Posted by: Laura Aanenson | March 3, 2015

His Name is What?

The other day I shared a trio of given names favored by my Walton ancestors.

So imagine my surprise the first time I saw my maternal grandfather’s birth certificate:

John George Walton's birth certificate

John George Walton’s birth certificate

I knew Grandpa as John George Walton. He signed everything John G. Walton.

My mother thought her father’s name had once been George John Walton, but his mother called him Johnny. Pretty soon that’s what everybody called him and the name-reversal stuck.

But Yimmes?

My late half first cousin twice-removed, a kindred spirit and avid genealogist surmised the following:

Great-grandmother Hannah was a Swedish immigrant with a strong accent. Her husband was James. Knowing her propensity for adding “e” to names (Johnny for example), she may have called her husband Jimmy.

Toss into the mix an immigrant records clerk and we have dad’s name, occupation (ern worker for iron worker), and place of birth (England rather than the Isle of Man) jumbled together.

And Grandpa’s name? Whether it was supposed to be George or John, we’ll never know for sure.

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | March 2, 2015

Behind the Camera

2015 03-02 Old Stuff DayIf there was a fire and I could save only one thing, it would be a box of pictures.

These snippets of life are treasured moments of my ancestors and they mean the world to me.

Many of the pictures in my collection are far from perfect.

During my learning curve I often took blurry, off-center, red-eye shots. Some of them are so terrible they make me laugh out loud.

During my ancestors’ learning curve, outdoor pictures often include the photographer’s shadow. The shadow forms all have the same stance; arms down, elbows out, head bent.

So when I saw this picture of my uncle posing with his new camera, it made me smile.

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | March 1, 2015

What’s in a Name?

2015 03-01 Walton, James WM

James Walton 1871-1911

In a word – everything!

When naming their sons, my Walton line chose from a short list of monikers.

My grandfather was John (1905-1980), who’s father was James (1871-1911), who’s father was James (1843-1916), who’s father was John (1809-1870), who’s father was Thomas (1783-1843).

Grandpa John had an older and a younger brother named James.

Great-great-grandfather James named his sons James, John, Thomas and William. Then he tossed in a Henry for good measure.

My 3rd great-grandfather John named his sons James, John, Thomas and William.

Fourth great-grandfather Thomas had five sons: George, John, Thomas, William and one boy who’s name I haven’t yet uncovered.

Any guesses as to what it might be?

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 28, 2015

From Known to Unknown

Beginner genealogists are encouraged to start with what they know and work backward toward facts as yet unknown.

But in the case of my third great-grandmother, I know more about her 1822 birth then I do about her 1901 death:

2015 02-28 Ahman, Lena Stina birth

Lena Stina, or Helena Christina as she would later be known, was born 28 Feb 1822 in Ulfsman Fiskaby, Jönköping, Småland, Sweden.

She was one of three known daughters born to Magnus Åhman (later Åman) and Britta Catarina Issaacsdotter.

Her marriage to Carl Tolf took place in her Swedish village 26 Dec 1846. The couple had eight children.

The four oldest children each traveled to the United States individually. Lena, her husband and their four youngest children immigrated to Batavia Illinois in May of 1878. This is where Helena would live out the rest of her days.

And that is where the mystery begins.

From the Batavia (Illinois) Herald, Wednesday 16 January 1901:

“Death of an Aged Mother – Died, at the home of her daughters, Misses Christina and Amanda Tolf, on Hueston St., West Batavia, Sunday, Jan 13, 1901, after an illness of several weeks, Mrs. Elena Tolf, aged 78 years. Deceased was an old resident of this city. She had reazed a large family of children, four sons and four daughters, four of whom live in Batavia. She was a good christian lady and a kind and devoted mother. Funeral will be held at the Swedish M.E. church, Thursday afternoon. Burial at West Batavia cemetery.”

A scrapbook clipping from the Gustafson Research Center in Batavia Illinois:

“Mrs. Carl Tolf, died at the home of her daughters Christine and Amanda Tolf on Houston street, at 4:45 last evening of heart failure. She had been ill for some time and the end was not entirely unexpected. She was born February 27, 1822. Eight children survive to mourn her loss. The funeral will be held Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. from the house and 2:30 from the Swedish Methodist church on McKee street.”

