General Genealogy

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

So, This is 40


Weible Robert Elks Lodge

The dates on my great-grandfather R.O. Weible’s Elks leader portrait probably peg his age accurately — 39 in 1931, right on the cusp of 40.

Family Men at 40: A Rogue’s Gallery

I’ll say this for investing a little time in genealogy as a hobby: the presents you can create for family sure beat the silk off gifting another tie or purse.

As much as genealogy plays into my passions for research and writing, my bouts of document diving and image archiving have generated a few keepsake Christmas and birthday and anniversary and just-because gifts commemorating loved ones lost and living.

What fun would it be, after all, not to share?

Blogging about my Grandpa Foutz’s special 1931 football season led first to a Christmas book collecting both his source scrapbook and my blogs about his exploits, and later to a project to create an authentic reproduction of his 1931 jersey, as well as his actual game-worn uniform.

Before that, I’d taken a first crack at a frame-worthy family tree poster for my parents’ 35th anniversary. Then, a few years ago for my own 10th anniversary, I’d included my wife’s side back to the great-greats in an even bigger piece that hangs in our dining room at home — a record I’ve got to update, anyway, since we added a third little grape to our own family vine, oh, three years or so ago.

I’ve gladly cut my cousins into a trove of photos and newspaper clips I’ve stockpiled for their own efforts at milestone-marking.

And speaking of milestones, some of the less-sleuthworthy but more generically blogworthy posts in this space have focused on monthly birthdays and anniversaries of our ancestors.

This blog site and the notion of Whispering Across the Campfire, of course, is a means of sharing, too — releasing the newfound mysteries and facts so we can revel at them together, or send a beacon to relatives yet unknown in order to make sense of a particularly gnarly nugget.

You can bet I get a lot out of that, too.

So genealogical generosity, evidence indicates, is mostly a zero-sum game. You get what you give.

Well, today, I found my thoughts turning to… myself. Specifically, at about 12:12 a.m., the clock having ticked to a milestone of my own. I found myself, newly 40, pondering… a variety of sleep-evading thoughts, mostly on family. For instance:

  • my inlaws, in their 60s; when we’d first met, sharing beers at a festival tent in Columbus, Ohio, they were barely 50. Is it possible so much time has racked up, and so quickly?
  • my youngest son, turned 3 just 3 days before; when I’m 50 he’ll be 13, still house-bound to us for another 5 years, but also likely to leap in an eyeblink.
  • my oldest, almost 10, will be out of the house by then; his brother, Ben, on the verge of leaving.
  • my own parents, at 40, contending with a 16-year-old me. Seems so recent, but actually….
  • the things I’d hoped for, some lost, some attained — were they me? Another me? Someone else?
  • and the memories which still seem close enough to step into; events and people at 12 and 20 and 9 and 30, how long do we hold them, and for what end?

All right. So at least I’m old enough to know the antidote — a trusty book, kept bedside. Reshuffling my thoughts in the rhythm of narrative. Finding rest.

Mostly, in that interval, I thought of family. And the lessons we grope at — however profound, however fleeting — of the things they’d done, and the ways they’d lived. What it says about us, about all this: there is always someone who came before, always stories to be written after.

Ahem. Well.

OK, so I eventually found sleep. And woke up today with a little nugget of an idea for a milestone blog of sorts. Not about me, really. But a visual reminder of some of the ragged thoughts bumping around in my middle-aged brain.

A few years ago, when my parents turned 60, I put together a little slideshow compiling photos and facts of their own parents and grandparents and great-grandparents: what they looked like and the way they lived in the years they turned 60. A little parallel time capsule, of sorts.

So today I find myself thinking about the men in my family. A few of whom I’m told I resemble. (That’s generous, in some instances, plainly tragic in others. But ah well. Our faces are just the facades we present to the outside.) Without over-narrating, then (having done that already), a slideshow. Of Foutzes and Leys and Weibles, etc., at or around when they turned 40.

Of course, 40 is relative. (Accidental pun, hahaha. Relative.) What would it mean, without a little juxtaposition? So, I’ve thrown that in, too.

