Seeing Through the Mists: The Leys in Germany


Stiftskirche Kaiserslautern

Stiftskirche in Kaiserslautern dates to the 13th Century. Our Ley ancestors probably arrived in the 1600s, but no word on whether their Evangelical Lutheran and reformed Protestant churches stand today.

Part 1: Will the Real Johann Ley Please Stand Up?

 

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Whispering Across the Campfire. Huzzah!

Despite some yawning gaps, and the intervention of the non-genealogical world, I’ve spilled digital ink across 248 posts and counting to chronicle stories from the families Foutz, Johnson, Ley and Weible — and all the other varied surnames in our history, from Germany to Switzerland, Wales to England.

Today, we trek back to the 1700s to get to know our Ley ancestors in Bavaria just a bit better than the historical record up to this point has allowed.

We’re going back to visit great-grandparents of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth order — a 12-generation span, counting the latest Ley great-grandkids in my sons’ age group.

Up until now, the best sources we’ve had to uncover who these ancestors were, and how they lived, have been two:

  1. A Short History of the Ley Family — a six-page, lavender-covered pamphlet printed by John Doerschuk of Shanesville, Ohio, circa late 1890s, probably at the behest of my third-great-grandfather Augustus Ley, since it documents his parents’ 60 years of happy marriage, and they had died not long after that milestone.
  2. The Carl Frederick Ley Family — an extensive tome researched and published by Doris Eileen Ley Hill, in 1992. Doris graciously shared a copy with me a few years into my own genealogy foraging, as well as a nice old print of my fourth-great-grandparents, Charles and Susan Ley, a scan of which now hangs in my dining room.

Doris is a descendant of two Bavarian Leys. Charles and Susan’s daughter, Minnie Ley, married her cousin, Carl, the German-born son of Charles’s brother Friedrich Kristian Ley. Carl is Doris’s great-grandfather, and the husband of my fourth-great-aunt (as well as a cousin a few calculations removed from what I’m willing to figure out at the moment). So there you are. Family.

My credo since beginning this genealogy quest some 12 years ago has been to do only a little more than what I can burrow into via electronic sleuthing — full-contact genealogy quests to graveyards and hometowns notwithstanding — so I can only imagine the lengths Doris had to go to, 30 years ago: writing (via old-fashioned stamps and envelopes) to record-keepers in Germany, deciphering scribbles in family bibles, tweaking the misfiring neurons of well-meaning relatives during in-person interviews.

Without her record, there would have been no way to separate the Leys and Lays and Leÿs from old German church records (before there even was a proper Germany).

But with the benefit of Doris’s sleuthing, I’ve been able to connect the dots even further back, squinting at the flourishes in digital script this time, and correct a bit of the record as we — and our well-meaning ancestors — understood it.

Let’s begin as A Short of History of the Ley Family began — and I’ll share both that version and Doris’s, and alternately correct and expand to reveal the new details.

interior-of-a-tailor-s-shop-quiringh-van-brekelenkam

Interior of a tailor’s shop, c. 1653 by Dutch painter Quiringh van Brekelenkam. The Leys came to Germany from the Netherlands by the late 1600s, and our earliest ancestors on record were cloth manufacturers and master tailors. Getting in the mood yet?

Master Tailors in Kaiserslautern

The “Short History…” begins:

According to trusty tradition the family LEY comes from the Netherlands.

1. The first Ley came from thence to Keiserslautern, in the Rhine Palatinate, and erected at this place and carried on a cloth manufactory. his name, birthday, etc. are unknown.

Doris begins in the same way, with:

  1. The first LEY we know about, according to family tradition, came from the Netherlands, and settled in Keiserslautern, in the Rhine Palatinate, where he erected and carried on a cloth manufactory. His name, birthday, etc.  are unknown.

I can now correct the record to reveal the name of that ancestor — Johann Berthold Laÿ. And you can keep the umlaut and L-a-y spelling, too, as the earliest church documents confirm them.

Johann (or John, today) appears in a 1738 marriage record for his son, Johann Friedrich Lay, and Maria Magdalena Didi, in the Evangelische (evangelical) Kirche (church), Kaiserslautern, as well as the bride’s father, Heinrich Didi.

Birthday “and etc.” are still unknown. But let’s connect how we get to my eighth-great-grandfather (!), shall we?

The Ley history continues with:

2. He had but one son, who conducted at the same place a large rural estate. He was highly esteemed and held for many years the office of mayor of the city. his name, birthday, etc. are also unknown.

Doris broke some ground here, and she supplied us with names of my seventh-great-grandparents, as well as a bit more detail on occupation:

2. His son, JOHANN FRIEDRICH LEY, was a master tailor, married MARIA MAGDALENA DIDI. They had a son, also named JOHANN FRIEDRICH LEY.

The historical record checks all the boxes when it comes to Johann Friedrich marrying Maria Magdalena Didi. Both soon appear on their son’s birth record in the same church, about a year later.

The date of their wedding? Aug. 19, 1738. It’s recorded not only in the Reformed Church’s book in Kaiserslautern, which helpfully lists Johann Berthold Lay as Johann Friedrich’s father, and Heinrich Didi as Maria’s, but also in a retrospective dated July 17 1757, which records a speech given by Johann Friedrich marking 46 years since the church’s foundation stone was laid.

Where did I get such wonderful facts? While I’d love to claim they came from an exhaustive trip to the former Palatinate, after hours and days winding along roads that, from the pictures, resemble my hometown Tuscarawas County a great deal, in the digital age what you mostly need is the dough for an Ancestry World-level membership, and the exhaustive patience to search and comb and hunt and cross-check and scroll through the “kirchenbuch” (church book) records of the day.

In the 1970s The Genealogical Society of Salt Lake City sent teams to caches like the Stadtsarchiv (state archives) at Kaiserslautern to microfiche all the rolls of church records they could. Good news? There’s a lot of them. No fewer than a dozen captured collections numbering in the several hundreds of pages that document our Ley ancestors and in-laws in several old Bavarian communities within 30 or so miles of Kaiserslautern. The bad news? Each collection seems to slice and dice the old records from several churches in turn, so you’ll have a hundred pages from the Lutheran Church followed by 50 from the reformed church, followed by scores more from the Catholic church, and so on.

