Backing off of an Otherwise Fruitful Branch
At my first job as a newspaper reporter, in Sandusky, Ohio, I used to keep a list of “Things I’ve Been Called Lately” tacked to my desk.
There’s just something about the name “Colt Foutz” that doesn’t always translate well, on first hearing. And thus, on press releases, in phone messages, and even face to face, my list of potential aliases grew longer: Coat Folds, Scott Faust, Paul Foltz, Cort Fronds, etc. and etc.
In the pages of history, my ancestors have fared no better, whether at the hands of record-takers in the moment or record hounds decades or even centuries distant who squint at ancient script and make their best guess as to how they should preserve it in transcribed indexes.
Thus, a Foutz becomes a Fautz or a Phoutz or a Hautz — all of which have appeared on family birth and death certificates.
I’ve seen a deceased “Lea” infant attributed to a “Ley” mother. And a whole family of Zeiglers masquerading as “Giglers”.
Which brings me to this post’s story.
They Call Them Puzzles for a Reason
I’ve said it before in these posts: when I started digging into genealogy two summers ago, the back story of the Foutz clan, in particular, was pretty sketchy. Whatever fragments we did have had been passed down through a series of mostly younger siblings, who often never met their much-older ancestors. And apparently didn’t say much about them later on.
My dad, being the youngest son of a third-youngest son of a youngest son, at least spent some time with his grandpa, Vance Cleveland Foutz. My great-grandfather lived just down the block my dad’s whole life. Before he passed away, in 1968, when Dad was 16, Vance was often the de facto babysitter for little Fred. During my uncles’ football games, Dad remembered nights sentenced to Lawrence Welk on TV, or being carted off to one of Vance’s running poker games around town, usually in the company of Vance’s buddy Jake Lentz, who lived with him after the death of my great-grandmother, Laura.
It was easy enough, two summers ago, to find the pieces of Vance’s family history and fit them into place. Birth, death and census records pretty definitively traced him back to three generations of Foutzes who farmed in nearby Harrison County. Family papers later confirmed my research. But uncovering the genealogy of my great-grandmother proved more difficult, and led to some missteps. Fruitful ones, as it turned out. But the fruit belonged to a branch distinct from my own family’s tree.
I remember filling out my first family tree assignment in elementary school. It was probably second or third grade. I called both sets of grandparents and got the details. The tree we filled out went back three generations. My great-grandma on the Foutz side had the hands-down best name. I had to squeeze the print into the box on the worksheet as Grandma Erma Foutz read it out: “Christina Laurina Katherina Zeigler“.
Fast-forward 25 years and that sheet probably could have come in handy. I could have copied the spelling. Because when I renewed my genealogy work, I began searching under “Ziegler”.
What can go wrong with a transposed i and e? This is more a story of what can go right. Any well-executed family sleuthing mission relies on multiple records — and multiple confirmations. One document could miss a date here, mar a name there. But if you can find a half dozen, a dozen or more that synch up — and better yet, corroborate with your own family, or their archives — then you can be pretty certain what you’ve gathered is correct.
In Vance’s case I was able to find census records that showed him in the household of Jonathan and Rebecca Foutz in 1900. I found birth records that showed he was born to them, and when. I found a death certificate for Rebecca that listed Vance as the informant, with his address in Dover as her last residence. Finally, I found a U.S. Social Security death index record for Vance that put the final bookend on his life. There would be more records, later, that fleshed out the details even more. But this was the initial series of checkmarks, forward and back.
With Great-Grandma Laura, unfortunately, history mostly ran backward. I couldn’t find a death record that would definitively list her parents’ names. All I knew was that she must have died after 1953, the cutoff for scanned records in the Ohio database. For example, her son Roy’s death certificate was available in all its detail, recording his death in 1953 following a car accident, with mother and father listed, and his address on Walnut Street in Dover. For great uncle Roy I could nail down a birth certificate, his place in the household of Vance and Laura in the 1910, ’20 and ’30 censuses, and his death. I couldn’t uncover the final chapter for his mother – but I had plenty of pieces that seemed to tell the beginning of her story.
To Err is Divine; Buried Catholic, a (Fool’s) Goldmine
Zeigler, or Ziegler? Or Gigler, for that matter, in the case of an early Dover census. With human error being what it is — significant — you learn to be creative in your research, or else sigh at your two hands continually coming up empty.
