful for connecting up with other trees. Very very useful. But not a good base to store everything I want to know.

Clara Weiss Troeller

Figuring out that Anton Weiss is my great great grandfather opened up a lot more of the family tree quickly. The 1880 Census lists a number of children of Anton and Clara Weiss, and that’s where I started from:

1880 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss family
1880 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss family

Then I checked the 1860 and 1870 census records and also found Anton and Clara Weiss:

1860 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss
1860 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss
1870 United States Federal Census for Anton Weiss
1870 United States Federal Census for Anton Weiss

The listed children in 1880 were: Cecilia (~1859), Franz (~1862), Joseph (~1866), Mary (~1869), Clara (~1871), and Agnes (~1878).

The listed children in 1860 were: Robert (~1857) and Celia (~1858). I’d previously found the 1860 record, but didn’t do anything with it because I didn’t know if Anton Weiss was the correct father for Joseph. Celia is certainly Cecilia. Over the course of the decades, the U.S. Census has been taken on different dates: 1 Jan, 1 Apr, 15 Apr, and 1 Jun (at least). But both the 1860 and 1870 censuses were taken officially as of 1 Jun, so the difference in approximate birth dates is just someone getting it wrong, either the census taker, or whoever in the Weiss household the worker talked with.

The 1870 census record was harder to find. In the 1870 Census, the two are listed as Antony and Clarra Weist. All of these census records are found on Ancestry.com, where people have transcribed and indexed them. The Ancestry.com name matching algorithm is pretty good, but for some reason it never matched Anton Weiss with Antony Weist. Wise and Weise match, but the t messed up the soundex type search. At this point, I don’t remember what I put in that finally pulled up the name, or if I went through the Cassville records page by page. For a small place like Cassville, reading every page is fairly easy. There are 23 pages for Cassville in 1860, and 34 in 1870. Reading page by page would be much more laborious for a place like Los Angeles.

The children listed in 1870 were: Robert (~1857), Cecelia (~1858), Frank (~1860), Theadore (~1861), Joseph (~1863) and Mary (~1869).

Here, the birth years for Joseph and Frank really don’t match up, and Theodore’s doesn’t match with other information I have either.

It’s usually easiest to track the male children, because they don’t change their names when they get married, like women overwhelmingly did. However, I had a really good clue for Clara Weiss, so I started tracking her first.

1900 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss
1900 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss

In the clip of the 1900 Federal Census record for Anton Weiss, I included the house and family number column. Some of the censuses include the street address, but this is a different number. Each census taker basically counted off families and dwellings. Sometimes several families would live in the same house. Anton and Clara had the 44th house counted in Cassville, and were the 45th family. Everyone in the same family number is related. Related being in quotes because sometimes servants were counted as their own family, and sometimes not. The last person listed is a Loueller, Clara, listed as a daughter born in March 1871. So it looks like Clara married someone named Loueller!

There’s possibly an interesting story behind that. Why was Clara at her parent’s house in 1900? Was she just visiting? Were she and her husband estranged for a period? Was she stashed at her parents’ for expediency while the husband was setting up a new household or conducting business? I still don’t know.

Searching for women named Weiss who got married in Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Genealogy Index brought up 2 promising hits: Clara Weiss married in Grant County in May 1896, and Clarissa S. Weiss married in April 1894 in Monroe County. I checked Grant County first, because that’s where Cassville is. That Clara Weiss looks to have married a Richard Gross. I’m not 100% certain of that because I haven’t purchased the original record, but his is the only male name that came up as getting married on the same day. It would have to be a pretty weird set of circumstances to marry someone in 1893, marry someone else in 1896, and carry the first person’s surname again in 1900. Clarissa Weiss getting married 4 Apr 1894 seemed like a better possibility, but the possibly spouse search turned up no hits.