All in tiny, ornate, at times whispering script from the 17th and 18th centuries. Oh, also thoroughly auf Deutsch. An effort that, when it yields up that elusive nugget of info, is worth the hours hunched in 21st-century chairs, bathed in laptop light. And when it doesn’t? A pox on 800-slide microfiche! But, I digress.

The 1757 speech by Johann Friedrich the elder is a curious entry, which seemed to throw off the Mormon transcribers, who unhelpfully recorded both Johann Friedrich and Maria Magdalena as died and buried on Aug. 19, 1738, since for some reason the church book basically repeats the wedding info in the record of the speech 20 years later. I’m not sure why the 1757 date in the entry was ignored when the decision was made to kill off Johann and Maria on their wedding day, but thus is the way of tyrants and itinerant record transcribers.

It doesn’t help the squinting Mormons, perhaps, that that later entry even mentions the fact that the speaker, Johann Heinrich, had married Maria Magdalena there in 1738, but also goes on to mention their fathers again, and their fathers’ occupations — Johann Berthold as “schneidermeister zu neustadt” (master tailor to Neustadt, about 28 miles southeast of Kaiserslautern — and a place I should hunt next), and Heinrich Didi as “küfer und burger,” which gets a little more transparent when it is helpfully repeated in a different way in the birth record of Johann Heinrich the younger about a year later.

Want to squint at 18th-century German records? SURE YA DO! Find them here:

But let’s move on to the record of my sixth-great-grandfather’s birth, which ties all three generations together, handily, and corrects a misconception in the old Ley history and Doris’s record.

 

Ley John Frederick Birth 1739 Kaiserslautern

This record, which I first discovered at FamilySearch.org, put the right birth parents and the right birth date with the ancestor recorded in the Ley Family History and Doris Hill’s book.

Choosing the right John Ley; Finding a Sister

From the Ley history:

3. To him a son John Frederick was born May 6th, 1738.

He studied theology and became a minister of the gospel at Imsbach, county Falkenstein, Rhine Palatinate.

He was married to Maria Philippina Dorothea Lauckhardt, Nov. 25, 1764, and in the following year, 1765, he was installed as minister of the gospel in St. Alban, succeeding his father-in-law, the Rev, Geo. William Lauckhardt.

Doris adds even more to the record:

This JOHANN FRIEDRICH was born May 6th, 1738. He studied theology and became a minister of the gospel Aug. 20, 1759-1763 in Jakobsweiler; Oct. 3, 1763-65 in Imsbach, county Falkenstein, Rhine Palatinate; and Mar. 13, 1765-1788 St. Alban, where he died Apr. 1, 1788.

Johann was married to MARIA PHILIPPINA DOROTHEA LAUCKHARDT, on Nov. 25, 1764. …

 

The big issue? That birthday is wrong. And when you try to apply it beyond the printed record of 1897, or 1992, it links up to completely different ancestors in the records databases than the ones chronicled in our family histories.

But the birth date is wrong in an increasingly interesting way. Let me explain.

The date connects to a Johann ADAM Lay, whose father is Johann Wilhelm Lay, and mother Anna Barbara, maiden name Braun. So: wrong Lays entirely, but Johann Wilhelm is also listed as a master tailor on this and his other children’s birth records. And his father-in-law, Johann Adam Braun, is listed as a master tailor as well.

In addition, there’s another Lay, Johann Ulrich Lay, whose occupation is variously listed as master baker, and then later, tailor, in these same church records.

I’m thinking we might not only have separated Johann Adam from our ancestor, Johann Friedrich, with the proper birth date, but we *may* have found his cousins and uncles, brothers in the tailor trade with Johann Friedrich Lay, the elder. Which *may*, also, trace back to Johann Berthold Lay as the mysterious first ancestor from Netherland to come to Kaiserslautern — Neustadt, according to the records — and run a cloth manufactory. (Though we have a lot of Lays to link up.)

So, how did we get there?

We know that Johann Friedrich Lay (the elder) and Maria Magdalena Didi were married Aug. 19, 1738. So having a son born 4 months before that is probably not likely. Plus, the names on that record do not match theirs, or their son’s, for that matter. Sorry, Johann Adam.

The record of Johann Friedrich being born on July 10, 1739, and being baptized July 12, makes a lot more sense. And lists the correct parents — Johan Friedrich, master taylor, and mom Maria Magdalena Didi — and paternal grandparents Johann Heinrich Didi and Anna Sybilla (Schlaffers).

These correct dates and names are cited in no fewer than four old German church records. Check them out:

  • Johan Friedrich’s birth record, from the Evangelische-Reformierte Kirche, Kaiserslautern, listing baptism date as well as parents, and materal grandparents
  • Another matching birth record for Johan Friedrich, from Kaiserslautern u Schaffer, listing baptism date as well as parents, and maternal grandparents
  • An index to the Evangelische-Reformierte Kirche’s Taufen und Heiraten (birth and marriage) records, listing Johann Adam a couple rows up from Johann Friedrich, with their respective birthdates, and also, the marriage date of Johann Friedrich the elder on a separate line — check out all the Lays in Kaiserslautern’s parish
  • The individual record for Johann Adam Lay — NOT matching our Lay’s parents and grandfathers, or a feasible birthdate if his parents were married Aug. 19, 1738
  • Page from the same index on seven-great-grandmother Maria Magdalena Didi, listing her marriage date; her birth record is in another church’s kirchenbuch
  • Another Lay cousin? — Johann Wilhelm Lay’s birth record from 1732; his father, Johann Wilhelm the elder, appears variously as master baker and master tailor in birth records for his other children

About the time I’d untangled Johann Adam from Johann Friedrich the younger, I discovered another birth record connected to Johann Friedrich Lay and Maria Magdalena Didi. This time, to a daughter, Maria Magdalena, born Sept. 21, 1741, and baptized Sept. 24.

