19 December 2007

Going home

Since I’m a genealogy buff, I spend a lot of time in court houses, archives, libraries, churches and cemeteries. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been interested in finding out the “who, what, why, where and when” in my family. A family tree that an aunt created hung on my closet door for years. I was fascinated by the names and even more, the places they had come from. I wanted to know the stories of my ancestors.

My father was clearly proud of his German ancestry, and claimed he was predominately of German descent. Despite his obvious pride, he knew little of his family heritage and no one in the family could tell me where the immigrant ancestor had been from, except to nebulously say, “Germany.” This was one of the most challenging branches to track because of the lack of any information, but that may be because the family tried to shed its German appearance during the two world wars. The surname became Americanized and the children began to learn English. By my father’s generation, their German customs had largely been abandoned and only my grandfather spoke German, and that was limited to exchanges with his siblings.

This same scenario holds true for most of my other branches. I have some English, Irish and Scottish branches that may never be tracked back. My father’s grandmother came over relatively late from Ireland (after the famine) and no one knows where in Ireland she was from. This great-grandmother of mine seems to have never spoken about her family as her death certificate was blank in many places. Queries of my grandmother and her siblings about their mother went unanswered. No one knew anything about her.

The family belonged to the same parish in Minneapolis for years, Holy Rosary, being some of the earliest parishioners. Back around 1900, I suspect the parish was quite vibrant, filled with a smattering of immigrants. These parishioners were blue collar workers who found employment in the city. My great-grandfather was a well-digger and most of his sons, at least for a time, followed him into this trade.

Sanctuary of Holy Rosary, 1905

Today, Holy Rosary sits in rough inner-city neighborhood. I’m sure the area would be unrecognizable to the generations of my family that used to live there. Trying to get an idea of what their lives were like back then is harder with the ever-changing and constantly-growing city than with other branches of my family who lived out in the country.

So many churches within the cities are much different than what they once were. Time has brought about progress and change. St. Ambrose in St. Paul used to be the thriving heart of an Italian neighborhood. Not too long ago, the Archdiocese closed the church and sold it to a Baptist congregation. St. Ambrose was then reincarnated out in the suburbs, with only the name of the great saint to hint at its Italian ancestry.

Back in Minneapolis, I have relatives with large Catholic families that have provided the church with several religious. The families used to attend St. Stephen’s, not too far from Holy Rosary. This parish has seen change, but much of it is in its theology, becoming one of the most liberal parishes in the city.

Oddly, the churches of my forefathers I have visited in other countries have remained largely intact. Granted, most of these parishes are not in the big cities, but in tiny towns. In talking with one elderly Irish relative I visited, the parish he belongs to has remained the same for centuries. However, the whole of Ireland is changing and it’s only a matter of time before this parish feels the effects. The beautiful cathedral in the city, St. Brendan’s, is a work of art. But while the structure remains the same, the soul of the parish is changing.

The church my Swiss ancestors attended remains almost exactly as it was when it was built in the 1600s. The area is in a remote valley in the Alps and the people there clung tightly to their Catholic faith and resisted the Protestant changes brought about by Zwingli and those of his era. Life there hasn’t changed much, but industry is moving in. The small town is blessed with a natural spring that was recently purchased by Coca Cola. A ski resort and spa there are also quite popular. I am glad I had a chance to see the town before a great deal of change entered.

Now that I have located where they are from, way up by Ostfriesland, I hope to get to the parish my father’s German ancestors attended and some distant family still remain. The parish is nestled in a small farming community, but I’m not sure what to expect. Germany has seen many changes in the nearly 200 years since my ancestors left. Catholicism in Europe has seen many changes. If I get to make a stop there this spring, I’m eager to see what I will find.


Ma Beck said...

