Leapfrogging: Should We Believe Our Elders? – 52 Ancestors #180

You might notice that weekends are normally when I publish my 52 ancestor stories – and this isn’t exactly a normal 52 Ancestors story – but it pertains. Trust me for a minute.

Halt the Presses

This is what happens when you THINK you have correct information for your ancestor – or any topic really – and for some reason, you discover that you don’t.

Generally, the reasons fall into three categories:

  • New information not previous available
  • Misinterpreted information, sometimes based on incomplete information
  • Incorrect information from “elders”

The reason the 52 Ancestors story I had planned for today isn’t publishing is a result of items 1 and 2.  Fortunately for genealogists today, records previously buried in dusty cellars and church books in tiny villages are now being imaged and indexed along with other information relevant to rebuilding our ancestor’s lives.

While it’s irritating to have written an entire article and THEN discover something new – it’s actually a VERY POSITIVE outcome, because the new information was a wonderful development as the result of their spouses’ article published last week.

So while I need to rewrite this week’s and the original article, I will write with gratitude!

The third situation, incorrect information from elders, is a bit more awkward – and yes, I’ve been tripped up with that one too.

Who Are The Elders Anyway?

In most every culture, the elders are those who have lived long enough to amass wisdom – or they are more focused on a particular subject.  In traditional societies, these might be healers, shamans or hunters.

Today, the genealogical elders might be individuals focused on genealogy, genetic genealogy specialists, or the people in our own family who are literally, older, who know more about our family because they knew their grandparents who passed away long before we were born.

Additionally, because we all begin as novices, book authors and people who already have trees online are perceived as “elders” in this sense, because they have more experience than the novice. This extends to other people on social media, whether they have any expertise at all.  It’s impossible for the novice to tell.

Uncle George – The Good Elder

Let me give you an example.

My father died when I was a child and his family lived in another state 500 miles distant.  I didn’t know any of his side of the family until as a young adult, I decided I wanted to find out if there were any living family members.  I literally called the telephone “operator” and told her to connect me to any Estes in Tazewell, Tennessee. I remember her asking, “But which one, there are several?”  I was excited!

The operator selected an Estes at random and a couple phone calls later, I was talking to Uncle George who everyone assured me knew all about the genealogy of the Estes family. Indeed, he was the family elder I needed to connect with. He told me he had known my grandfather, Will Estes. He refrained from telling me the juicy details. At that time, I didn’t even know there were juicy details about my grandfather. I would learn about those later from one of the crazy aunts.

A few months later, I went to visit Uncle George, who was not my uncle at all, but my first cousin once removed.  The term “Uncle” in that part of the country is a term of endearment showing respect and kinship with someone.

Uncle George was kind enough to share his recollections with me, along with photos, dates and burial locations.  He was the collector of such things, the family archivist.  It’s somehow ironic that Uncle George had no biological offspring, although he was very fond of his second wife’s children.

At this point in my life, I wasn’t a genealogist, or at least I didn’t realize I was.  It’s a sneaky addiction you know! A slippery slope and once you’re there, it’s too late to do anything about it.  If you are reading this article, you very clearly know whereof I speak😊

Leapfrog Knowledge

When I met Uncle George and his brother, Uncle Buster, both of whom I adored, Uncle George was in his 70s and we were separated by almost half a century.

That means that he was in every sense my elder and looked uncannily like my father – so much so that when he opened the door the day I met him for the first time – I stood on the step literally dumbstruck, seeing the ghost of my two decades deceased father.

Uncle George and me in the back of his pickup truck.

We sat on the couch during my visit, side by side as he pulled one note and photo after another out of “the box” and shared them with me, recounting the story of each one.  I was transported back in time.

He told me that he was quite young, but that he remembered standing at the graveside of his grandfather, my great-grandfather, Lazarus Estes when he was buried in 1918.  He asked, “Do you want me to take you there?”  Now remember, I wasn’t a genealogist yet – but I truly believe it’s right about here in the story that I was infected with this lifelong affliction.

I excitedly said yes, and off we went – to view a grave WITH NO HEADSTONE.

How many of your ancestors’ graves are unmarked? What would it be worth to you to go with someone who had stood at that grave when they were buried and knew exactly where it was located?

This is what I’m referring to as leapfrogging.  That happens when you find someone old enough that they have personal knowledge of incidents and people at least two and sometime three generations before your own available family memories.

In my case, I had no memories available to harvest, except for the Crazy Aunts who we’ll mention in a minute, because my father had died.  Finding Uncle George who had carefully taken notes was a godsend.

His personal knowledge was remarkable.  Of course, I wish desperately now I had asked more questions – so many more questions.

Uncle George is who told me about the cabin that burned, and with it, my father’s brother.  He planted the willow tree on the spot where that cabin once stood.  And where I later stood too, grieving a half century later for my grandparents and that poor child.

Uncle George knew both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, my great-grandparents.  Granted, they were old when he was young, but he could take me to where their cabin stood, show me where they dipped their water with a gourd from the stream and tell me about what his father told him as well.