She was about 8 pages away in the church record from her brother, my sixth-great-grandfather Johann Friedrich Lay (the younger). And all seems very promising.

Except: the names in the maternal grandparents column we’ve placed such stock on earlier in our research don’t quite match up with her older brother’s listings. It could be I’m mistaking a capital-letter occupation with where “Didi” was on the other record. Or not quite deciphering the scribbling. Would that I could find the same “clean” record I did for Johann Friedrich (the younger) that laid everything out as a match for his other, messier record in this same kirchenbuch. Alas, that record cuts off in 1740, and I’ve had my fill, for now, of trying to link up the various microfiche records to find the next installment for their church.

But not bad sleuthing, right, as far as that goes? We’ve managed to rewrite the first couple graphs of our Lay/Ley family history in Bavaria:

The first Ley we know about, according to family tradition, came from the Netherlands, and settled in Kaiserslautern, in the Rhine Palatinate, where he erected and carried on a cloth manufactory. His name was Johann Berthold Lay, and records indicate he resided in Neustadt.

His son, Johann Friedrich Lay, was a master tailor. On Aug. 19, 1738, in Kaiserslautern, he married Maria Magdalena Didi. Maria was born Sept. 10, 1708 to Johann Heinrich Didi and Anna Sybilla Schlaffers, according to the Evangelische Reformierte church in Kaiserslautern. They had a son, also named Johann Friedrich Lay, and possibly a daughter, Maria Magdalena, born Sept. 21, 1741 in Kaiserslautern.

This Johann Friedrich was born July 10, 1739 in Kaiserslautern. He studied theology and became a minister of the gospel Aug. 20, 1759-1763 in Jakobsweiler; Oct. 3, 1763-65 in Imsbach, county Falkenstein, Rhine Palatinate; and Mar. 13, 1765-1788 St. Alban, where he died Apr. 1, 1789, according to the kirchenbuch at the parish he led.

More on Johann the younger and his wife, Maria Philippina Dorothea Lauckhardt, when we continue with Part 2 on our Ley ancestors in Bavaria.

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What are the ‘holy grails’ of Genealogy?


Pfouts Michael Conotton winter view wide

Every spring, the flowering shrub planted — or having taken root — at Michael Pfouts’s gravesite swallows his memorial stone, and each autumn, it shrivels to reveal the stone again. Picture from March 2011. This was one of my most unique genealogy finds — I first visited the cemetery south of Bowerston, Ohio, in Spring and couldn’t find Michael’s stone due to the flowering plant. When I came back at the tail end of winter, there was the resting place of our oldest Foutz ancestor, first to come to the United States from Germany.

 

What (Still) Captivates Me About Genealogy

Howdy, all, after a good long while. And happy 2020.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Whispering Across the Campfire. And though a kind of yawning chasm has tended to open up between my posts, especially of late, this year I’ve resolved to open up the archives and spill what contents I’ve accumulated, maybe dig into a new mystery or two.

And resume, today, with a kind of retrospective question. What (still) captivates me about genealogy, anyway?

I got to thinking about this while considering how much family history research has changed since I came off of a book tour in summer 2008 and was challenged to see how many more ancestors I could add to a tree at Geni.com than my wife’s cousin, Carl. That we could even do that online, back then, tapping into my journalistic research skills and tenacity to get the details just right, probably was what originally sucked me in.

But from the first school assignments early in elementary school, there was something innately satisfying to me about filling in every branch I could on the family tree. I’d lost sight of that challenge, probably like a lot of people who fill out the names and file them away in a book or a binder. So much of the genealogy I was exposed to between the ages of, say, 10, and that all-nighter at age 32, was dry, ponderous. Names and dates, dates and names. Typically spelled incorrectly. Perpetually off by a digit or two, and nearly always colored by memory’s romantic fallacy.

There was something unspeakably tyrannical in the form and structure of genealogy as practiced in self-published family tomes. Plodding in their lines of detail. And hypocritical in their tendency to get whole blocks of it wrong. With the chief crime of being inescapably boring.

But by summer 2008 my links with my family’s past were loosening. My grandpa Ley passed away that July, a short year and half after Grandma the previous January. My parents had moved away from the county in Ohio where 200 years of family, on both sides, had laid roots. And I had been seven years gone from the state myself, to Chicago, with two new grapes on the family vine to my credit.

It began to sink in that some scenes would never be replayed. We’d never again live those seemingly endless times around the big table in the Ley kitchen, Grandpa reeling off stories, often tales that ended with both he and Grandma singing. What would become of all the old albums, the slides, the portraits on the piano, packed away or shuttled off to charity (or the dump) like their coats in the hall closet, the things they’d carried home from the war, or work; the sheaves of letters tucked onto a shelf? How would we remember? Where would we find home?

By the glow of our big desktop monitor in the spare bedroom, I began to find a new answer. And get hooked by it.

The aim, at the beginning, was simple, a game: what could I dig up, how far back could I go, simply by taking the little anecdotal pieces I’d always heard from Mom, and Dad, and my grandparents, and plugging them into search engines, guided by my own curiosity and that tenacious skepticism honed in my short professional career to that point in Ohio and Illinois newsrooms. What stories could I uncover?

The databases back then were barely starting to come online. I wouldn’t use Ancestry.com for another couple years. Instead, I relied on the reporter’s knack of stitching together several sources. And questing unblinkingly till I’d gotten double, triple, quadruple verification.

Of course, working around the inevitable roadblocks would eventually require me getting out of the office chair and trekking cross country to local libraries, connecting with relatives old and newly discovered via email, and then in-person. Tromping around cemeteries to see with my own eyes evidence of ancestors before. That only sunk the hooks in deeper. You might say, blood deep.

Genealogy has always been about blood: the family connection we can’t escape, sometimes compounded by the non-blood families we make for ourselves. And these days, some might say the “holy grail” of genealogy is putting aside all that paper research and gumshoeing and spitting into a tube, sealing it up, and mailing it off to the Mormons for verification in their ever-expanding database of lives lived, down to the DNA. And I can certainly understand how for some people, those who have not inherited the trove of documents, or been bound by inertia to a patch of geography for generations, or whose own histories have wound a mysterious path, just how magical  that development is: to connect, to reveal, to finally know.