Prost! Skol! Cheers!

So this is 40? A Slideshow

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Categories: General Genealogy, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sherman Foutz: Contrasting Obits Still Yield Clues


Sherman S. Foutz

Second Great-Uncle Sherman S. Foutz

More than One Way to Relate Life and Death

When my wife and I encounter the inevitable errors in daily newspapers — or, beginning our career as reporters, lapse into them ourselves — we often trot out my teasing twist on a saying (from somewhere): “History went and got itself up in a great… big… damn… hur… ray.”

To put it more coarsely, in the course of reporting a story and turning it around on a daily news cycle: shit happens.

Bad enough when this is part of the fluid daily record, working up dispatches on city council meetings and business transactions and arrest warrants and base hits. Somehow, pathetically, worse still when publishing those items submitted by the public for posterity, for the milestone sections of births, graduations, weddings, funerals.

In my first gig as entertainment and features writer for the Sandusky Register, I also manned the Saturday obit desk. And it was impressed upon me — right away — to follow a template, type it up slowly and triple-check my work.

Oh, and when gathering the info yourself, never to trust a single-only, no matter how well-meant, source. “If your mother says she loves you, CHECK IT OUT.” In other words, verify all info.

Well, leave it to life to allow shit to keep happenin’.

And we encounter these maxims time and again in genealogy, too. The yeoman volunteers who pore over countless census pages of centuries-old script, deciphering names that do not belong to their family tree, and doing so… erratically. Over-zealous neophyte researchers who, in their breathless haste, mistakenly prune a branch here, graft an alien trunk there, yielding cascading crops of ill-gotten family fruit. Or those who trot out a sweet, but still quite often dead wrong reasoning: because grandma said.

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

Newspapers are wonderful troves of info. And certainly, they have been indispensable in helping to decipher what it is our case study on genealogy in my family: untangling the life, death and descendants of my great-grandfather Vance Cleveland Foutz’s oldest brother, Sherman Foutz.

When I first looked into Sherman’s story, starting in 2008 and documenting for the first time in 2010 in this blog, we had far more questions than answers. Slowly, painstakingly, we made the necessary connections, in the public record and in person with distant relatives, to fill in many missing pieces. By last year, and a series of posts tracing the family’s life in Pennsylvania through several newspaper articles, we’d put the wraps on many a mystery.

One useful tool: not just settling for one clipping of a newspaper article, but combing through related editions in the dozens of active newspapers in the early part of the 20th century. Just like in the maxim for checking out what your darling, single source says, relying on multiple versions of a milestone event can assemble a full, richer composite of the life and times you’re researching. Once, of course, you weed out the red herrings.

On Sherman Foutz’s life, I started with the yellowed clipping reporting his death that my great-grandfather had kept for nearly 55 years before his own passing. Due to the hands which cut into the newspaper, there was no month, day or year, no attributed publication. That data was to be gained from other sources — the gravestone, the death record from Denver, Colo. Curiously, though, one mystery was brought about by a simple omission — this first obituary, which I later identified as from the Harrisburg Telegraph, listed his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Grace, but no mention of his son, Oscar; daughter-in-law, Florence; or local grandsons.

A few years and a paid subscription to newspapers.com later, I dug up a death announcement, published the day after Sherman’s death, also in the Telegraph, which yields additional clues: age at death, address in Harrisburg, a sketch of his career with the Knights of the Maccabees and recent job change, and — voila! — mention of Oscar and his son’s address… in Arizona!

The other day, not looking for any info on Sherman, but still trying to trace more on Oscar, who doesn’t pop up again for us until his mother’s death in 1945, I found a curious third obituary. This one published in the Harrisburg Daily Independent, also on the day after Sherman died. From that Tuesday, April 6, 1915 edition:

William (sic) S. Foutz Prominent Maccabee Succumbs From Long Illness

Word was received here of the death of William (sic) S. Foutz, 135 North Summit street, who died near Denver, Col., yesterday where he had been ill for some time. He was 47 years of age. For seventeen years he was deputy and organizer of the Maccabees of the World.