Uncle George’s father, Charlie Tomas (yes, it’s really spelled that way) knew his parents of course, but he also knew his grandparents, in particular, his grandmother Ruthy Dodson Estes who died in 1903 when Charlie would have been 18.  It’s because Charlie shared this knowledge with Uncle George that we knew that she suffered terribly from rheumatoid arthritis and had to be carried from her cabin to Lazarus’ when she could no longer care for herself.  It’s through Charlie that we knew where Ruthy’s unmarked grave was located as well.

Ruthy’s husband, John Y. Estes didn’t die until 1895, but he left Tennessee for Texas before Charlie was born, so Charlie would never have known him.

This leapfrogging begins to break down here, but we’ve connected in some tangible way with George acquiring either first or second hand knowledge of people born in 1820.

Furthermore, Uncle George knew that his great-great-grandmother’s name was Nancy Ann Moore.  He was accurate.  How do I know?  Because I found their marriage license in Halifax County Virginia from 1811 some years later. Because Uncle George knew her name, I knew I had the right John Estes in Halifax County and that allowed me to search further and connect back in time to earlier generations – breaking through the brick wall of how my Estes line connected to the descendants of Abraham Estes.

Uncle George’s recorded notes leapfrogged back in time from the 1980s to 1811, an amazing 170 years!

What didn’t Uncle George know?

He didn’t know where the family came from in Virginia, but he unknowingly held the piece of information that allowed me to make that discovery.

He didn’t know where John R. Estes who had died in 1887 was buried, although he presumed it was in the family cemetery.  At least Uncle George TOLD me he was presuming.

This is the important distinction.

I didn’t know enough about genealogy at that point to understand what to ask.  He knew enough to tell me and thankfully, I heard him.

When interviewing elders, it’s important to discern what they know and how, as opposed to what they are inferring based on other knowledge, and it’s critical to record what they say verbatim.  By that time, I had finished college, so note-taking was second nature – thankfully. I find my notes from those conversations that include items I’d forgotten, and I know at the time I thought I’d never forget – but I did.

As I read back over my notes from my visits with Uncle George, I discovered that I had forgotten things that seemed unimportant at the time, but were valuable puzzle pieces later when I had a clue.

To the best of my knowledge, Uncle George never provided me with a piece of inaccurate information.  In some cases, he didn’t know all of the details, which I later discovered, but they never disproved what he had told me.

But then, there were the Crazy Aunts.

The Crazy Aunts

The crazy Aunts were elders too when I met them, about the same time.  They were my father’s sisters.

Uncle George didn’t forewarn me that the aunts were crazy. He didn’t tell me that they um, created or embellished stories with added drama, at will, it seems.

Now, I do have to admit, some of their stories did turn out to be true, and ALL OF THEM were quite interesting. Sometimes far more interesting than the truth.

Of particular interest to me was the “fact” that Elizabeth Vannoy was “half Cherokee through her mother and her brothers moved to Oklahoma and claimed head rights.”

That’s a lot of very specific information.

And guess what?

None of it was true.

I’ve tracked down every bit and disproven that entire statement, piece by piece, including genetically through Y DNA and mitochondrial haplogroups and ethnicity tests of descendants.  Elizabeth Vannoy was not half Cherokee.  Her family wasn’t even living in the right location, to begin with, and the evidence continues from there.

This isn’t the only instance of receiving incorrect information from the aunts.

However, Aunt Margaret did indeed provide me with family photos, none of which I had or would have had without her generosity.

This begs the question of whether Aunt Margaret was conveying something she was told or whether she was playing fast and free with the truth, or maybe conveying the story as she wanted it to be.

I don’t have the answer to that.

What I do know is that I believed it for a very long time.  I know that my father believed it too.

Verifying Elder’s Stories

Stories conveyed by the elders are absolutely invaluable.  However, we have to evaluate every piece of that information individually, divorcing ourselves from the emotions we hold for tellers.

Yes, we know that you love grandpa and you can’t conceive of grandpa every lying to you – but maybe grandpa didn’t tell a Pinocchio.  Maybe he told the truth as he believed it.  Maybe he only modified the facts a tidbit to protect someone – perhaps you.

For example, when I was young, there was a sign in front of our house that said “colored people not allowed.”  Colored meant me…because my father’s family was “dark” and my father firmly believed that he was indeed Indian, attending to Powwows held in secret at that time because they were illegal.

Was he partly Indian?  Yes, I do believe so, based on a variety of evidence.

Was his grandmother half Indian through her mother who was 100% Cherokee?  No, unquestionably not, including mitochondrial DNA evidence that shows her haplogroup as J1c2c! That European mitochondrial haplogroup alone proved unquestionably that her matrilineal line is not Native. Her father’s haplogroup I is also European.

Perhaps that tidbit conveyed by the crazy aunts substituted Native for African.  Perhaps their parents or grandparents, in the early 1900s were trying to explain why they were so dark and trying to protect their family from rampant “zero tolerance” discrimination.

We will never know today.  What I do know, and can prove is that the information provided by the aunts was inaccurate.  I cannot speak to the intention.

Talk, Record, Share, Correct

This brings me back to my commentary about my 52 Ancestors stories.  I need to correct two stories already in print and delay one that was scheduled to be published today – because I need to correct information based on newly discovered facts.

However, those facts would never have come my direction had I NOT published what I had, with sources and references.