So I’m acknowledging just how huge an accomplishment that database is. But it just doesn’t get my socks going up and down. It’s a trick of chemistry that, to me, makes blood, somehow, impersonal.

So what gets me going about genealogy? The excitement has been in personally connecting the dots — not leaving it up to a lab. Making my own discoveries — at times backtracking a node or two, reversing course, correcting the path. Reasonably assured of my DNA connection to the thousands of names I’ve already jotted in my electronic tree, I’ve skipped the saliva-gram altogether, and found my own grails to pursue.

In ascending order of fulfillment to the family history researcher — this one, anyway — here are six:

 

J.J. Zeigler graveston Ruslin Hills Cemetery

Grave marker of Great-Great Grandfather J. J. Zeigler in Ruslin Hills cemetery near Dover, Ohio. One of my early genealogy mistakes was in pulling the wrong death date for J.J. from online records, which usually are far more reliable than family memory. But our distant cousins had the correct records here — and pointed me to the rock solid proof.

6. Getting the main milestones right

Early on I vowed this blog would be devoted to family stories, instead of procedurals on how to do genealogy. But if I had to sum up my early approach, before I unearthed mysteries that relied on more advanced techniques, it’s this:

  1. Start with names, then track down, for each…
  2. … birth date and place
  3. … marriage date and place
  4. … date of death and burial place.

This formula gets repeated for every new name you discover: spouses, children, parents, siblings.

Why is it the most important course of work you can follow? Because you’re going to get those names from parents, and grandparents, or talkative uncles. All of them well-meaning — we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt — but few, if any of them, in command of all the details that are going to help you go beyond a generation or two and pluck your actual relatives’ lives from the growing sea of data out there. Not to mention the incorrect data caused by the world of well-meaning researchers — we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt — who were not as deliberate as careful little YOU.

There’s also the aggravating phenomenon, in this digital age, of incorrect transcriptions of the actual, original record. Think about how this happens. Well-meaning volunteers — we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt — who spend days of their own accord squinting at microfiche and yellowing newspapers and crumbling old volumes at the courthouse, and then typing — perhaps badly — what they perceive to be the correct spellings of your family’s series of tongue-twisting surnames and given names.

You want to be armed with the best facts when you wade into that well-meaning muck, believe me.

So I follow the old journalist’s adage, learned, oh, by the fourth week I was on that first job out of college, taught to me by my faithful editor, Eilene Guy, at the Sandusky Register: “If your mother says she loves you: CHECK IT OUT.

How do we arm ourselves against a world of sloppy data? Cross-referencing. And cross-referencing again.

Start with the names, and even dates, in a family history album. Or that are given to you by your mother, over the phone. (CHECK THEM OUT.)

Look up censuses online. There are other sources besides paying to dive into Ancestry.com right away. (And you will want to check every automatic connection trees like that make for you.) FamilySearch.org has grown into a more or less comprehensive one. And it’s free.

In the census you can peg your ancestors’ birth years plus or minus a few years by what the census taker took down. And you can cross-reference that info in 10-year snapshots. They WILL differ.

What you’re after, next, is a birth record. One that records names of parents is even better. (More names to check out!) You can cross-reference that with baptismal records, which may or may not record both the birth date and the baptism date, usually a few days after your node on the family tree sprouted into existence.

Probably the next time your ancestor enters the public record is marriage. A lot of these records are online. Either in the big databases at FamilySearch, or state databases, or sometimes printed in regional histories, which record all the weddings and couples and dates performed at churches throughout the county. You’ll get a marriage date, probably an age (more verification for the birth date), and the name and dates of, face it, your ancestor’s better half.

You’re cross-referencing that info back and forth as you trace the family’s life through subsequent censuses. There are, then, draft records, city directories, even church histories and records of professional associations that can mark further milestones. But for the basics, you’re looking for that document that records the sunset of a life.

Death records will record all sorts of useful information, including cause of death, place of death, which relative signed the papers or was made responsible for next steps. These are backed up by obituaries (which can be wrong) and burial records, even the memorial stone itself (which, still, sometimes can be wrong). But knowing the date places a bookend to that life. And sometimes is even the starting point for tracing back all the previous milestones we just mentioned.

An example of how this diligent research can go wrong: In the case of my great-grandmother Laura Foutz (in family legend, which proved correct, Christina Laurina Catherina Zeigler Foutz), I did not have a death date. And Ohio records, as of 2008, were cut off at 1953. I did not even have an agreed-upon correct spelling of her maiden name — was it Ziegler? That’s what I was told, and what I researched.

That led me to a Ziegler family with a Laura in their household, about the same age as my great-grandfather Vance Foutz, and for decades, just down the street from where Vance and Laura made their home. And a very compelling legend about a J. Ziegler who was gunned down in the tavern he owned.

Trouble was? It was all wrong. Zeigler was the correct spelling. And I eventually pruned that branch from the tree and went through that three-point checklist to verify all the new members as I backtracked.

“If your mother says she loves you, CHECK IT OUT.”

 

Addie John Fisher Family New Phila Ohio early 1900s

Fisher family portrait, shared with us by distant cousins. A young Great-Grandma Zula is top left. Front: Addie and John. Middle: Byron, Clyde and Oscar. Back: Zula and Alverna.

5. Tracing a branch forward

From those basic milestones, censuses and newspapers become your go-to’s for understanding how an ancestor lived, and who they marked their days with.

Censuses will children and spouses, with dates you’ve got to verify, already well-noted. And newspapers will carry lists of survivors in obituaries, and less commonly, birth notices or professional or school news about so-and-so’s kiddos-made-good.

The benefits of tracing not only your ancestor’s and immediate descendants’ lines forward is that, by understanding where siblings and uncles and aunts and the like ended up, and tracing through their descendants, you make connections — in the online data as well as in real live relationships in the world today — that can tap you into a trove of information that brings their stories alive.

The most compelling of these, for me, are pictures.