Then I looked at the 1900 Census image again, and thought perhaps the name was not transcribed correctly. That could possibly be a Tr and not an L. Plugging in Clara Troeller brought up all sorts of hits, including another one for 1900 in Larrabee, Iowa married to a Conrad Troeller! Thank god for double counting. As it is, a number of people in the Troeller family had already entered her into their family trees, some with the Weiss last name. None of them had connected her to Anton Weiss, but it was enough for me to match them.

Going back to the Wisconsin Genealogy Index, Conrad Troeller does indeed appear, and married someone on 4 Apr 1894. But his marriage is listed in Grant County rather than Monroe County, which confused the possible spouse search. I haven’t yet ordered the original record for that, but I assume it’s an indexing error.

Other states they’ve lived in kept better records and more of them are public, so I as able to find a lot. Helpfully, someone in San Bernardino County, California cataloged a lot of head stones and put the list online, and one of them had her name. Upland California seemed like a long way away, but the other information matched.

So here’s the story as best as I can piece it together from the genealogy records: Clarissa Sophia Weiss was born on 4 Mar 1871 in Cassville, Wisconsin. She married Conrad Troeller from Dodge County, Wisconsin on 4 April 1894 in Cassville, Wisconsin. The Troellers moved to Brule County, South Dakota either with or shortly after her brother Frank (more on him later), where she had a son Harold in 1896. By 1898, Conrad and Clara had moved to Larrabee, Iowa where Conrad worked as a hardware dealer and they had son Paul in 1898 and daughter Agnes in 1903. By 1907, they’d moved to the Los Angeles area, where daughter Margaret was born in that year. But Clara is not to be found in the 1910 census; she died a couple of months before the census on 24 Feb 1910.

What happened after she died explained why they moved to California in the first place, and provided me with a clue as to where other members of my family were. And I have more sources than I did last month too. But that will have to wait for another entry.

Joseph Weiss marries Frankie Ryan

So why post about the Weiss family yesterday? It’s because I found new information. A lot of new information about my genealogy. The following is what I knew about my great grandfather Joseph Weiss yesterday morning:

Joseph P. Weiss Descendancy Chart
Joseph P. Weiss Descendancy Chart

From the memory book Aunts Jane and Sue gave me, I knew that Joe Weiss married Frances Ryan and had six children: Marie, Joe Jr., Helen, Glenn, Arch, and Babe. Other than my grandfather Arch, I didn’t have any other information when I started. From Ancestry.com I was able to find them in the census records for 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. That gave me more information, such as approximate birth dates.

Particularly, I didn’t know who Joseph’s parents were. There were three Joseph Weisses born in Wisconsin about the same time. And I knew Joe had a brother named Theodore. He didn’t show up on the census records for any of the three Joe Weisses I found. Ryan was also a pretty common name. I had an idea which was the correct Ryan family, but didn’t have enough to feel comfortable. So I was kind of stumped.

Ancestry.com also had a database record that showed Joseph Weiss marrying a Frankie Ryan in 1891. That had to be my great grandfather, but Ancestry had only the names, date and location. They did not have the original record, which could have given me more information and confirmed that it was actually my great grandfather.

A quick note about sources. From what I can tell, genealogists classify their sources into three basic strata: primary, secondary, and everything else. Primary is something that is recorded at or near the time of the event, or is related by someone who was there. Secondary is something that is based off a primary source, such as a history book. Then there’s the rest, which could be family legends, or family trees that other people put on the internet, etc. Generally primary sources are the most reliable. And what’s primary or secondary isn’t always clear. For instance, the information on my grandfather’s death certificate is a mix. The death information is primary, but the birth information is based on what I told the funeral director, which he submitted to the health department.

The database that had the marriage information is no better than secondary. Information could have been transcribed incorrectly. This is what Ancestry had to say about the provenance of the data:

Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp.. Wisconsin Marriages, 1835-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000. Original data: See Description for original data sources listed by county.

Original data: Grant County, Wisconsin Marriages, 1835-1890. County court records located at Lancaster, WI or FHL #1266662 and 1266982-1266988.

That doesn’t tell me a lot. I figured at some point I would stop by the county courthouse or state records division on a trip there and look up the microfilm myself.