I’ve heard a number of people say that they don’t share trees or stories because they aren’t “finished” or they are afraid of perpetuating bad information.  I share that concern, but imagine if Uncle George hadn’t shared what he knew with me.

That information would be gone today, forever irretrievable.

Here’s my advice.

  • Do your best.
  • Verify as much as possible.
  • Share your sources and your research path.
  • Document what you can and state clearly what you do not know, items that need followup or areas where you are suspicious, and why
  • Negative evidence is still evidence. For example, “I checked and John Doe is not in the marriage/death/court/deed/will/probate records in XYZ County between 1850 and 1900.”  That provides invaluable information, even though you didn’t find any documents.  It’s not at all the same as not having checked.
  • Correct the stories or narrative as soon as you discover either an error or something new.

We believe our elders because when we find them, they are more knowledgeable than we are.  They have the benefit of time and sometimes location and there is no reason for us to NOT believe them.  After all, they are the ones we are turning to.

Like everyone, elders, no matter how much we love and respect them, are human, and they convey what they were told.  We can’t go back in time and evaluate why their elders thought or said what they did.  We don’t know if someone assumed that an individual was buried someplace or knew it by standing at their graveside. And we don’t know if they got information from the equivalent of Uncle George or a Crazy Aunt.

We also don’t know what was omitted, or why.

For a long time, I believed that John Y. Estes must surely be buried in the Estes Cemetery too, between his parents, wife and deceased children.  It made perfect sense.  That is…until I discovered quite by accident that he left his family in Estes Holler in Claiborne County Tennessee, walked to Texas (twice) not long after his youngest child was born and was in fact buried in the Boren Cemetery the middle of a field in Montague County, Texas in 1895. Imagine my surprise making this discovery, which, by the way, I verified in person, taking the photo of his headstone myself in 2004.

None of the elders told me that really important tidbit. Could be because they didn’t “know,” but somehow I think it might have had more to do with the “d” word.  Divorce. Or maybe because he left his family. It could also have something to do with the fact that he fought for the confederacy in the Civil War while most of the neighbors and family fought for the north. Or maybe some combination of the two made him easy to forget.

The other glaring omission is that Joel Vannoy, father of Elizabeth Vannoy, who died in 1895 was institutionalized in an “insane asylum” for “preachin’, swearin’ and threatenin’ to fight.”  Lazarus transported him to the asylum in Knoxville, and everyone in “Estes Holler” which connected with “Vannoy Holler” was aware of the situation.  It was no secret at the time, as I later discovered. Uncle George’s father, Charlie clearly knew this, and knew Joel as well.  I surely wish Uncle George had told me.  He was a kind man and didn’t want to speak ill of anyone, alive or dead.

The Crazy Aunts would have told something that juicy in a heartbeat, so I’m going to presume they didn’t know! They weren’t raised in Estes Holler.

The truth is the truth, no matter how flattering or unflattering.  Our ancestors are unique individuals, warts and all.

We hold a sacred duty to the ancestors to tell their stories, the truth, verified where possible by DNA evidence, because now WE have become those leapfrogging elders.

Conrad (Cunradt) Schlosser (1635-1694), Calvinist– 52 Ancestors #179

Thanks to the combined efforts of cousin Richard Miller, my friend Tom, a retired genealogist who works with German records and blog commenter, Karen Parker, we know that Conrad Schlosser is the father of both Anna Ursula Schlosser and Irene Charitas Schlosser through the sisters’ 1689 confirmation record which refers to “Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula, Conrad Schlosser’s daughters from Steinwinden.”

Clearly, I wanted to build this family, so I checked Family Search where I have found several German Church records previously.

I found a record of Conrad’s death in the record search by surname. You can also search by location, date and record type, or a combination. If one doesn’t work, try another. Some indexed records will show up in one type of search, but not another, even though they should.

No record images are available though, as you can see beside the camera icon. Bummer!

But there’s a secret tool. This nifty work-around is thanks to Tom who was working on finding the images of these records before I even found the index.

First, A Secret Trick

Do you see the camera icon where it says “no image found?” Well, that’s not always true and images are often available, even when it says otherwise.

We’re going to use a different tool.

First, if you don’t have an account for FamilySearch.org, create one. You’ll need one in order to sign in.

Then, under the dropdown for “Search” select “Catalog.”

Enter the place name. In this case, I entered Steinwenden and it autofilled the rest of the information.

Click on the blue Search button that you’ll see below the place name.

Next, you’ll see the relevant records for Steinwenden. I’m selecting “Church records.”

I see two options, only one of which includes the dates I’m interested in that begin in 1684. Happy dance! Happy dance!

Click on that link.

Now we can view the actual records by film number, and look, the camera image at the right in the green box indicates that these records ARE imaged. They aren’t indexed, but you can use the information from the regular search to locate the information, then browse the images to find the specific record you seek.

Ok, now back to Conrad.

Conrad’s Death

Conrad, Cunrad or Cunradt, his name is spelled all 3 ways in different records, was buried on February 13, 1694, the day before the Feast of St. Valentine. That typically means he died the day before. Before the days of embalming, people were buried quickly although there would have been no rush in February. According to WeatherSpark, February 9th is historically the coldest say in Steinwenden, and the temperature averages between 29 and 40 F. The ground probably wouldn’t have been frozen, so digging a grave wouldn’t have been a problem.