Even though my family knew a lot of the legends, told a lot of the stories — some fact, and some fanciful — I was over 30 before I even saw a picture of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother Foutz, or Johnson. I knew names that were even earlier with my Ley and Weible ancestors, but being able to gaze into their eyes, and put faces to the names, is the thrill of what involved, detailed genealogy is all about.

Take the picture above, of my great-grandmother Zula Lucrece Fisher Ley as an elaborately-coiffed, elegantly-dressed young firecracker.

Zula was subject of the second series I published on this blog, way back 10 years ago in April 2010. Her death was a story that remained with me through my boyhood: struck ill with influenza in early February of 1920, and she and the daughter she was pregnant with both died, setting my not-year-2-year-old grandpa Ley’s life on a different course than what it might have been. There was a haunting portrait of her holding grandpa as an infant that made those details all the more etched in memory.

It was one of the first stories I wanted to research in depth. And I was able to confirm the details of that tragedy right in the death records, which certainly carry a more ominous weight than the whispered reminiscences of relatives.

Happily, in the year since I’ve been able to assemble a more complete record of great-grandma Zula, including yearbook photos and newspaper articles, as well as scribbled notes in the books she studied as an elementary school teacher. But one of the first scores of my genealogical research was connecting with Noreen Moser, granddaughter of Zula’s brother, my great-great uncle Clyde Fisher.

Noreen shared this early family portrait of Zula and her parents and siblings, as well as a later one. Coming face to face with history is a powerful reminder of all that proper genealogy can be.

 

Sherman S. Foutz

Second Great-Uncle Sherman S. Foutz, oldest brother to my great-grandfather, Vance Cleveland Foutz.

4. Telling the story of a life

The first mystery I pursued in genealogical research — or at least the first post on this blog — was that of the elusive, tremendously successful, Sherman Foutz.

In the patchwork genealogical research my grandma Erma Johnson Foutz conducted with Grandpa Don Foutz in the 1970s, they weren’t even sure whether Sherman was grandpa’s dad’s father or not, so much younger was Great-Grandpa Vance than his oldest brother, Sherman. There were also confusing rumors and tidbits from global researchers of Foutz history that pointed to us being Mormons, or convicts, instead of honest farmers hacking our way through the Appalachian mountains from Maryland to to settle in Ohio shortly after 1810.

But I started to piece it all together by following the census record. And navigating my way over the gap that ensued about 1890 when nearly the entire record burned. That was unfortunate for catching the first census Vance would have appeared on, being born in 1887. And some of the confusion about parentage clearly stems from Vance, as well as brother Charlie, appearing in Sherman’s household in 1900 in Washington DC, along with Sherman’s wife, Laura, but also along with their two children, Grace and Oscar, and Sherman, Vance and Charles’s parents, my great-great-grandparents, Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz.

Further research into newspaper records and local histories cemented the right connections and lineage. But Sherman’s story captivated me.

Born on a farm in Ohio, where his wife’s family also worked, he was one of the first in my family to attend schooling beyond high school. He parlayed his training into a successful career, first as an appointment to the Treasury Department in D.C. under President Grover Cleveland, then as fire insurance salesman and fraternal leader in Harrisburg and Reading, Pa.

But Sherman’s life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis in 1915. It took me years just to obtain his death certificate from Colorado — where he’d spent his last months in a sanitorium. And the record in Pennsylvania, for years, was incomplete as to the fates of his daughter, Grace, and son, Oscar, and wife, Laura. I had a death date for Laura, and grave back in Ohio, but no idea of what happened to Grace and Oscar. And eventually those mysteries deepened, as new names — a step-daughter, Catherine Rutt, a wife for Oscar, Florence Hartman — were added to the fold.

Eventually, I tracked down answers to all the burning questions. And a fuller portrait of Sherman’s life — and his family’s emerged. And I was able to connect with the continuing story of Pennsylvania Foutzes, even get invited to the reunion. That’s living genealogy.

Palmer homestead Scio Ohio

Another view of the old Palmer homestead in Scio, Ohio as it appeared in March 2011.

3. Putting a place to a name

This blog resulted after I got out of my chair in the guest bedroom in suburban Chicago where I started my foray into family history, and set out on treks back home to Ohio to walk the same paths my ancestors did.

There were places I knew, like the home my great-grandfather Robert Weible shared Great-Grandma M.A., just blocks from where I grew up.

And places I was determined to find and set my own eyes on, like the farm my great-great-great-grandfather Gideon Pfouts called home for more than 60 years in Harrison County. I’d probably driven right past that area nearly a hundred times for weekend stop at Tappan Lake in high school, and every trip back and forth from college in Pittsburgh. And never knew.

Well, from censuses you get the township name, and even the address if your families aren’t farmers in the mid-1800s. But from censuses, you go to land records, and township maps, and compare to the aerial survey. And amazingly, a lot of the borders are still visible from a thousand or so feet up. Incredible.

So, seeing Gideon’s old backyard from a computer was unbearable. I had to check it out myself.

In 2010 I took a week off work, ostensibly to hammer out a hundred or so pages to complete my master’s thesis novel for Columbia College. I holed up in my Grandma Foutz’s house, empty for months after her second husband, Max, had passed away. But I ended up spending my days chasing after history.

Visited cemeteries. A lot of cemeteries. Drove winding backroads. Connected with Johnson relatives who took me past the Palmer homestead where my great-grandma Vila Palmer Johnson grew up.

But the oddest highlights yet took place in 2011 and 2012, when, accompanied by a Foutz distant cousin I discovered by “tracing it forward” I tromped around the homesteads of Jonathan Foutz and Gideon Foutz, taking a rock for a souvenir, but otherwise not quite brave enough to knock on doors and see if our 150-year-old knowledge held up to scrutiny.

Someday?

 

Weible Esther Goddard age 16

Esther Bliss Goddard, at age 16. An inscription on the photograph, probably by her son Robert Ohio Weible, identified the photograph as a reproduction of a 48-year-old tintype.

2. Looking into the eyes of your ancestor

As noted above, tracing your tree forward could put you into possession of photos and other trinkets you’d never have counted on, and that bring history alive.

