06 September 2013

The Quest For Family

It was many years ago (about 1951) that I asked my parents for information about their families.  What they wrote down was very limited, not more than one or two generations past.  My mother had her parents’ Marriage certificate, her own Birth certificate and her mother’s Bible.  My father had his Birth certificate, his parents’ Marriage certificate, a Deed to the cemetery plot where his mother was buried and his grandfather’s Naturalization certificate.  Most of that information lay dormant while I was raising a family and establishing a career.  Occasionally, a new document or piece of information would float my way, including a letter confirming my maternal grandfather’s naturalization on Sept. 18, 1899. The death of my parents provided me with a few more items, including my mother’s photograph albums, neatly labeled with names and sometimes dates. 

It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that my wife, Shirley, and I started a more rigorous quest.  We attended a lecture about genealogical research given by a Mormon couple at our local library in Ontario, New York.  We have since scoured the Local History section of the Rochester (NY) public library, viewed the local Historian’s files and original church records at Lyons, New York, traveled to Salt Lake City to the great archives of the Mormon Church, spent time researching at NEHGS in Boston, visited many historians’ offices in the northeast, and eventually spent time in England, Germany and France.

One of my early memories of school is hearing the story of the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving feast.  After the story, we were to draw and cut out images of Pilgrims, Indians, turkeys, whatever we thought was representative of that story.  I cut out a pair of Pilgrims, little knowing my future quest would bring me to Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims first settlement.  What I later found was a link through my paternal grandmother, Lennie Mann, to her paternal grandmother, Nancy Standish, which led directly to Myles Standish.  Taking this news to a family gathering, I made the announcement of this discovery, to hear my brother say: “I knew that.  Dad told me that years ago.”  Shirley and I have since visited the Plymouth Rock area including the Standish monument.  We have had the pleasure of holding the “Standish Quilt” housed in the DAR Museum at Albion, New York, which was used to make the genealogical connection from Myles to Asa Standish, who settled near Albion.  A distant cousin provided copies of family information from Nancy Standish’s Bible and two photographs of Nancy, which have been added to her Overview on Ancestry.com.  We also have visited the Standish Cemetery where Asa and other members of the family are buried.

Based on my research, I found that members of my mother’s father, Henry Göbel, came from a small village in Germany, named Breitau, and that my mother’s mother, Clara Marie Steinmetz, was born in Kassel.  My father’s father, George Müller, came from Lembach, a small village in France near the German border; he was German, although the Naturalization Certificate reports him as a citizen of France.  Shirley and I visited these places in 2000,  and I left a copy of my family tree with the minister of the church in Breitau.  Subsequently, I received an e-mail from the son-in-law of my second cousin, Martin Heinrich Göbel, who still lives in the family homestead.  We made arrangements to visit and two years later we were sitting in the Göbel house, being treated like royalty.  We met other members of the family living in the area, and I had a telephone conversation with a cousin with whom I had corresponded in the late 1940’s.  I have since found on Google Earth that the Maginot Line ran quite close to Lembach and there are still remains of that fortification in the area

In 2004, we visited England to trace Shirley’s roots, taking us to Doncaster,  Farnham, Ewell, Hatfield, Fishlake, Bramouth, Snaith, Rawcliff, Whitgift, Whitby, Plymouth and Southampton.  Through Ancestry.com, Shirley has contacted a cousin in England and they have visited us to look at houses and gravestones in Rochester, New York.

Because most of our families lived in the northeast, we have used fultonhistory.com extensively to find newspaper articles about them.  Many official documents – birth, death and marriage certificates - were found on the microfilms available through the Mormon Church Library; these have provided information about other family members.  The church archives in Rothenburg, Germany sent records of the Göbel line from their microfilm files.  I was able to copy records from the original church books in Lyons, New York and Gerstungen, Germany.  The tree keeps growing.

Of course, we have hit brick walls.  For example, I have not been able to find the parents of my 3rd great grandmother, Martha Conklin, nor for her husband, Thomas J Patterson.  Likewise, the line through Jesse Mann, Jr. to his father, Jesse, Sr. to his father, Amos Mann, leads to some mystery; there are several possibilities for Amos, none of which I can conclusively claim.  So the search continues.  To date, there are over 3600 people in my Ancestry.com file – “Miller/Mann/Goebel/Steinmetz Family 2006.”  It’s a public file, so take a look to see if we have anyone in common.  We could be cousins.



Rick Watson said...

There's a lady here close to me that does a lot of work in that area. Did any of your folks come south? If so, I can hook you up with her and see if she knows anything.
BTW, I gave you a shoutout on my blog tonight. I love the drawing you did of the old house and Ol' Buddy.
I can't say thank you enough.

Granpappy said...

Rick, thanks for the shoutout. I'm happy that you like the drawing.
As far as I know, my ancestors stayed above the Mason Dixon line.