My friend, Tom, marked the entry with an X. How he reads and deciphers these records is utterly beyond me, but thankfully, he does. Conrad was age 59 at his death and so was therefore born in 1634 or 1635.

Conrad’s Family Revealed Through Death Records

But there’s more.

Next we discover that his wife’s name was Anna Ursula and she outlived him, departing this world on March 15, 1701.

Anna Ursula’s death record is shown above, but there’s more there too. Conrad and Anna Ursula’s daughter, Anna Catherina’s death is recorded just above Anna Ursula’s, passing away March 3rd.

Below Anna Ursula’s death entry we find even more.

Conrad and Anna Ursula had a son, Johannes Schlosser born in 1680 who died 8 days later, on March 22, 1701, never having married. His death entry is the one beneath his mother’s entry, above.

That was one ugly March.

Another son, Carl was born in 1660 and died in 1731.

Carl’s death is recorded in the index, as well as the actual church record, below.  Sometimes deaths appear in the actual records that don’t know in the Family Search indexes.

A third son, Hans Peter, probably Johann Peter, was buried on July 31, 1691, having died at age 11. He would have been born about 1680, probably not long before the family immigrated to Steinwenden from Switzerland. It’s possible that Johannes and Hans Peter were twins, but more likely that the birth year is off because only the general age of death is given in the church record, not the actual birth year.

The 31st of July 1691 was buried in Steinwenden, Hans Peter Schlosser, son of Cunradt, aged about 11 years. Steinwenden Ev-Ref Kirche, BA (Homburg), Bavaria

Unfortunately, none of these records tell us where the Schlosser family originated or the occupation of Conrad.

Church and Graveyard

I would bet that Conrad is buried in the churchyard in Steinwenden. If the graves were marked at the time with more than a wooden cross, one wouldn’t be able to locate them today, because burial plots are reused in Europe. In some cases, family members are simply buried on top of or in the same place as an earlier ancestor. In other cases, the bones are removed to an ossuary to continue to their return to dust, freeing up the grave space for others, perhaps unrelated, to be buried. Customs and actual usage vary by location.

The church today in the center of Steinwenden was built in 1852, long after Conrad died, but the original church was probably located in the same location, and if not, certainly nearby. Keeping in mind that when Conrad and the Swiss immigrants settled in Steinwenden, there were only 6 families in residence, and one of those 6 could have been Conrad since we don’t know exactly when he arrived although it looks like it might have been in the spring of 1685. Six families, 25 people, and a church whose records begin in 1684!

Catholics and Protestants

Speaking of the church, this family has a somewhat unusual religious mixture.

On April 28, 1685, when Conrad would have been 50 years old, his daughter, Anna Maria married Melchior Clemens in Steinwenden. The typical marriage location was the church of the bride if the church of the bride and groom were different – assuming they were both of the same religious sect – meaning Catholic or Protestant.

In this case, the only church in Steinwenden was a protestant church which implies that both the bride and groom were protestant.

Anna Maria’s first child was born and baptized in this church on January 31, 1686, but then the unthinkable happened. Anna Maria apparently converted to Catholicism, because their subsequent children were baptized in the Catholic church in either Glan-Munchweiler, about 7 miles distant, or Ramstein, about 3 miles distant in the opposite direction.

Children cannot be baptized in the Catholic church unless both parents are Catholic.

Typically, the godparents must be Catholic too, given that the duty of the godparents is to raise the child in the event that something happens to both parents, and raise that child in the Catholic religion.

However, in this case, an exception was made for some reason. We have no way of knowing whether the churches in this region were relatively lax, or something else came into play, but regardless, an exception was made.

Ironically, it’s those Catholic church records that provide insight into Conrad Schlosser’s religion.


In 1694, Carl Schlosser, Conrad’s son and the brother of Anna Maria Schlosser Clemens stood up as the godfather in the Ramstein Catholic church for the son of his sister, Anna Maria. Carl is noted in the Catholic church record as “the honorable young man, Carolus Schlosser, Calvinist of Steinweiler.” Carolus is the Latin form of Carl. Honorable in this context probably means that his parents were married at his birth, but still, this record of a protestant standing up for a Catholic child at baptism is quite unusual.

This baptism occurred on May 9th, less than 2 months after Carl and Anna Maria had buried their father, Conrad, recorded for posterity (and grateful descendants) in the Steinwenden church records. Might this recent death have softened the resolve of the priest in Ramstein, or perhaps the reason the baptism took place in Ramstein is because that church was more lenient that the Catholic church in Glan-Munchweiler where the previous three children had been baptized.

At that time in Germany, the protestant church consisted of two branches. Beginning in the 1500s, many Germans accepted the teachings of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the Evangelical or Lutheran church was formally established in 1531, breaking from the Catholic church.

Another group of protestants who accepted the creed of the Swiss Calvinist reformers eventually became members of the Evangelical Reformed Church which broke with the Catholic church about 1530.

Calvinists were named such by the Lutherans who opposed the sect referring to French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564). It was a common practice in the churches of the day to name what they perceived to be heresy after the founder of the heretical movement. Hence, Calvinism.