From the Batavia (Illinois) Herald, Wednesday 23 January 1901:

“Card of thanks – We desire to express our heartfelt thanks to the friends and neighbors, who so kindly assisted us during the sickness and death of our beloved mother, and especially to those who sent the beautiful floral pieces. Christine and Amanda Tolf”

Yet Kane County Illinois has no record of Helena’s death. And none of the cemeteries in Batavia have a record of her burial.

I’ve checked with each of the cemeteries in which her husband and her children are buried. Helena is not there.

On Wednesday February 25th, I requested a list of funeral homes active in 1901 from the Batavia Historical Society. I eagerly await their response!

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 27, 2015

Autos Kill Two Great-Grandfathers

Family stories provide great clues for genealogy research. Even if the whole story turns out to be slightly less than factual, there is often a kernel of truth contained therein.

The 29 Feb 1956 issue of the Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune 29 Feb 1956

My paternal great-grandmother’s 2nd husband died 27 Feb 1956. My dad’s recollection of Charlie Otto’s death was that he had stepped off a curb and was hit by a CTA bus.

An accident involving a CTA bus would be newsworthy, wouldn’t you think?

I didn’t see anything in the Chicago Tribune about the incident, but the Chicago Daily News ran the following article on page 13 of the 28 Feb 1956 issue:

“CHARLES OTTO SR. died Monday night in Manor hospital of injuries suffered several hours earlier when he was struck by an auto at Addison and Long.

Police said he was hit by a car driven by Alice R. Pickartz, 54, of 3819 N. Laramie. She was charged with failure to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.”

Perhaps Charlie was at a bus stop. Or he was crossing the street to catch a bus. Maybe there was a bus in the area. Or maybe the car simply turned into a bus during multiple re-telling of the story.

However, there’s an even more interesting twist to this topic in my family tree. Charlie Otto is one of two of my great-grandmothers’ second husbands that were killed by automobiles.

Twenty years earlier my maternal great-grandmother’s second husband Harry Flood died after being hit by a car:

2015 01-27 DC Flood, Harry

Note to self – look both ways before crossing a street.

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 26, 2015

Earning a Living during the Depression

Grandpa was one of the kindest men I have ever known. So two of the family stories about him make me cringe every time I hear them.

Born on this day in 1905, John George Walton was a married father of two during the worst days of the Great Depression. Having left school early to help support his widowed mother, his employment options were limited at best.

2015 02-26 Grandpa 2My grandmother cut out shoe-shaped cardboard pieces daily according to the first story. Grandpa wore them out day after day as he walked the streets looking for work. He’s so painfully thin in this picture it breaks my heart.

In the second story, my grandfather had found work as a taxi cab driver. A passenger tried to rob him by beating him with a steel pipe. Grandpa held one arm over his head while he drove the would-be thief to a police station. His head was protected, but his arm had been broken in three places.

Later Grandpa found a great job that he held for decades. My favorite Grandpa story is the one where he stopped at the bank every day on his walk home from work to deposit the change from his pockets. When he died, that bank account balance was more than $10,000.

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 24, 2015

A Tale of Two Sisters

2015 02-24 Kirchheimer, Christina nee Schmitt framed and WM

Christina Kirchheimer nee Schmitt

When the two sisters traveled from France to America with their mother and seven of their siblings in 1854, Elisabeth was seven and Christina was just five years old.

Hailing from the Lorraine region of France, both girls spoke German. They both attended church and school in their new hometown of Cincinnati Ohio, and both girls were young when they married older German immigrants.

Sadly Elisabeth and Christina also had personal tragedies in common – both experienced the loss of young children. Two of Elisabeth’s children died as toddlers and Christina lost four children under the age of five.

Elisabeth’s personal estate was valued at $600 when the 1870 census was taken, but her husband was not the source of her wealth. She operated a millinery store; the sole support of her family.