But what about when they’ve been in possession of your parents, or grandparents, for years, but missing captions, or other incomplete details mean those faces would otherwise be lost to history?

My mom sent me a trove of Weible photographs and documents a few years ago, and I was sure, sure, that one of the mystery photographs was of my great-great-grandmother, Esther Bliss Goddard Weible, as a teenage girl.

By process of elimination, and cross-referencing of other photographs to branches on the tree I had thoroughly traced forward, even to distant aunts with untimely deaths, I was able to confirm as best as I could, and fill in a missing photograph on my tree.

But what’s cooler? Looking at photographs of my great-grandpa, her son, Robert Ohio Weible, whom I’m said to resemble, and Esther, there’s definitely a distinctive family resemblance. And some 150 years later, that’s pretty cool to recognize. A recognition earned through research.

 

Dawn James Colt Foutz genealogy research trip

What’s the fun of genealogy research without a partner in crime? Distant Foutz cousin Dawn James graciously hosted Colt Foutz on a recent research trip to Harrison, Tuscarawas and Carroll counties. Oh yeah, and made her share of discoveries, too.

1. Making a present-day connection

So, to sum up: to me, a genealogy spit-test can in no way, ever, compare to the thrills you encounter by starting with names and dates, and then uncovering photographs, faces, places and stories. Untold hours go into this. And to make that connection, forge that eureka! moment, whether online or hunched over a creaking tome in some library, is far more precious than what some database in Utah can tell me.

But even cooler? When you don’t go through all that alone.

Case in point are the visits I’ve made to cousin Dawn James in West Virgina. She’s a great-great-granddaughter of Ida Foutz Moreland, older sister to my great-grandpa Vance. We connected online — Dawn was always only too happy to point out this shocking fact to whatever folks we would encounter back in 2011 to 2014 — and spent a couple trips tromping through cemeteries and driving back roads, even knocking on doors and asking questions, even — memorably — getting shot at as we slipped down the muddy trails of our shared ancestral homestead.

What kind of damn fun is THAT? (Dawn, been waaaaay too long. Let’s do it again, soon.)

I have made connections, some faithful, some fleeting, with other nodes on the tree, other relatives pursuing their own quest, that make the journey all the more companionable and fruitful. They get it, you know? And chances are, they’ve got things that contribute to your understanding better than your own digging ever could: diaries, stories, photographs, possessions.

The most valuable artifact shared, though? Time. We are all just passing through. And to be able to connect to someone else — even more notable during our own pandemic days a hundred years removed from when our ancestors lived, painfully, through similar struggles — and to spend hours and days, soon fleeting, on the genealogical trail with them, is the stuff new legends are made of.

Happy 10th birthday to Whispering Across the Campfire. I promise to be a bit more active in this anniversary year, emptying my own archives in a series of brief, but hopefully useful posts. And yeah, unleashing the magnum opus every once in awhile.

Happy sleuthing, all!

Categories: General Genealogy, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

100th Anniversary of Bob Ley’s Birth


Grandpa Ley Colt Foutz 1989

Too cool dudes lounging on a back deck at Sunset Beach, 1989. Robert Earl Ley, Jr., left, and his grandson, Colt Foutz.

 

Happy 100th Birthday, Robert Earl Ley, Jr.

 

I’m a bit late to the show with this one.

One of the joys of digging into genealogy is, for me, not just discovering the names and dates and wheres and whens of ancestors back, back, back, back up the family tree, but the stories. Nothing seems to crystallize all of that information in a personal, intimate way than discovering photographs of our relatives from long ago.

I’ve been able to gaze upon great-grandparents, dead long before I was born, and in some cases barely a memory to my parents, and feel that connection.

But there’s a similar tickle in collecting photos of your familiar grandparents and parents from a time before you were even a glimmer in their story. To see their familiar faces as infants, or teenagers, or off to college. To imagine their thoughts and hopes and dreams at a moment where they can’t see the future we are only too well-versed in as our family’s history.

Some interesting ways I’ve drawn those parallels have been in projects that snapshot my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ lives when they turned 60 as a birthday present to my mom and dad. And I turned the camera on myself, in a way, when I shared the pictures of my male ancestors growing into men up to the age of 40 in the year I turned 40. (Hint: it was 2016.)

How much more poignant it is, then, to gaze upon photos in order chronicling an entire life. On the 100th anniversary of my grandparents’ births, we did that, first for grandpa Don Foutz’s birth, then for Grandma Sue Weible Ley.

We’ll have to wait a couple years for Grandma Erma Johnson Foutz, the youngest of the bunch, born in 1920. But Grandpa Robert Earl Ley, Jr., is up this year, a few months later than Grandma, and now, a few months after the fact.

Maybe it’s because I was blessed to grow up just down the road and across the town from my mother’s parents: I was used to seeing them in so many daily situations, and at holidays, and birthdays, and just ordinary Saturdays, that the collection below seems so skimpy. That I ought to have more words to say. Though, I guess I have said them in this space many times.

And I’m well aware of albums and slides and troves of photographs that exist elsewhere, which leaves me to wonder and worry about this selection being incomplete. Not really a chronicle, then, but a collection of images that capture the way Grandpa was throughout his life.

From the remarkable infant portrait of him with his mother, Zula, to the shot a short few years later with his father, Robert Sr., knowing that they both had already lost that remarkable, dynamic mother and wife when Grandpa was only 2 — and the sister that might have joined their family portrait.

Grandpa would spend a time with his Fisher grandparents while his father rebuilt a life and remarried. Snapshots of grandpa in the 1930s show him after rejoining his father and stepmother, and, for a time, a little half-brother, Dickie, who would tragically succumb to illness before age 6.

He followed his father’s path into dentistry and public service, and early shots from college yearbooks capture him in the band and on the football team at Ohio Wesleyan as an undergraduate, then transitioning from OWU’s Delta Tau Delta fraternity to graduate school for dentistry at Ohio State, where he’s a fixture on the Psi Omega fraternity page.