While the Calvinists and Lutherans were both protestant sects, they viewed each other as heretics and the Catholics thought both sects were heretical.

By SCZenz at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10547367

John Calvin (born Jehan Cauvin in France) preached at the St. Pierre Cathedral, the main church in Geneva. Of course, by the time that Conrad Schlosser was born in 1634, Calvin had been deceased for 70 years and the Schlosser family would have been learning the tenets of the faith from ministers of the Calvinist faith.

This tells us something of the Schlosser family history in the 100 years before Conrad’s birth, since the 1530s. The Schlossers had been separated from the Catholic faith for 100 years or less, about 4 generations.  In that time, someone converted to Calvinism.

Calvinists differ from Lutherans on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, theories of worship and the use of God’s Law for believers. For example, Calvinists of the time believed that Christ is actually present at the Lord’s supper, in spirit, but present just the same, as opposed to those who believed that the supper simply serves as a reminder of Christ’s death. Confession was also a part of the Calvinist faith.

Calvinist religious refugees poured into Geneva Switzerland, especially from France during the 1550s. In Switzerland, protestant churches were typically Calvinist, while Lutherans were found more in northern Germany. This further points to the Schlosser family’s Swiss origins and raises the possibility of French origins before that.

The Calvinists were known for simple unadorned churches and lifestyles, as show in this painting by Emanuel de Witte from about 1661, only a couple decades before our Calvinist Schlosser family is found in Steinwenden.

5 Points of Calvinism

The 5 points of Calvinism, referred to as TULIP, are as follows, according to Wikipedia’s article on Calvinism:

The central assertion of these points is that God saves every person upon whom he has mercy, and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or inability of humans.

  • Total depravity“, also called “total inability”, asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God, but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved (the term “total” in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be). This doctrine is derived from Augustine‘s explanation of Original Sin. While the phrases “totally depraved” and “utterly perverse” were used by Calvin, what was meant was the inability to save oneself from sin rather than being absent of goodness. Phrases like “total depravity” cannot be found in the Canons of Dort, and the Canons as well as later Reformed orthodox theologians arguably offer a more moderate view of the nature of fallen humanity than Calvin.
  • Unconditional election” asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God.
  • Limited atonement“, also called “particular redemption” or “definite atonement”, asserts that Jesus’s substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus’s death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is intended for some and not all. Some Calvinists have summarized this as “The atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.”
  • Irresistible grace“, also called “efficacious grace”, asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, “graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ.” This is not to deny the fact that the Spirit’s outward call (through the proclamation of the Gospel) can be, and often is, rejected by sinners; rather, it’s that inward call which cannot be rejected.
  • Perseverance of the saints” (also known as “perseverance of God with the saints” and “preservation of the believing”) (the word “saints” is used to refer to all who are set apart by God, and not of those who are exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven) asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with (1 John 2:19), or, if they are saved but not presently walking in the Spirit, they will be divinely chastened (Hebrews 12:5–11) and will repent (1 John 3:6–9).

The Wikipedia article contains a chart comparing Calvinism and Lutheranism. While to the Calvinists and Lutherans, I’m sure the differences were dramatic, today, they seem rather like unimportant details.

Conrad Schlosser might be rolling around in his grave right about now (if he still has one,) given what I just said!

Conrad’s Surname

The German name Schlosser translates to locksmith, fitter or metalworker, in English. This leads me to wonder what a locksmith would have done in the 1600s, in Germany or Switzerland.

Locksmiths were also metalworkers, which could have extended to other types of metalwork, including locks.

However, I did find one incredibly beautiful German lock and key that is about 400 years old.

A German locksmith, Peter Lenlein, has been credited with creating the first watch in the early 1500s, so locksmiths certainly existed by 1635 when Conrad was born. We don’t know when this family adopted surnames although surnames in Germany were in widespread usage before 1500. We will probably never know whether Conrad was a locksmith or not, but clearly at some point in his direct paternal line, someone was either a locksmith or worked with metal of some sort.

Conrad’s DNA

Conrad’s Y (paternal) DNA would have been carried by his sons. Of Conrad’s three sons born, only one lived to adulthood to marry and reproduce.

Carl Schlosser was buried on January 16, 1731, age 66 years and 3 months of age in Steinwenden. This record provides his birth in about October 1664, probably in Switzerland. Unfortunately, few Swiss records have been either transcribed or microfilmed.

Carl’s marriage at age 36 in January 27, 1701 is recorded in the Steinwenden church records, although 36 is somewhat late to marry.

Hans Carl Schlosser, son of the late Cunrad Schlosser of Steinwenden married Agnes, legitimate daughter of the late Hans Peter Hunen von Weisenheim.

Thankfully, Carl did marry, because even though he married late, he had a large number of children, which means there’s a prayer of a male Schlosser descendant for Y DNA testing today.