For the past year Mr. Foutz was unable to attend to any business and on January 1 he left for Colorado. He is survived by his wife and daughter, Grace, of this city, and a son, Oscar, of Arizona. No arrangements for the funeral have been made, but interment will be made at Bowerstown (sic), Ohio.

So, some significant errors in the printed record here, most notably Sherman’s renaming and the misspelling of his hometown of Bowerston. But had I stumbled upon this article first, perhaps through some creative searching of the archives, I would have still gotten the tid bit on Oscar’s western location, and some additional details on how his work had suffered from his illness. No update on his change in career — for all we know, he still could have been working for the Maccabees, according to this record — and thus, I view with skepticism the specific “seventeen years” summation of his duties. But between the sources, we get a richer picture, provided we’ve done a bit more gathering of wool and smoothing out the rough parts.

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

Sherman Foutz obit

April 1915 obituary for Sherman Foutz lists only his wife and daughter as survivors. From the Harrisburg Telegraph.

Foutz Sherman S death announce Harrisburg Telegraph April 1915

Son Oscar Foutz is listed as a survivor — and living in Arizona — in Sherman Foutz’s 1915 death announcement.

 

 

Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Postcards from Port Washington | Ley Family History


Curtis Wiand Wall Safe Hardware Store Port Washington Ohio

Wallsafe from Curtis Wiand’s Port Washington, Ohio hardware store.

 

Port Washington Detritus: Family Artifacts Online

“Port Washington enjoys the enviable distinction of being one of the prettiest and most picturesque villages in the state….”

So begins a newspaper advertorial of June 1901, taken from the pages of the Uhrichsville, Ohio News Democrat, describing the home of our Ley ancestors. Maybe the description doesn’t jibe with the quaint, cloistered cluster of homes and stores we know more than a century later, lightyears after the town’s peak as bustling canal port. But consider it a record of what life was like for our great-great-great-grandparents and their families then.

With commendable zeal, her citizens have realized the beauty of the town’s delightful situation and have made neat improvements, commensurate with its natural facilities.

The town strikingly resembles in appearance the much admired villas of northern Georgia whose attractiveness is well known to northern tourists.

Well-kept lawns, smooth-shaven as a priest, spacious streets, an artistic arrangement of shade trees, some attention to floriculture and landscape gardening — all attest the love of the beautiful in the towns-people.

Environed by an excellent farming country, the business interests of the town have largely kept pace with its needs, but not to that extreme limit which excludes sociability and cleverness, which are distinguished features of the place –qualities which are better appreciated by those who have witnessed amid the incessant hum of machinery and dust of unceasing toil, the hopeless surrender of domestic pleasures to the all absorbing whirl of business.

Properly speaking, Port Washington presents a just mean between the extremes of these towns which are as dead as John T. Brush’s classification rules and those which are oblivious to all save insatiable greed for lucre.

The recent census shows the town’s population to be about 600. …

Trippy, right? And all a well-typed online search away to the curious and family-minded of 2015.

In the past few days, our latest newsletter installments have (re?)introduced us to our Sperling and Hammersley ancestors, neighbors and family to the Leys in bygone days of Port Washington.

For the pictures most recently shared of Abraham and Catherine Sperling, and Great-great-great Grandmother Harriet (Sperling) Hammersley Wiand, mother of Minnie (Hammersley) Ley (wife to Charles Ley), we have fellow genealogy sleuths at Kin-Connection to thank. They mined the best source of all — family records, photos, documents and memories.

But some of the additional ways we’ve filled in the blanks the last week — about the tragic death of Third-Great-Grandpa James Hammersley, and the remarriage of Hattie to hardware merchant Curtis Wiand — came from one of the central tenets of my original genealogy dare in summer 2008: that to dig up generations worth of stories on your ancestors, in today’s information-in-an-instant age, you need only a curious mind, tireless fingers and a hardy internet connection.

What a wealth of stuff there is online.

To conclude our series on the Port Washington Sperlings, Hammersleys, Wiands and Leys, here’s a few more tidbits a broad bandwidth away.