Grandma and Grandpa, who’d known each other since their days as Dover schoolmates, were married during a busy time that saw Grandpa enlist in the Marines and serve in World War II. Upon returning home, he thrust himself into civic life, earning election as an at-large city councilman was he was still in his thirties (following a long line of Leys in politics), and working alongside his father, Robert Sr., in their dental practice, by then longest standing in Tuscarawas County.

Snapshots from the 1960s record his civic life (happily, I was able to see these shots in the archives of the local paper), and by the 1970s, his family had grown to include daughter- and sons-in-law, and grandchildren. Some of my first snapshots, on a Kodak Instamatic camera I’d gotten for Christmas (with the disposable flash bar) are of Grandpa and Grandma at home on Parkview Drive, or vacationing with them at Sunset Beach, NC.

Life moves irrevocably forward, and it’s been years since I felt I could still drive up to their house, park by the big pines and walk right into their kitchen to find them sitting around their big, circular table on the other side of Grandma’s purple kitchen cabinets. A last photo in the series below is a poignant shot later in the year after grandma died, when we were able to introduce Grandpa Bob Ley to one of his namesake descendants, Jonah Robert Foutz.

Yeah, I guess there’s some magic in my small collection after all. And a lot of memories. Love you, Grandpa.

 

Bob Ley: 89 Years in Photographs

(Scroll to view the gallery below, or click any photo for a closeup slideshow.)

Categories: Ley, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

100th Anniversary of Sue Ley’s Birth


Ley Sue Foutz Colt 1979

Me and Grandma Ley, her house, 1979.

Happy 100th Birthday, Suzanne Abbott Weible Ley

 

I was blessed to grow up in a town where I was only a short drive — or bike ride — from my grandparents.

It’s not so usual today, with families spread across the country, or, in some cases, the globe. But Dover, Ohio had been home to both sides of my family for better than 100 years, with the roots of the Leys stretching back to the next county over in the early 1800s, and the Weibles just south of Dover and its sister city, New Philadelphia, about a decade earlier than that.

It was important to my parents that we grew up knowing both sides of my family, and we sure did. Birthdays, grandparents days at school, rides to and from track and cross country and band practices, piano recitals, spelling bees, Thanksgivings, Christmases and vacations every year to the Carolinas — these were occasions made all the more memorable and sweet by sharing them with my grandparents, my mom’s parents, Bob and Sue Ley.

In fact, I shared the same elementary school, Dover Avenue, with both my mom and grandma Sue. She grew up just about two blocks east of our house right on Dover Avenue. And lived most of her married life within a mile of her childhood home and grade school.

But grandma was a lot closer than that. On the day I was born, June 2, 1976, — so the story goes — she just had a feeling and drove down to our house near Columbus, Ohio. When she and grandpa looked in the window and saw our dog, Shannon, but no mom and dad, they headed straight for Riverside Hospital.

They were there not long after I entered the world. And they were there for so many occasions during my childhood and young adulthood.

Once, when grandma was out hauling me somewhere and a car warning light went on, grade school me helpfully piped up, “Should we check in the manual, grandma?” She got a kick out of that.

Some of my first inklings of freedom as a kid was being able to bike to their house at the top of the hill on Parkview Drive. There, my cousins and brothers and I would play for hours in the pine trees bordering grandpa’s grapevine and apple trees, dubbing out hideouts Cousins’ Castle and the like. Grandma was always ready with a glass of Pepsi with ice to relax with in the shade of their patios. Over the years, the glass wore smooth and squeaky with their constant trips through the dishwasher.

When I was older, she was always ready to request a song or five from their living room piano. And always responded with enthusiastic applause.

We could walk into their house, day or night, and call out and be greeted by them.

She enjoyed sipping cold beers and talking about our adventures. She’d had several herself. She attended Miami University and Kent State University in Ohio — rare, in her generation — and worked in Columbus for the State of Ohio during World War II. She was also, I found out much later, an avid writer and, rumor had it, had authored a book of stories that was secreted away somewhere. They have not turned up.

We were blessed to share her 88 years, 63 of them married to my grandpa, Robert Earl Ley, Jr. But there are many times I wish I could walk right into their house again, pull up a chair, enjoy a Pepsi — or a cold beer — and hear her characteristic laugh.

As with my blog commemorating the 100th anniversary of my grandpa Don Foutz’s birth six years ago, I’m happy to be able to share so many great pictures of my Grandma Ley to celebrate her 100th.  Even happier — so many of these photos have family in them, including me.

They’re a mark of how family was always at the center of my grandparents’ lives. They were blessed with a big one. Seems to me we should find a way to celebrate them both this year — Grandpa’s 100th is Sept. 30 — and get the gang back together again.

Sue Ley: 88 Years in Photographs

(Scroll to view the gallery below, or click any photo for a closeup slideshow.)

 

Sue Ley 100th Birthday Slideshow

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Categories: Ley, Milestones, Weible | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five Enduring Foutz Family Mysteries


Jonathan Foutz

Great-Great Grandfather Jonathan Foutz would probably agree with Dory — looking for answers to genealogy questions? Just keep sleuthing!

Genealogy Never Rests

Just keep sleuthing, just keep sleuthing….

Dory from Finding Nemo (and her own eponymous sequel) was really a genealogist at heart. The motto that kept her moving — swimming — kept leading her to families, no matter the leagues between them. First, Nemo’s, then happily, her own.

Aside from occasional bursts of full-contact hereditary rummaging, my genealogical quest has been more of an occasional thing. Some early-a.m. flipping through old newspapers here, some peeks at the burgeoning pile of electronic detritus on Ancestry.com there. Day job, Dad duties, mindless TV — all conspire to slow my family-sleuthing from mad scramble to meandering marathon.

And that’s OK. This blog is a record of where we’ve been before, and an open lane to the depths we’ve yet to discover. And often, the way to latch on to new currents is to back-paddle to places we last left off. Dive around. Pick up the tidal pull again.

What do we do? We sleuth….

Questions to Keep Sleuthing By

My goal for this space the next six months is to share, at least once a week, some tidbit or tale that I’ve kept under glass the last few years, or lately untangled from the historical net. These discoveries spark conversations, which in turn spark connections — people with answers, and questions of their own. Keep ’em coming.

