Girl to Boy, Man to Woman?

One tiny question turned into a complicated puzzle that continues to test my genealogical expertise (or lack thereof).

  • Question: cousins?
  • Puzzle: dad is a woman?
  • Nagging issue: No, really – is dad a woman?

The possible cousins/married couple are Otto V Mueller and Alvina M Schmitt. Alvina’s father is Emilie Schmitt, the sister of my 2nd great-grandmother Elizabeth Schmitt. At least at the beginning. And at the end. In the middle, Emile is my 2nd great-grandmother’s brother.

The question was posed innocently enough. Otto and Alvina were married in Berrien County Michigan¹, a place that asked questions every genealogist loves to see answered: What is your father’s first name? Your mother’s maiden name? What do you do for a living? From which city do you hail?

Alvina’s last name caught my eye. It was the same as her new mother-in-law’s maiden name. Could be just a coincidence since Schmitt is a common name. But the mention of an Ohio birthplace and a father named Emile made me wonder – could Otto and Alvina be related?

Armed with the information contained on this marriage record, I began searching for Alvina’s birth family.

The 1900 census would be the most recent census in which Alvina would appear. There was a possibility for her², but I needed more evidence to be sure the boarding school student named Alvina M Schmitt was really “my” Alvina. For that I needed to work forward.

The couple had been married in 1902, so 1910³ was the first census in which they could participate. This would be the only census in which Otto and Alvina would appear together. With them was a daughter named Edith. Edith’s presence helped me locate Alvina after she and Otto divorced.

Alvina had returned to Ohio, taking the couple’s daughter with her. She moved in with her brother Arthur J. Schmitt, a name that helped connect the dots from Alvina back to my 2nd great-grandmother’s brother. Or sister. Perhaps I should explain…

My 2nd great-grandmother was born in 1847 in Hellimer, Lorraine, France to Marie-Anne Gury and Nicolas Schmitt. Elizabeth’s younger sister Emilie was born 21 Oct 1851. (Both French birth records can be read here.) The sisters, their siblings and parents immigrated to Cincinnati Ohio in 1854. The first US census in which the family appears is 1860. Emilie would be about nine years old, right?

Instead there is a nine-year-old boy named Emile who fits correctly in the birth order of the remaining children. In 1870, he was a young man named Emile Schmitt (counted twice in that census) who worked as a barkeeper in a hotel. By 1880, this same young man had married Maria Elizabeth Kauffman and had a son named Emil Johann. Emile worked in his father-in-law’s brewery, working his way all the way to Vice President.

1880 would be the last census in which Emile appeared. He died in 1898 two years after his wife’s death. Their orphaned children, Arthur J and Alvina are named in Emile’s will and probate records.

Do you think I somehow combined or reversed families; Emile in one and Emilie in another? I wondered about the same thing and backtracked over my research a dozen times. During one such re-visit of my records, a distant cousin in Ohio sent me a photo from a cemetery in Cincinnati.  Alvina Schmitt Mueller shares a headstone with her father whose name is carved as Emile Gury Schmitt.

The headstone and the burial record below confirms my theory that my 2nd great-grandmother and Emile have the same birth parents. It also confirms the Kauffman connection and Emile’s residence:

Could the French birth record have inadvertently assigned the wrong gender? I checked with a number of French researchers who told me that is highly unlikely. Despite that, and because of all the other evidence, I was almost convinced Emile’s birth record was an exception. But before I accepted that implausible explanation, I took one more step.

I ordered Emile’s will and probate papers from the University of Cincinnati. Here’s one of the pages that was contained therein:

The probate papers refer to Emile as “her”.

From his burial record, I learned Emile died a painful yet quick death. My assumption is that several doctors were involved in his care. One or more of those doctors would probably have been seeing Emile for the first time.

Based on the research I have done, I believe Emile was an intersex person. He may have had the biological characteristics of both males and females and his gender could not be clearly classified. Certainly by age nine when he appeared in the 1860 census he would have identified with one gender more than another. If he had intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish men and women, it would explain his being identified as female in his birth record and on the probate page, and the ability to live his entire adult life as a man.

Gender identification can be a very emotional process. If my conclusion is correct, I hope for Emile’s sake that it wasn’t difficult for him.

¹ “Michigan County Marriages, 1820-1956.” FHL microfilm 234,267; Michigan Department of Vital Records, Lansing, MI.

² Year: 1900; Census Place: Sycamore, Hamilton, Ohio; Roll: T623 1283; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 324.

³ Year: 1910; Census Place:  Chicago Ward 31 Cook Illinois; Roll:  T624_277; Page:  14B; Enumeration District:  1350; Image:  795; FHL Number:  1374290.

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6 thoughts on “Girl to Boy, Man to Woman?

  1. Pingback: Side-tracked Genealogy « where2look4ancestors

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