I couldn’t find a death record for Laura Foutz — or Christina Laurina Catherina Zeigler, for that matter. But I could find a Laura Ziegler living in Dover before and after 1900 of the same generation as Great-Grandpa Vance.
She is listed in the 1900 census for a Mary Alvina and Joseph Ziegler, right down Race Street in Dover from where Vance and Laura would eventually live from 1910 through the early 1930s. She was born in January 1892, five years after Vance’s 1887 — probably a little young to be giving birth to Roy Foutz in 1908, but hey, stranger things have happened. And the census taker could still be wrong.
Even more exciting was that I could trace this Laura Ziegler’s family back pretty definitively, in much the same way I had my great-grandfather Vance Foutz’s. Mary Alvina was the daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Krantz. Elizabeth Krantz was originally a Weckmann, daughter of German immigrants Heinrich and Catherine Weckmann. Joseph Ziegler, moreover, was the son of Peter and Geneveve Ziegler, and probably the grandson of Alfred Ziegler, also German immigrants who settled in Dover in the mid-1800s. Hey, they’re all buried in the same cemetery, St. Joseph’s, affiliated with the Catholic church in our small town.
In later censuses — 1910 through 1930 — I only had to look on the same page as Vance and Laura to spot these same Zieglers (often spelled as Zigler, or Zegler) living out their lives right up the block: Vance and Laura at the corner of Race and Sixth, Mary and family at the intersection of Race and Fifth.
It all fit. Or, well, seemed to. For starters, why was Laura so young? Did she really have Roy at 16? (Which would mean she was pregnant even earlier….) No one in my family had ever talked about having Catholic ancestors before. But hey, these folks were European immigrants. And the Lutheran Church — to which Vance and Laura and their children and grandchildren belonged — is very close. A logical step. And what about the Krantz connection? Theirs was a prominent family name in Dover, and heirs to an agricultural empire besides. If this was true, why hadn’t anyone ever said something about it before?
Because it wasn’t true.
When I returned home to Dover in March 2010 for a writing trip, I was inspired to dust off my genealogy research. Aided by online cemetery tools, I was able to locate the graves of my alleged Ziegler/Krantz/Weckmann ancestors. I visited St. Joseph Cemetery, which I had not so much as ever noticed, growing up in Dover, and dutifully photographed their final resting places. Laura and Vance were buried across town, in Dover Burial Park, but aside from her troublesome birth date, everything still seemed to fit.
Until I started talking to my dad about it, and we both puzzled over the Krantz connection. Dad then took a logical step — he picked through the box of my grandmother’s old photos and papers, and pulled out an obituary for Laura Foutz.
Now, this wasn’t the heaven-stopping find it might have been. The obit was still light on details. Her parents weren’t listed, only that she was “born in Ruslin Hills” — which sounded exotic, but which I quickly traced to the Zoar area, just outside Dover. Her maiden name wasn’t listed, just that a surviving brother was named Edward Zeigler. ZEIGLER. EI. Not that every newspaper article can be counted on as 100% accurate… but the accumulated details from this record made the shadow of doubt grow longer.
Other papers in my grandmother’s possession recorded Great-Grandma Foutz’s parents as Elizabeth Duerr and Jacob Zeigler. I retraced my steps, searching “Zeigler” instead. And… voila. I located a Christina Zeigler in the household of Elizabeth in Dover in 1900. Elizabeth Zeigler’s 1928 death certificate recorded her father as Samuel Duerr (mother unknown), and as living in the house of Vance and Laura in her old age. My grandma’s papers further specified that Jacob had been shot when Laura was a little girl — which explained her widowed mother as head of household in 1900 — and that the family spoke nothing but German at home, which also confirmed, along with additional research, the German ancestry of both the Zeiglers and the Duerrs.
So I had found Laura’s real parents and origins. And quickly set about sawing off the errant Krantz and Ziegler branches. But not without a hint of regret for uncovering interesting details about ancestors I couldn’t count as my own.
Still, the way it all played out is indicative of the way genealogy sometimes goes. You follow a hunch, confirm it — and reconfirm and reconfirm and reconfirm. But then eventually reconsider the steps you took as new information becomes available. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about this branch of my family tree. But I feel with all the work I’ve put in — whether resulting from missteps or fruitful guesses — I’m in a better position to answer them, whatever new batch of details I uncover.