For now, here are five of the biggest, most-enduring mysteries I’d like one day to solve, bringing further clarity to the muddy waters of Foutz, Ley, Weible, Morgan, Fisher, Johnson, Palmer, Zeigler origins.

1. Where did Michael Pfouts come from?

Yeah, we think we know. Württemberg. Along the lower Neckar River region in Germany. Where Foutzes of old farmed, fought, made little Foutzes.

So says John Scott Davenport’s Foutz Newsletter of the 1980s: Michael Pfoutz emigrated to America in 1787, settled in Washington County, Maryland, and by 1810 or so was on his way to Harrison County, Ohio, where multiple records pretty definitively trace the Pfouts-Fouts-Foutz story through the succeeding two centuries.

But: Where exactly did Michael come from in Germany? Why did he cross the ocean, at 18? Did anyone come with him? Where else did those possible brothers and sisters, and father and mother, end up?

As the Davenport newsletters grow yellowed, and the originators of that work pass away, we’ve got to look for new answers, new connections. One I may have found, that I’ll reveal in a post soon (to echo Star Wars’ original trilogy): “a sister(rrrrrrrrr)?”

2. What happened to Rachel Foutz?

As traced in the years since an original summation of Foutz mysteries, we now know what became of every brother and sister of my great-grandfather, Vance Foutz, and even have a pretty good bead on their descendants, save for one sister, Rachel (Foutz) Coleman.

Rachel was one of three older sisters to my great-grandfather. We know what became of Lila and Ida. And it’s through Ida’s son Sherman’s diary — and the useful transcribing of distant cousin Dawn James — that we gain a little color around the facts we know, and a window on life in Dover, Ohio after Rachel and family followed younger brothers Charles, Vance and Mom Rebecca Foutz there in the first decade of the 1900s:

  • Born June 3, 1871 to Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz,in Harrison County, Ohio
  • In 1891, at age 20, Rachel married a war vet, William Coleman, more than 20 years her senior, and became stepmom to at least one living son, Berttie
  • They had at least four kids — Carl, who died of tuberculosis at my great-grandfather’s house in 1915 (same spring as Rebecca Foutz and her oldest son, Sherman); Blanche, Frank and Bessie.
  • Bessie, born in 1906 in Dover, disappears, along with mother Rachel, from the record. No other census, death or burial records have been found.

We later find William living in a veterans’ home in Canton, Ohio. And Frank lives until 1959 in Canton (he has a family I have not further explored – could be connections there). Meanwhile, sister Blanche lives until the ripe old age of 97, passing away in 1994 in Kent, Ohio. A few years back, I spoke to a family who knew her well, and shared photos. Story to come.

But what became of Rachel? There’s a mystery even more vexing for all we’ve assembled about our now-distant Foutz relatives.

Kaiserslautern Coat of Arms

Kaiserslautern Coat of Arms. The Leys emigrated there from The Netherlands sometime in the 1600s.

3. What can we learn of the Netherlands Leys?

According to A Short History of the Ley Family, a pamphlet passed down from our Port Washington, Ohio Ley ancestors, the Ley family originated in the Netherlands and came to Kaiserslautern in Germany, probably in the late 1600s.

We can trace the family back through my fourth-great-grandfather, Karl Ley, coming to America in 1833 and settling first in Shanesville, Ohio, and later, Port Washington, making his career as a saddler. And then further back through his father, Frederick Charles Ley, a minister at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pfalz, Bavaria; and then through his father, John Frederick Ley, also pastor at that parish (succeeding, in fact, his father-in-law, who succeeded his own father).

Neat trick, and probably an amazing place to visit someday for all that family mojo.

But we don’t know much about Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Ley — not his name, date of birth, city of residence, or death — save that he had a large, rural estate and was mayor, for a time, of his unknown city. And that his dad, Great Ley x 8, was first to move from the Netherlands and settle in Kaiserslautern, where he set up a cloth “manufactory.”

What can we learn from detailed German records, which seem to have been maintained through the tenuous political jigsaw puzzle of those centuries, and through war, etc., but weren’t so far recorded by our relatives?

Who were Thomas Johnson’s parents?

We’ve got names, known to my grandma, Erma (Johnson) Foutz, and her sisters. Just not much else. Maybe because his name was so common?

George Johnson was probably born in England, so says family legend, and he married a, well, Mary, and they settled in Guernsey County, Ohio. That’s the sum total of our knowledge about fourth-great-grandfather Johnson.

Admittedly, it doesn’t get too much clearer with Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Thomas, who died at 42 in the Civil War. Though just where in Mississippi, and of what, is a matter of some debate. (Possibly also due to his fairly common name?)

We hear he was a mule skinner in the army — something to do with nabbing available meat from local farms the army passed through and butchering it for the fighting boys. But we don’t even know that much about the wife he left behind, Nancy Valentine, back home in Guernsey, at first, and then, by 1910 in Jackson, Ohio. There’s a tid bit about her maybe not getting his pension — why? We also don’t know her death.

This is odd, because we know all their descendants, and their paths through Harrison and Tuscarawas counties, Ohio. Time to start sleuthing….

5. Where, in Wales, were the Morgans?

Also in the common name department are my second-great-grandparents, Thomas and Jannett (Rees) Morgan. We know their lives after they emigrated from Wales quite well — from their marriage in Philadelphia in 1872, to their settling in western Pennsylvania, and eventually, in Carnegie, where Thomas ran the Hotel Morgan before he died, in 1897.

What is a continued vexation — a problem not cleared up by the terse obituaries of the 19th century — is just who their parents were. When Thomas first came over; when Janet did. What happened to their sisters and brothers (if they had any) and parents. Even how “Reese/Rhys/Rees” is spelled.

We have theories about where they were from in Wales, and family stories of Jannett and her children going back to visit. We’ve gained their photos, and a hunch about Jannett’s Dad’s name, Daniel.

Everything else? Time to get sleuthing.

Categories: Foutz, Johnson, Ley, newsletter, Weible | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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