Carl and his wife set about having children right away, and continued for the next 20 years:

  • December 18, 1701 – baptism of Anna Regina Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes, died immediately after baptism. Carl’s sister, Regina Haffner was one of the godparents
  • December 24, 1702 – baptism of Anna Margaretha Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes, baptized quickly and died soon afterwards. Same godparents as 1701 child.
  • June 20, 1704 – baptism of Johann Michael Schlosser, son of Carl Schlosser and Agnes. Godparent was Elisabeth, wife of Johannes Muller, but we don’t know who this Johannes Muller was. Given that Irene Charitas Schlosser had married Johann Michael Mueller (deceased in 1694), this Johannes Mueller could be related, although he is probably not a son of Johann Michael Mueller. The only son of Johann Michael Mueller known to to survive was his namesake who was age 12 in 1704. However, the child’s given name was Johann Michael, so maybe.
  • July 29, 1705 – baptism of Anna Ursula Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.
  • August 19, 1708 – baptism of Anna Catharina Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.
  • March 17, 1711 – baptism of Maria Barbara, Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.
  • November 12, 1733 – baptism of Regina Catharina Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes. On October 8, 1724, the burial of Regina was recorded in church records at age 11.
  • November 26, 1716 – baptism of Johannes Schlosser, son of Carl Schlosser and Agnes. On March 20, 1720, the burial was recorded in the church records for Johannes, age 4.
  • September 24, 1719 – baptism of Anna Margaretha Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.

Unfortunately, only one of Carl’s sons survived, meaning that son’s descendants are our only prayer of finding a Schlosser male who carries Conrad’s Y chromosome today.

Equally as unfortunately, I can find no trace in the church records or at Ancestry of Johann Michael Schlosser after his birth.

If you descend from Johann Michael Schlosser, or are a male descended from the Schlosser line from Steinwenden or nearby, and can connect your line back to this Schlosser line, I have a Y DNA testing scholarship for you!

Regardless of how you descend from this line, I’d love to hear from you.

My Son – The Final Ten Days of a Dream Come True – 52 Ancestors #177

This is an intensely personal story, and I have written and rewritten this article about 100 times.  Putting pen to paper has been very difficult, awash in so many emotions.

I have decided to publish this, then not to publish, then to publish, also about 100 times.  I am revising one final time (again), but I am leaving the content much as I wrote earlier.  It has an authentic voice, that of a mother, me, and I want to leave it that way and not infuse it (too much) with my “author-editor-self.”

It’s a long article too, so get a cup of tea and find a cozy place, maybe beside a nice warm fireplace.

I’d like to introduce you to my son as I honor his walk through the valley of the shadow…

The Final Ten Days

The final ten days of what, you’re probably wondering.

A chapter.

A half-life.

A career.

Early promise, perhaps, that blossomed into a flower whose time has come.

The final ten days actually began years ago.

The Naming

In Native American culture, a child is often named when a family member or elder is inspired with an appropriate name.  The child may also be renamed, or take different names at various critical points in their life – often as rites of passage.

We didn’t realize we were following tradition, but as it turns out, we did.

I hemmed and hawed and agonized about my son’s name, finally selecting one, but my mom, not so much.

She walked in to the hospital nursery and after looking at my son, announced his name, “Butch.”

“What???”, I gasped. “I think not!”

“Butch it is,” she said and smiled contentedly.

Criminy. That battle was won before it even started.

And Butch it was until the day she died.

I didn’t have the money for the hospital “first baby” photographs offered, nor did I own a camera.  Those days were long before selfies and the world-wide fascination with preserving everyday life in photos.

Thankfully, Mom did have a camera and after we came home from the hospital, my first photos of my son are with Mom and (step) Dad holding my firstborn. He was looking at mom adoringly in this photo and they had a uniquely special relationship from then forward. It’s like they had always known each other and she was just waiting for him to be born.

This little yellow sleeper is the outfit he wore home from the hospital.  I still have it tucked safely away in my memory box.

In spite of his nickname, he grew up to be a relatively normal child.

He loved life on the farm, participated in sports in school and became a Boy Scout.

The Youngest Volunteer

My son was but 16 years old when he joined the local volunteer fire department.

However, that wasn’t really the beginning of his exposure to public service, because his father, before him, had also been a volunteer firefighter and my son had grown up listening to the shrill wake-me-from-the-dead Plectron tone that summoned firefighters (and their families) from their sleep, invariably from meals and even from Christmas Day.

Christmas Day Accident

That horrible Christmas day accident was unspeakably devastating for everyone. It was already difficult enough that the weather was terrible, preventing us from traveling to my parents on Christmas Eve. Then, in the early morning hours, the fire tone – shrill and piercing woke the house.  We hoped it was nothing, a false alarm, but it was an accident on the expressway. My husband threw on his clothes running out the door, as firefighters do, hoping to be back by breakfast.

Instead, shorthanded with not enough first responders due to the holiday, I was summoned to help and of course could not leave children alone, so we all dressed and arrived to help. I knew it had to be bad, really bad.

It wasn’t just the early morning roll-over accident, but the 5-year-old whose mother and uncle were trapped under the overturned car, and her puppy who was lost, missing from the scene.  We distracted the little girl as the firefighters used their equipment to lift the vehicle and extract her mother and then her uncle, only to confirm the horrible truth. They were gone, forever. The only consolation for some of us was that they hadn’t suffered.

The puppy that the little girl would so desperately need when she would be told about her mother and her uncle needed to be found.

The rest of Christmas Day was spent by my family in a desperate search in the snow up and down the expressway and in neighboring subdivisions for the family puppy.  We could see our warm home beckoning from across some of the snow-covered fields, but no one made a peep about going home as we continued the search – not even the youngest grade-school-age child.  Our hands were numb and so were our faces and toes when we finally gave up as darkness began to fall on a horrible day.