Last month, I was perusing the web site for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. They have a genealogy database, which is based off the same microfilm records that Liahona Research used. In fact, they are more complete than what was sold to Ancestry.com. But not only that, you could easily order a copy of the original microfilm page for each record for only $15. They had the record listed for the Joseph Weiss/Frankie Ryan marriage. So I ordered it.

The record came yesterday.

Marriage Record for Joseph Weiss and Frankie Ryan
Marriage Record for Joseph Weiss and Frankie Ryan

Pay dirt!

This lists Joe Weiss’ father as Anton Weiss, which is the the family I’d considered the most likely before. Now I can list his parents as Anton and Clara and add a number of siblings from the 1880 census record to what I know. One mystery is where is Theodore in the 1880 census? Him not being there is why I didn’t add the Anton Weiss family to my known information. Boarding school is unlikely, but possible. Perhaps he moved out young to work on his own or for a local farmer. In addition to the census information, the marriage record lists his mother Clara’s maiden name as Voight. Taking on the husband’s name makes finding wives’ birth families through census records a pain in the ass. Since both Anton and Clara are from Germany (I cut off that part of the census record below), I will have names as starting points when I eventually dig into German genealogy information.

1880 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss family
1880 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss family

Frankie Ryan’s father is listed as William Ryan, and that was also the most likely of my choices for the Ryan family. What had kept me from concluding this was the case before was that in later censuses, Francis Weiss’ father is listed as having been born in Canada, but the W. D. Ryan listed in the 1880 census is listed as having been born in Wisconsin. The marriage record has Laura Ryan listed as a witness, and the William Dennis Ryan family in the 1880 census had a Laura as a child. Suspicions there are confirmed, and I can add additional information from the 1880 census record for this family as well.

1880 United States Federal Census Record for William Ryan family
1880 United States Federal Census Record for William Ryan family

Since the Ryan family is of Irish descent, I can add Irish to the list of nationalities that make up my mutt blood.

There’s some curious things about the William Ryan family in that census, but that will have to wait for another post.

Kicking off the Weiss side

My father, George Robert Weiss, died in 1972, when I was 2 years old and my brother Dan was yet to be born. For years, I believed that he’d died of lung cancer. It’s probably the biggest contributing motivation to me never wanting to start smoking. I have no memories of him. My first recollections are from 1974 or early 1975 at the house in which we lived on Phinney Ridge.

Unlike the Hathaway side, information on the Weiss side of the family was a little harder to come by. First is that my father died and mom remarried. The second is that Grandpa Weiss divorced in the mid 1960s and we had no contact with my grandmother. I suppose that my aunts and possibly even my grandfather would have told me anything I wanted to know, but I was too young to know I’d ever be interested.

The key about all this is that mom never really talked about the Weisses all that much. Daddy George was just a name growing up. We had various get togethers with my aunts and cousins, but my only contact with more extended Weiss family was with Steve and his wife Connie. Steve is my dad’s cousin who moved to Portland from the ancestral family home in Wisconsin.

Weiss Family Memory Book
Weiss Family Memory Book

About 6 years ago, my two Weiss aunts put together a book of information about the Weiss family. My grandmother died in 2001, and I think that spurred them to make this. I got my copy around Christmas 2004. It’s mostly a photo book with some information. There’s a photo of my great great grandparents, the Sorensons. There’s a few of my great grandparents, the Solles. There’s one of my great grandmother Weiss. Lots of photos of my grandfather, many of them taken in uniform. He was a navy enlistee in the 1920s and became an officer in the 1930s through World War II. Then lots of photos of my dad and his siblings, and their respective husbands and kids, and a sprinkling of Connie and Steve’s family.

It’s main purpose was memories for us. It has the only photos I possess of anyone in the Weiss family taken before I was born. But Aunt Jane and Aunt Sue did put some genealogical information in it too. There’s a copy of my great grandparents’ marriage certificate. There’s a list of my grandfather’s siblings. And there’s a couple of death certificates in the back.