 

Town Life in Port Washington, Ohio, c. 1900

Hattie’s second husband, Christian Wiand, and their descendants through Curtis V. Wiand, kept up for many decades the hardware store in Port Washington he established shortly after their marriage. The above safe from that store — amazingly – was offered at auction three years back (2012) in South Dakota and sold for $50.

Similar to the ruby glass once gifted to Lizzie Foutz, there are countless family trinkets circulating out there. Kinda makes you want to watch the auction circuit, eh?

Christian’s family had first established themselves in Carroll County, Ohio, before residing in Clay Township, where he and Hattie were eventually married. A nice paragraph on the family can be found — through the wonder of Google Books search — eminently accessible, online.

Wiand Henry bio History of Tusc Co

 

Through free and paid archives, newspaper records paint a vivid portrait of the day. The gushing advertorial that begins this post actually appeared in different guises through a number of editions in the years around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries.

Rolling back a couple years, we find a Port Washington where Great-great-great Grandfather Augustus Ley’s dry goods store also thrives. Unfortunately — and serving as a lesson of online research — the scanned copies available in newspapers.com as well as ancestry.com have the same big blot in the bottom corner of page 11 of the Nov. 30 1899 edition, marring what is undoubtedly a description of Ley’s store, leaving us to decipher:

… & Co. are located on…

…are. They are good

… (ca)rry a full line of the

…. (goo)ds, groceries, etc.

… have a fine trade and pay the highest prices for produce, etc.

… F.H. Powell’s (undoubtedly related to us through Hattie Powell, Augustus’s wife — yes, another Hattie) general store is in the storeroom formerly occupied by A. Ley. He is a hustling young merchant and is doing a thriving business. He also has a millinery department in connection with his store.

But elsewhere on the page, we check in with Christian Wiand, c. 1899:

C. Wiand, the hardware merchant, keeps a complete line of hardware, tinware, cutlery, stoves, etc. He also has a nice lot of buggies and wagons on hand and carries a good line of cigars in connection. He is located on the Public Square.

By 1901, Augustus Ley has died, but his descendants are continuing their profitable trade along with their Wiand neighbors, as related in the June 11, 1901 edition of The News Democrat:

C. Wiand conducts the hardware store and has a very complete stock. Mr. Wiand is a gentleman of genial manner, apt business qualities and is thoroughly conversant with the public policies of the day. His son, Curtiss, who is employed with him, is a pleasing business man, held in high regard by all who know him.

Lewis Ley (son of Augustus), the gentlemanly traveling representative of Dies, Fertig & Co., is a resident of this place. Mr. Ley’s father, recently deceased, was a pioneer business man here, and all of the family are held in high esteem.

Flipping forward through the archival pages, to April 26, 1906 in The Daily Times of New Philadelphia, we read of the devastating San Francisco earthquake, and how relief efforts have hit home:

All of those who wish to show their sympathy to the people of San Francisco who are in need can place their money in the little tin box at Christian Wiand’s hardware store.

News accounts of the day are filed with notes on who’s coming, who’s going, who’s visiting whom, sometimes reprinted from previous editions. And that holds true in 1930, same as ever, when the Oct. 30 edition of The Daily Times records a 1920 visit of Christian Wiand and wife to their daughter, Minnie, in New Philadelphia. By then, sadly, both mother and daughter have passed away. But print marches on.

Some of the advertorials on Port Washington and other ancestral stomping grounds would close with train tables, departure and arrival times and the rates to get you across a country that, from these descriptions, is bright and full of life and beckons to us through time. If only it were as simple as punching a ticket and climbing aboard….

Port Washington, Ohio street scene c. 1870s

Port Washington, Ohio street scene, circa 1870s. Courtesy of Chuck Schneider, a descendant of the carriage shop owner.

 

 

 

 

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For the Record | Elizabeth Zeigler, 1928 Obit


Duerr Siblings 1903

Great-great Grandmother Elizabeth (Duerr) Zeigler — seated in the front row, second from right — and her siblings and siblings-in-law, at a family reunion, circa 1903. From left, front row: Margaret Stallecker Duerr, Mary Duerr Welsch, Anna Duerr Arnold, Elizabeth Duerr Zeigler, Susan Myers Duerr. Back: Michael Duerr, John Krantz (husband of Catherine Duerr) and Sam Duerr. Courtesy of Thomas Bitticker.