By late evening, the puppy had been located, thankfully safe, picked up by another driver as it ran terrified.  The child’s family members had arrived at the hospital, bearing their own grief, to shelter the little girl and explain something a five-year-old should never have had to understand.

I was 7 when my mother had that talk with me about my father and a car accident. I knew what she was facing, and would face the rest of her life every Christmas. Just like I do each year at Labor Day.

To this day, I shed tears remembering that horrific Christmas Day.

Our own Christmas after that?

I actually remember nothing about it, nada, not one thing.  Except being grateful, and crying.  I had my family of whom I was so proud.  It wasn’t what we wanted to do on Christmas Day, but it’s what we did, as a family, from oldest to youngest. Everyone tromped in the icy cold, searching ditches and fields.  We did what needed to be done.

No one in our family would ever have considered doing anything else. Then or now.

Early Influences

I wonder, sitting here more than three decades later, if that day somehow influenced my son’s decision about his eventual career in some small way. Maybe that day and others similar.

Or maybe it was simply that firefighting and volunteer rescue work had been an ingrained part of his life for so long. My father, the grandfather he never knew had been a firefighter in the military.  Is it somehow buried in his genes?

Was it the fact that we were once owned by the official fire department Dalmatian, Missy, a dog who we rescued not once, not twice, but three times and who rode in the local parades in the fire truck?

Or maybe it was the red flashing lights and the adrenalin that surges through the veins of every first responder. That’s powerful medicine for a young male.

Joining Up

Regardless of why, the minute he turned 16, my son immediately signed up for the fire department – except there was a hitch.  He was only 16 – and the department had a “juniors” division with rules that were somewhat different from the older department members.  For example, juniors were forbidden from running “lights and siren” to respond to a call.

Now, of course, when you are driving your father’s sports car to respond to a fire during the day when no one else is home, with the fire light installed permanently on the roof…one might be tempted to use those lights and siren in order to arrive faster. Only for the public good, mind you, not because lights and sirens were cool.

And I’m sure that my son never noticed that the young ladies thought that the fact that he was a firefighter, driving a snazzy fast car, was very attractive. Never!

Adrenaline combined with fast cars and young ladies.  It’s no wonder!

Furthermore, I’m equally as sure that the following spring being sent on a grocery errand in his father’s brand-new convertible, becoming “trapped” in the Memorial Day parade and having a half dozen of those young ladies ride on the back of his father’s car was entirely accidental.  In fact, we would never have known if the neighbors hadn’t mentioned how nice it was to see him in the parade. That along with the minor detail of the convertible top being permanently sprung from 5 or 6 doting young women sitting on the top above the back seat as he drove proud as a peacock in the parade, waving to the crowds like a smiling Cheshire cat.  The neighbors told us it was a lovely parade and how nice of him to drive.

The convertible top was never right after that. I never got the grocery item either.  Every single grocery in the county was out of cat litter and there was a nation-wide shortage.  Imagine that!  All that searching is what took him all afternoon. He tried his level best.  Honestly!

Miraculously, a shipment had somehow arrived by the time I went to the store.

He never admitted he didn’t exactly get “trapped” in the parade, either😊


Such fond and funny memories today.

Junior Firefighter

Of course, my son had been exposed to the fire station and the firefighters years before he was old enough to join, so it was no surprise to anyone that he joined as soon as he was eligible.

While in some ways Junior firefighters didn’t quite have the same status as adult firefighters – couldn’t drive the big rigs, for example, in many ways, they excelled.

The Juniors held fundraisers, bake sales and rummage sales to raise money for gear.  They contributed wholeheartedly and often much more enthusiastically than older members.

In the photo above, my son is at the far left, his father laying third from left.

You might be aghast at this photo of the firefighters in days before selfies having their photo taken in front of a structure fully engulfed in flames – instead of extinguishing the fire – but rest assured, all is well.  This was what is known as a “training burn” where owners contribute a structure that needs to be demolished so that the fire department can hone their skills.  The structure is then set on fire so that the firefighters can practice putting the fire out.  Eventually, the structure is demolished by fire so that the owners can simply remove the debris instead of an entire structure. Costs less and is less dangerous too.

As a firefighter, you certainly don’t want your first exposure to a fully involved structure fire to be a fully involved structure fire with lives depending on your actions, and reactions. Training burns are a win-win for everyone.

As I look at this photo, taken sometime between 1988 and 1991, I’m acutely aware of the passage of time.  Aside from my son, only one of these people is still involved with any fire department.  Another then-young firefighter is a pilot, the rest being retired or “gone.” I doubt these men and women (yes, there’s a woman at far right in this photo) had any idea the degree of influence they exerted over an impressionable teen.

As one of my mentors once said, “You’re leading by example all of the time, but you only acknowledge it when you’re proud of it.”  Firefighters and volunteers of all kinds set a wonderful example for the next generation.

Growing Into Your Feet

As we would say on the farm, puppies have to grow into their feet.  That fit the description of my son’s excursion into the realm of both firefighting and police work.  I don’t know how he would ever have been able to choose between the two, because he loved both as well as other types of rescue work.