The biggest surprise for me was that my father did not die of lung cancer like I believed. I’m sure he had cancer in his lungs and that was the proximate cause. The death certificate lists testicular cancer as the cause of death. And here I was avoiding smoking because I thought I was especially prone to lung cancer. I also found out that part of my family was Danish (the Sorensons), and part was French (the Solles). I knew the Weisses were German, because it’s a German name.

A couple of years ago, my great aunt Babe turned 100. This was right in the middle of the last months of mom’s life, so I wasn’t able to make her birthday party in Madison. I wish I could have. This year when I went to Wiscon in May, I paid a visit to her after the conference. She’s 102 now, and lives in the house where she was born (or moved to shortly afterward). That house will have to be torn down after she dies. It’s functional, but beyond repair or renovation. As of this summer, she didn’t even have 24 hour care. Just caregivers there during daylight hours. Her Alzheimer’s is pretty bad though. She didn’t remember me or my dad. She talked about Arch (my grandfather) some. But we had the same conversation about 10 times in the couple hours I was there. After a few minutes, she would start the conversation over where it began because she couldn’t remember what we’d talked about. I’ll stop by again this May around Wiscon again. She isn’t in great health, but she’s a tough bird, so I expect she’ll be around still. And hopefully she’ll have a little more lucid of a weekend. Armed with a few facts, I will attempt to get her to talk about old times.

I’ll write some more about the informational details shortly, but that’s the introduction.

Genealogy starting point number 1

I have a few starting points for my genealogy. This isn’t actually the first starting point, but it’s the first I’m going to write about.

Last year, Gram and Gramps handed a package of papers to me. They wanted to make copies or scan them into the computer. It was a bunch of stuff related to Gram’s family in Sweden. It’s really a mixed bag. Some of it was Gram’s own notes. Some of it was some pedigree trees and family group sheets for the Nordvalls (her mother’s side of the family). One was a poster sized pedigree tree for the Omans (both her mother and father’s side of the family). They gave me some other stuff later on, but that was the start.

This is one of the Nordvall pedigree trees. The other trees continue people from the top of this one. It’s for Johan Anton Nordvall, who was Gram’s uncle. I assume this was prepared for one of his kids or grandkids. These sheets are 1960s or 1970s era photocopies. The paper clip holding them was rusted even. The form is in Swedish, which is not surprising. Gram’s family is from Piteå, in northern Sweden.

The earliest in time these sheets go is around 1460, with Oluff Birkarl. That actually predates the history I have on the Hathaway side of my family, which I already knew about and which goes back to the late 1500s.

But here’s the rub, it may not be correct. How many people claim to be part Indian these days? Many of them aren’t making it up, even if it’s not true. It’s what their parents told them and their grandparents told their parents. Oral history has a way of getting munged. The same could easily be true for all this information, despite the precision of the dates.

In fact, one of these sheets has information I know is incorrect.

This portion of the tree, 10 generations back from me, has Elsa Jonsdotter-Rehn married to Hans Hansson and having a child named Johan Jönsson.

A quick history of Swedish names. Until the 1800s, most Swedes did not have a family surname. A surname in Sweden was a version of your father’s name. If you were the son of Erik, your last name was Eriksson. If you were the daughter of Lars, your last name was Larsdotter. Surnames did not pass multiple generations.

Like English, old Swedish spellings were flexible. I’ve seen Olof spelled multiple different ways. But while spellings were flexible, Johan Jönsson is probably not likely the son of Hans Hansson. Later sources I’ve found indicate that Johan Jönsson was the son of Elsa Jonsdotter Rehn and Jöns Tomasson. The rest of the tree could have similar errors.

In this case, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a case of family legend passed down badly. Rather, it’s probably a problem with someone trying to match children with parents in the records. With the Swedish naming system, there could be a lot of people with the same name, and Hans looked close enough. Or it was a transcription error. When genealogy is done by hand, it can run into many problems similar to family stories getting changed as they pass down.

But I didn’t know all this at the time. Nevertheless, it was a good starting point for what I was doing.