Elizabeth Duerr Zeigler, 1845-1928

From 87 years ago today, Great-Great Grandmother Elizabeth (Duerr) Zeigler passed away in the home of her daughter, Great-Grandmother Laura Foutz.

She was 83 and a native of Germany. Just where in Germany is pretty nailed down, and what’s more, that area lines up pretty neatly with her spouse, Jacob Zeigler’s, neck of Deutschland. But more interestingly, the place our Foutzes (over there, Pfoutses) are likely from, too.

How they all ended up in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, is a story that bears digging into.

But for now, record transcriptions report the Zeiglers (sometimes Ziegler) came from Hohenacker and the Duerrs came from Schlaitdorf. Both are towns near the southwestern German city of Stuttgart, in the Neckar River region. Pfoutses are said to have come from the lower Neckar River region in what is now Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Well, the trouble with certain German towns from the 18th and 19th centuries is that they were small then — some aren’t even in existence today. And, to complicate things further, sometimes there are more than one of them.

In the case of Hohenacker, birthplace of the Zeiglers, you can find the village in Bretzfeld, Waiblingen and Esslingen. Record transcriptions for the baptisms of Great-Great Grandfather J.J. Zeigler, in 1827, and sister Barbara, in 1810, show that they were born in Hohenacker, Waiblingen — which also happens to be the district that eventual wife Elizabeth Duerr and family called home, in Schlaitdorf. But family records claim these Zeiglers were born in Hohenacker, Esslingen.

Which is correct? Both villages are found near Stuttgart, both near that famed Neckar River which also produced the Pfoutses.

Baptismal records are probably the most authoritative when pinpointing our German ancestors. But I have seen more errors in transcription — and interpretation, such as family records that mutate Wuerttemberg into Wittenberg, which, as the German eagle flies, is aaaaaaall the way up in northeast Germany toward Berlin, but maybe our cute little relative researchers were thinking of the college in Ohio? — than I have seen dead-on accuracy.

So finding the actual records and eyeballing them is key. Until then, we have the swirling mists and a general geographic idea of where our Germanic roots got growing.

From the Jan. 23, 1928 edition of the New Philadelphia, Ohio Daily Times:

Mrs. Ziegler Dies Monday

DOVER TWP. RESIDENT 72 YEARS

Mrs. Elizabeth Ziegler, 83, widow of Jacob Ziegler, native of Germany, but a resident of Dover township since she was eleven years old, died at 10:20 p.m. yesterday at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Vance Foutz, 515 Race street, Dover, where she had made her home for the past six months.

Mrs. Ziegler, who became bedfast seven months ago tomorrow, died of a complication of diseases and infirmities of old age. Prior to her removal to Dover, Mrs. Zeigler had resided for twelve years with her son, David Ziegler, Russlin Hills, Dover township, four miles north of Dover. Mr. Ziegler died June 1, 1897.

Surviving are eight children: John, Zoarville; Mrs. Samuel Lengler, Parrall; Mrs. Edward Archinal, 515 West High street, this city; Jacob, David, Edward, all of Route 4, Dover; and Mrs. Foutz, at whose home she died; one brother, Samuel Duerr, Zoar; and a sister, Mrs. Constantine, Michigan.

Mrs. Ziegler was a member of St. Paul’s Evangelical church, Ruslin Hills.

Funeral services will be conducted at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Foutz home where she died, and at 10 a.m. at the St. Paul’s church. Rev. Paul Kaefer, Bolivar, will officiate. Burial will be made in the church cemetery by the Lewis Funeral Home, Dover, and Uhrichsville.

 

Zeigler Elizabeth Duerr grave Ruslin Hills Cemetery Dover Ohio

Great-great Grandmother Elizabeth (Duerr) Zeigler is buried in Ruslin Hills Cemetery north of Dover.

 

Categories: Foutz, General Genealogy, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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