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 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. 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 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.