I had to take a day-trip to the New York City Public Library to get a microfilm with an obituary I was looking for of my ancestor so that I could finally scream (outside the library, of course), "COUNTY CAVAN! THEY WERE FROM COUNTY CAVAN!!!"
(My GGG Grandparents immigrated during the famine, pre-Ellis Island, and my GG Grandfather left NYC for SC when he was 16. He AND my GG Grandmother died when they were 33, within a few months of each other. Try finding THOSE people!)

NEVER give up hope.

Thanks for posting - I love reading about other people's searches for their roots, too.

PS God helps us with genealogy. I could tell you (and I'll bet you could tell me) some craaaazy stories of being "led" somewhere which seemed completely wrong only to find a will, etc.

Ray from MN said...

Thanks for sharing that, Swiss!

I've been doing my family research for a very long time.

When I started I was fortunate in that my Mom's maternal aunts were still alive and knew where their father (my ggf) was born in County Kerry in 1841. With a lot of diligent work and a lot of luck (and the word "Waterford" on a headstone) I was able to pinpoint my Mom's paternal side to a a village in County Waterford in Ireland.

On my Dad's paternal side, I only knew "Poland." But with, again, hard work, luck, and the good fortune to help someone who gave me the final clue, I was able to find the actual village my Dad's grandfather was born in in Poznan, Poland. And similarly, I think I have pinpointed my Dad's maternal side to a village. That one I couldn't take to the bank, though.

Three out of four is pretty darned good.

One day I had some time to kill and did a "rootsweb" search on my Mom's Maternal name, Reidy.

When it really comes down to it the vast majority of people who have posted on rootsweb (and those are the more accomplished genealogists) don't know anything other than "Ireland." A few might know a County, some a larger town, but people like me who have the actual "townlands" (rural neighborhoods) are pretty darn rare.

Genealogy for Catholics is tough. They didn't have money. They were happy to leave. They knew they would never go back (about half of immigrants did ultimately return to their homes), and they most often never wanted to talk about the "olden days."

swissmiss said...

I have been very lucky to find where many of my ancestors are from. People who aren't into genealogy just don't get that "ah-ha" moment when just a town listed on a death certificate makes you jump for joy.

I have most of my mother's side tracked as far back as records will take me. Just one branch, the only branch that was NOT Catholic on both sides of my family, is English (Hawkins) and I can't get them out of Ohio in the early 1800s. I have, by no means, exhausted all the possibilities, but all the low hanging fruit has been searched. My father's Irish grandmother is the most frustrating since she is so "recent" that I just can't believe there isn't something, somewhere that gives a clue. She came over when she was six with her mother, but I can't find any records of them anywhere. No ships' records, census records, nothing! No one even knew her parents' names. I know the family attended Holy Rosary, and have scoured their records, but haven't found any marriage certificate. Am not sure where they were married. Her last name was Lynch, so that bites since it's as common as Smith in the US! I have my father's Scottish branch (Logan) tracked back to Scotland, but the line gets murky because the branch is supposedly descended from a relationship with a mistress. Ah, scandal in the family!!! My believed ancestor was a Baron or something like that so it's amazing these records exist, but I'm aware of professional researchers having great difficultly slogging though this family so am just waiting to see the outcome. I also have another Irish branch, Moore, that I can't get out of Maryland. If I lived on the East Coast, I think there would be records to go through to figure this out, but haven't found this family on Ancestry or Rootsweb yet to cut down on my leg work!

Will have to talk to you sometime, Ray, about your research in the Polish records. Hubby's father's family on both sides are from Poland. They were Germans who went to Poland at the behest of Catherine the Great to teach the Polish farmers how to be more prosperous. I have one side tracked to Dab Maly (Dembe), Poland, and the other branches are from Redlin and Belgrade, but I'm not sure how to track the later. They were all Lutherans.

Divine Mercy said...

my family is german and italian, english and irish. i know alot of our family history. my dads side is german and english. mons is italian and irish.we have an interesting family history. my grandfather served in the boer war. he was my dads dad.

my grandpa on moms side, her dad, his parents came over to the USA in a boat. my dads grandfather or great grandfather was a general in napoleons army. we had a military family on both sides.