Christina’s husband was a Civil War veteran who owned a candy store and business. However according to line seven of the 1870 census below, Nikolaus Kirchheimer’s personal estate was valued at less than the economic worth of nearly all his neighbors.


In 1874 an independent Elizabeth moved to Chicago, divorced her alcoholic husband and married a wonderful German-speaking man from Switzerland. She died of diabetes in December of 1901 and is buried with her husband Jacob Mueller at Oak Woods Cemetery in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

Christina remained in Cincinnati. She and Nikolaus had a total of nine known children before he died at age 56. Left a widow in 1895 with four children under the age of 12, Christina had no means of support for herself or her family.

Thankfully she applied for and received a Civil War pension. It would provide a meager amount, enough to survive until her death at age 61.

Born on this day in 1849 in Hellimer, Moselle, Lorraine, France, Christina died in Cincinnati, Ohio February 6, 1911.

She is buried with her husband at Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum.

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 23, 2015

She Was Once Young

2015 02-23 AuntieWhen you meet someone who is old, do you think they were always old?

Or do you wonder about the path that led them to this place, the events that shaped them into the person standing before you?

Ranghild Katarina Henrietta Tolf a.k.a. “Auntie” was my great-grandfather‘s sister. She was a surrogate grandmother to my mother and likewise to me.

Born on this day in 1889, she was almost 70 years old when she attended my christening.

As a young child it never occurred to me that Auntie had ever been anything but a kind grandmotherly woman who wore sensible shoes.

But she had once been a lovely young lady who wore beautiful hats.

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 22, 2015

Where Did the Time Go?

He’ll be 15 years old tomorrow. Where on earth did the time go?

2015 02-22 Anderson, Hansel on Sentimental Sunday

Posted by: Laura Aanenson | February 21, 2015

Reading Foreign Language Obituaries

My third-great grandfather Nicholas Schmitt died on this day in 1876 in Cincinnati Ohio.

His obituary* appeared in the German-language newspaper The Cincinnati Volksfreund:

2015 02-21 Schmitt, Nicolas Volksfreund23Feb1876Transcription: “Todes-Anzeige. Starb am Montag, den 21. Februar 1876, Abends um 11 Uhr, unser innigst geliebter Vater: Nikolaus Schmitt, im Alter von 64 Jahren, geboren in Hellimer, Lothringen. Die Beerdigung findet statt am Donnerstag Morgen um 8 Uhr, vom Trauerhause aus, No. 637 Race Straße, und wird ein feierliches Todtenamt in der St. Johannes Kirche abgehalten werden. Freunde und Verwandte sind ohne besondere Notiz dazu freundlichst eingeladen von den trauernden Hinterbliebenen.”

Translation: “Death notice. Died on Monday February 21st 1876, in the evening at 11 o’clock, our beloved father Nikolaus Schmitt, at the age of 64 years, born in Hellimer, Lorraine. The entombment will take place on Thursday in the morning at 8 o’clock, starting at [the] house of mourning, 637 Race Street, and there will be solemn obsequies at St. John’s Church. Friends and relatives are invited to this without special note by the mourning bereaved.”

Thankfully I had guidance working with this obituary. Since acquiring this treasure, I’ve located a couple others I’ll need to transcribe and translate as well.

It’s time to learn how to do this myself.

Nicolas’ notice of death above is written in Fraktur, a typeface used in newspapers and many documents of German immigrants in America. So the first step would be to compare the letters in the document to the letters on this script tutorial.

Once the letters have been matched and the document transcribed, it’s time to translate the text.

Google translate and other web sites can be helpful translating today’s vocabulary. However, when translating documents from the 19th century, it’s helpful to use a dictionary with 19th century words. This German word list from FamilySearch provides key genealogical terms in English and the German words with the same or similar meanings.

With these tools in hand, I’m ready to tackle the next obituary on my list – the one for Nicolas’ son Emile Schmitt:

1898 11-15 Obit Emile Schmitt WM


*Source: Cincinnati Volksfreund, 23 Feb 1876; Cincinnati Library microfilm, Cincinnati Ohio.

Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: