I started working on my family history in 2010 at the request of my grandparents. I poked around for a while at my father’s side of the family. No one alive knew about our history before my great grandfather, Joseph Weiss. His father, Anton Weiss, died in 1910, and his mother, Clara Voigt, died in 1915. She had moved to California to reside with her children there.
That was family that none of us knew about any more.
I researched Anton and then began working on his descendants. Through that work and a little bit of serendipity, I got in contact with Anne Falconer. She is a great grandchild of Anton and Clara. Because Clara had gone to live with the California children, Anne had her photo album.
After emailing a few times, Anne very kindly made copies of the photos and mailed them to me. She even sent a 150 year old print of a photo of Joseph Weiss as a very young boy. The photos she sent were the first visual depiction of many of my family that I’d ever seen. The following was taken at Anton and Clara’s 50th wedding anniversary.
I was browsing Find A Grave this morning and came across a memorial for Anne. She died a year ago. I never met her, but she was a help and inspiration for me early on in this pastime.
I’ve found a couple of intriguing entries in the indexes to the land records of Grant County. Both of these clipped images are from the grantee index. The first name is the person who purchased property. The second is the person who sold it:
The first is a sale from 25 Feb 1863 from Peter Weiss to Anton Weiss, my second great grandfather. The second is a sale from 14 Jun 1864 from Paul Weiss to Anton Weiss.
What do you think the chances are that these men are related to Anton? I’ve no idea actually, but it’s the only connection I’ve found between Anton and any other person named Weiss, save for the names of his parents in Germany. Are they cousins? Siblings? Completely unrelated? I don’t know. Time to do more research.
There was another item in the map I found yesterday that is of interest to me. On one of the other sheets is a city map of Cassville, where my great great grandfather Anton Weiss operated a hardware store for close to 50 years.
Just as I was able to find Patrick Parker in Glen Haven, Anton Weiss store shows up in this map too:
Here’s what the location looks like today:
I’ve made one visit to Cassville, but at the time I didn’t know the location of the family home.
I think I’ve found the correct passenger manifest which shows my great great grandfather Anton Weiss arriving in America.
Anton applied for a passport in 1886 stating that he emigrated from Bremen on 4 Mar 1852, however he forgot the ship’s name.
On 9 Apr 1852 the Agnes arrived in New York from Bremen with an Anton Weiss aboard. He’s 24 years old, from Prussia, and his occupation is mechanic. That’s doesn’t exactly match what I know about Anton Weiss, but it’s reasonably close. Anton was actually 25, from Bavaria, and worked as a tinsmith in the first references to his occupation in the U.S. Anton turned 25 on 27 Feb 1852. He could easily have been 24 when he first registered with the Bremen emigration bureau.
What clued me in to the manifest is an entry in the United States Germans to America Index, 1850-1897 for Anton Weiss. That lists a 24 year old Bavarian named Anton Weiss, occupation coppersmith, arriving in New York on the Agnes on 9 Apr 1852. I don’t know why this database lists him as Bavarian rather than Prussian or gives his occupation as coppersmith instead of mechanic. This entry matches what I know about Anton Weiss pretty closely.
Coppersmith, tinsmith, and mechanic would have been very similar occupations in the 1850s. That discrepancy doesn’t bother me.
The discrepancy that bothers me is the scanned microfilm image gives his origin as Prussian. Bavaria and Prussia were were not interchangeable countries in 1852. Indeed, several other passengers have their origin listed as Hesse, Hanover, and Germany. So where the Germans to America Index gets Bavaria, I don’t know. Stuff to research!
I have a great great uncle, Frank Weiss, who moved from the family home in Cassville Wisconsin to Pukwana South Dakota. He married Nannie Conaway in 1890, and they had 4 children. Robert died young, and the other three were Marion, Theodore, and Agnes.
I think I just solved some puzzles that in retrospect shouldn’t have been all that difficult to figure out.
The first is that I found a census entry for Nannie Weiss living with Agnes Weiss in Carlsbad, New Mexico in 1920. Nannie and Agnes were also listed in Pukwana in 1920. I found the New Mexico entry several years ago and wondered what that was about. Vacation?
The next part of the mystery is the 1915 South Dakota state census. The only member of the family I could find was Frank Weiss.
I figured Marion being missing was because she was attending the University of Illinois, as she graduated in 1917. And maybe Theodore was off working somewhere. And not finding someone in the records in a place I know they should be is very common. Records are spotty. I got a letter just yesterday from the Social Security Administration saying they had no record of my grandfather’s death, so they could not release information about him to me. Missing records are a common problem. I didn’t think too much of the missing members of the Weiss family.
The last puzzle was Agnes’ obituary. It mentioned that Agnes finished 8th grade in Wisconsin and then moved with the family to New Mexico for a few years. For some reason, I never connected that with the other pieces of information. The obituaries for Nannie and the other children never mentioned anything about New Mexico. In fact, Theodore’s said he lived in Pukwana his entire life save for the time he spent in the military.
It appears now that Nannie moved with the kids who were still at home. In 1915, the county assessor who conducted the census didn’t include them because he knew they didn’t live there. But the US Census in 1920 asks who normally lived in the domicile. And to Frank, Nannie and his children normally lived there, so he included them in his responses. At the same time, Nannie also answered the queries as if she normally lived on her own with Agnes in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
The questions the records don’t answer is why Nannie took the kids and moved out for a time? There’s all sorts of possibilities, from domestic trouble to plans for the whole family to move to New Mexico that fell through. Perhaps the family fell on harder times and Nannie took several teaching positions. And why New Mexico?
The last grandchild of Frank and Nannie died last September. A number of great grandchildren are still alive, but none of them were older than 4 years when Nannie died in 1959. Unless Frank or Nannie wrote it down somewhere, I won’t get a chance to hear the story from someone who heard it directly from one of the participants.
That’s why when I meet distant relatives, I don’t ask them about names and dates. I ask them to tell me stories.
As I’ve been progressing with my genealogy work, I’ve been trying to improve my skills.
The Board for Certification of Genealogists pushes the Genealogical Proof Standard. As a hobbyist, I’m not beholden to this standard, thank god. I don’t particularly care if the distant parts of my tree are rigorously proved or not. At least not at this time. However, I would like to have pretty solid evidence, particularly for the activities of my direct ancestors.
One of the things a genealogist is supposed to do is write a research plan for investigating each claim. I’m experimenting with writing them for the less easy to document claims. I don’t think I’ll bother when researching items like my dad’s death. I have his obituary and his death certificate. But for something like my grandfather’s birth, I decided to write one. He was born on 5 February 1904 in Merrill, Wisconsin. But all the evidence I have for that is secondary and non-contemporaneous. What I do have is all consistent, so I would be highly surprised if original, primary, direct evidence contradicts the indirect and secondary evidence. I am unlikely to find original sources at this point, but there may be suitable derivative.
The basic idea is to list the relevant known information, decide on a hypothesis, list possible sources of additional information, and create a strategy for investigating those sources. I don’t think there are birth certificates for 1904 from Lincoln County, but there are for sure better pieces of evidence than I’ve already collected. For instance, the counties returned lists of births to the state. That list is what’s indexed in the Wisconsin Genealogy Index mentioned in the plan. Print-outs of the microfilm from that return can be purchased. And I can look to see if the local papers mentioned a new Weiss kid in February or March of 1904. Read the plan to see.
I don’t know how well the plans I have written fit with what professionals do. The stuff I have seen on blogs here and there is pretty rudimentary. The one professional plan I’ve seen is an example by Elizabeth Shown Mills, who is the pedantic genealogist’s goddess. It’s involved, but was created for publication as well. She may not be quite as detailed and verbose for simpler research. Anyway, if I have really tricky items, or I want to publish, then perhaps I will make these more involved.
For now, the few claims I’ve tried for this (I’ve got a total of 6) have resulted in me at least thinking of additional places to research, and in building a better task list than I previously had.
Oh yeah, I’m experimenting with a new way of managing tasks too. I couldn’t find any decent tools for managing my genealogy tasks, so I’m doing a bit to roll my own. If anyone has an old copy of Microsoft Project or similar project management tool they’d be willing to sell me, I may use that for this tool. I tried OpenProj and ProjectLibre, which are clones of MS Project, and they are not up to the task. A future post will detail what I’m doing with regard to this.
My great grandfather Joseph Peter Weiss was born on the 4th of July 1866 in Cassville, Wisconsin to Anton Weiss, a hardware dealer, and Anna Clara Voigt. Joseph moved to Merrill Wisconsin as a young man to operate a hardware business with his older brother Robert. In the mid-1890s Robert left Merrill and chased gold rushes across the west, leaving the business to Joe, who continued to operate it until 1908. In that year, he moved to Madison and became a hardware dealer in partnership with another older brother, Theodore, until he retired.
In November 1891, Joe returned to the Cassville area to marry Frankie Ryan in Patch Grove. The husband and wife returned to Merrill to start their family. They had six children: Florence Marie, Joseph William, Helen Catherine, Richard Glenn, George Archibald, and Laura Ann Frances. All were born in the Merrill area, though Frances’ birth came just months before the move to Madison.
In Madison, Joe purchased a house at 740 Jenifer Street, a mere 8 blocks from the Capitol building and 1 block from Lake Monona. He lived there 52 years. He died on the 7th of November 1960 aged 94 years, and was survived by his wife and 5 of his children. His remains buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Madison.
My second great uncle Frank Edward Weiss was born on 30 May 1862 in Cassville, Wisconsin. He was the third child of Anton Weiss and Clara Voigt. Around 1890, Frank married Nannie Conaway from Illinois. The two of them lived in Pukwana, South Dakota, where they had four children, one of whom died very young. Frank operated a hardware business like his father and three brothers. He died on 5 August 1927 and is buried in Community Cemetery outside Pukwana.
I just had the first practical need for the family history information I’ve assembled. The heirs for aunt Babe’s estate are all nieces, nephews, and grand-nephews, since she never had children and outlived all her siblings. The lawyers for the estate needed to know when her siblings died to establish that they are, in fact, dead. None of the living relatives were even alive when Babe’s oldest sibling Joe died in 1931. I just saved the family a bunch of money to research all of that.
Monday I spent most of the day at the Wisconsin Historical Society looking through their microfilmed newspapers. Mostly I was looking for obituaries and a couple of marriage announcements that happened in Cassville and Glen Haven Wisconsin. They have a rather large collection of Wisconsin newspapers, as well as a few newspapers from elsewhere in the country.
The most important item I sought was an obituary for William Dennis Ryan, my 2nd great grandfather. I found his grave last year, so I knew he died in 1919. A brief mention of his death in a Colorado newspaper (where several children lived) narrowed the time frame to some time before the end of August. The nearest town with a newspaper was Bloomington. At the time, the Bloomington Record was a weekly newspaper. So I started at the last issue of August and worked backward. Found it. Which means I now have a date and location for his death.
I also found obituaries for Mary Weiss, Agnes Weiss, Peter Voigt, Gertrude Voigt, Alonzo Teasdale, Clara Teasdale, James Ryan, Elgie Ryan, Archie Ryan, Glenn Ryan and Martha Klaus.
On Wednesday, I stopped in at the Dane County Register of Deeds to pick up some vital records. I requested the death certificates for Alfred and Mae Sorenson as well as their marriage certificate and the birth certificate for their daughter Evelyn. They found the first three, but no birth certificate. I was hoping the death certificates would have information on Evelyn, but they did not. The marriage certificate gave me Mae’s maiden name, Gibbons. Though since she was a ward of the state as a child, I don’t know if that name is that of her parents or was given to her in some other manner.
Theoretically, everyone born in Dane County after 1907 should have a birth record on file. However, a fair number of births never were registered. I know Evelyn was born in 1914, but I don’t know the exact date. In Alfred and Mae’s obituaries, Evelyn was listed as living in California. She was on her 4th marriage at the time, but I haven’t found any reference to her after 1958. With an exact birth date, I could list everyone in the Social Security Death Index with her date of birth whose first name matches, and could figure out which one was her. There’s also an outside chance she’s still alive as well. Sadly none of the Sorensons born in 1914 matched her.
I found out one really nice thing about Dane County: I can actually search through their records myself. All I had to do is fill out a form, give them a piece of ID, and they let me peruse through the records without supervision. The Wisconsin Historical Society has pretty liberal access policies too. No ID needed. Just walk back among the microfilm stacks, pull out what you need, and start looking. The King County vital records office, by comparison, works behind a glass partition.