Ma Beck said...

My mother's side is Polish - we sent to Poland to get the marriage cert. of my G Grandparents.

It also had the baptismal,etc. info for both parties on it - church names and all! And we sent to the Polish consulate for translation - this was before I lived in Chicago and knew a million Polish speakers - and they not only translated it, but sent a nice map where they had circled the town.

Poland was the easiest part for us.
Ireland has been terrible for us. Very frustrating.

swissmiss said...

My family were farmers until they came to the US, then I have oodles of military men. I do have some Irish that rebelled when the French promised assistance, but then they cut and ran and left the Irish to hang (there is a book written about it called, The Summer of the French).

I haven't done much genealogy lately with the kids being so young...makes it hard to schlepp around to archives. I will have to look into the Polish on my hubby's side more. I am certain of the one town, Dembe, and found another gentleman (in Chicago!) who has most of this tree online. The other branches I'm not as certain about (lots of circumstantial evidence points to two towns close to each other where great-grandpa and great-grandma were from.) I believe all the parish records are maintained by the county - Kreis (in this case Kreis Belgard-Schivelbein for great-grandpa and Kreis Kolberg for great-grandma). Did you write to the Kreis? Did you already know the exact city (I believe I do since some relatives settled outside of Chicago and their census records state they are from Belgard, which is a town and a Kreis). I guess I'm just wondering what level of information I need to know before writing to the Kreis would be worthwhile. Thanks for the suggestion!

Lisa said...

Genealogy is important to pass on to our children. I'm fascinated by it! My aunt is working on our Irish side and my uncle is researching the English side. This past Sept., I sat with my 98 yr. old grandma and she hammered out some more ancestor's names that she remembered, so we documented those right then and there. The names are great too- we always like to use family names for our children.
Wonderful post!
God's blessings to you and your family this Christmas, Monica!

swissmiss said...

Glad you like genealogy too! I sat down with my aunt, the oldest of my father's siblings, and my cousin, her daughter. During my visit I asked my aunt as much as I could think of, and my cousin kept asking me what I planned to do with the information since it seemed pointless to her. I plan to share it with my kids and hopefully they will be interested too. My cousin wanted to know if I was going to write a book or publish the genealogy or something. HA HA. I have a hard enough time with that branch of the family sharing information...it will take a lot of time just to pursue things kind of in a vacuum without a lot of information. I have a genealogy webpage for my mom's side that's been around for ages and needs some serious updating.

I've had good success with my numerous Irish branches, but still have two to figure out. Finally found the German branches, had the Swiss tracked back awhile ago.

Hubby's maternal family has two branches that go back to the Mayflower so hope to have the time and money to document it well enough (it is all known, but not documented to the level required) for membership in the Mayflower Society and also for my daughter to join the DAR.

When my kids get old enough, I may have them do some genealogy work for a homeschool project :)

gemoftheocean said...

Swissmiss-- thanks for the update -- and MaBeck -- oh, yes, that "A-HA" moment when an actual town falls into place.

Swiss--re: the Irish where being so recently over here (by comparison) you can't find the ship etc. -- is it possible you had any that came via Canada? Just a thought. [I hope that doesn't send you on a wild goosechase!)

I've go through spells with genealogy-- I've come to realize that the further back you go, the more important it is to keep track of siblings if you can get that-- because sometimes you may have distant cousins descended from a sibling, and they know a "missing link" you don't. One thing I've been meaning to do is get a copy of my ancestor Col. Michael Lindenmuth's diary. He was both in the French and Indian war and wrote extensively about that, and was also in the Rev. War and had some diary entries about that too. It's in German, originally, I think, but I understand it's been translated.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

swissmiss; My Mother and her family (Grandpa was from Poland) were member of Holy Rosary in Minneapolis. In fact, my Mom and her sister went to school there-when they still had a school. I don't think the school is open anymore. I also think they use to have a convent there because my Mom talks about going to the convent kitchen to talk with or get something from the sisters.