My son worked during summers as a life guard and in college, as an officer for the Department of Natural Resources.

In high school, he became a member of the Explorer Post of the Michigan State Police.

His senior picture, above, was prophetic and clearly showed his devotion to public safety.


As he moved on to college, majoring in Criminal Justice, of course (what else?), he also began what would be a patchwork combination of college, jobs and volunteer work for the next few years.

I firmly believed that children should bear the responsibility for their own education, although admittedly it was less expensive then.  In order to help with college expenses, he became a resident hall advisor, known as a RA, for his dorm. He was also a volunteer firefighter and police officer for the university.

While my son turned out to be a wonderful human being, his teen years were not without conflict at home, and in particular, with me.  He was no saint and children do not come with a handbook. He was my first child and I was by virtue of inexperience, a rookie parent.

By the time he went to college, I suspect he was extremely glad to leave, and I was relieved that he had managed to get to that point alive and with all body parts in relatively good working order.

We did have a few trips to the hospital with a rattlesnake bite and broken bones incurred playing football and skiing. That rattlesnake bite is an entire story all by itself. Suffice it to say, never sit on a rattlesnake!

He was a member of the ski patrol too, but got run over by another skier while he was trying to help someone who had fallen.  They brought my son down on the stretcher instead of the other way around.

That episode resulted in one of those frightening “You need to come now” calls and I drove as fast as possible on ice covered roads.  They didn’t know how badly he was injured, only that they were bringing him down on a stretcher. I had visions of broken necks and brain damage. Mothers are like that.

I was incredibly worried until I arrived and saw him sitting on the stretcher, surrounded by several very concerned young women fussing over him like mother hens, wrapping him in blankets and bringing him things to eat and drink. He wasn’t the least bit interested in going to the hospital with Mom to get his broken arm set, but I digress.

As a peace offering, after he went to college, I subscribed to a service where your child at college received a monthly goody box packed with stuff college kids like, with a gift note enclosed.  “Love, Mom.”  I was hoping that might encourage him to call home at least once a month.  Keep in mind, this was before the age of widespread cell phones.

In any event, in October or so of his second year at college, which was his first year as a resident hall advisor, he called me, quite exasperated.

“Mom, you’re not going to be BELIEVE what they did!”

“What who did?

“The kids at the end of the hall.”

“What did they do?”

“Well, quiet time for study or sleep is supposed to begin at 10PM. They had their stereo blaring and I had to walk to the end of the hall to ask them to turn it down, even though they clearly knew what time it was.  Just as soon as I got back to my room, they turned it back up again.  I feel like I’m babysitting. This is ridiculous!”

I tried desperately to stifle laughter, but managed to choke out one word.



“Karma, son, karma.”

“Not funny Mom.”


I probably shouldn’t have said that, in retrospect, but occasionally my evil twin comes out of my mouth before the good twin can stifle her.

He grew up a lot that year.

I sent more boxes.

Work and Distractions from Study

In addition to being a RA, he joined the local fire and police department and coached the Special Olympics team.

In another year, he would become a counselor at a home for violently disturbed children aged 6-18, many of whom had been severely disabled physically and/or emotionally by abuse – the most difficult of the difficult cases – children that most institutions wouldn’t accept. One of his friends was attacked and severely injured while working there, resulting in permanent injuries and eventually, death. It was no walk in the park.

Oh yea, and he managed to attended classes too, at least part of the time.

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges, because there were.  He wasn’t as focused as he should have been on his studies, and his grades reflected his distractions, which of course, included a girlfriend.  At one point, we had to have “the discussion” about grades, which made my son very angry.

However, his anger also made him very determined, which was, after all, the entire point of the parenting discussion. He told me years later that he was so angry he vowed then and there to “show us,” and graduate at the top of his class – and indeed he did. Retrospectively, I don’t care WHAT motivated him, as long as something did.

In the years since, he has never relinquished his steely resolve and dedication. You can call it tenacious or stubborn – but most of the time it’s an exceptional attribute and a wonderful trait, except occasionally when it falls distinctly into the stubborn range. Ying and yang.  Yes, he’s personally responsible for most of my grey hair.

Those traits will both serve you well and drive you crazy. I know since I think I might have been the genetic donor. (Ahem!)

However, he’s incredibly dependable (which does NOT extend to being on time in his personal life) and you can take what he says to the bank.

The Puppy

It was the summer of 1992 that my son showed up at the office where I was consulting with a tiny puppy in the palm of his hand – only 4 or 5 inches long and maybe a day old, umbilical cord still attached.  Thrown away by a horrible human in a dumpster.

My son found the puppy in his capacity as a DNR officer, heard her whimper, rescued her, and did what any red-blooded American boy would do – he took the puppy to his mother and went back to work. He knew the puppy would die otherwise. Of course, I had to explain to my client that I had to leave, but at that moment, saving the puppy was my priority.

We named her Angel, because we truly didn’t think she would survive.

She did and lived with us for many years until she passed peacefully over the rainbow bridge as an old dog.

Tragedy Strikes

The summer between my son’s second and third year of college was marked indelibly by the loss of his father.  I use the word “loss” rather loosely, because his father didn’t actually pass away entirely, just in the form that we knew him.  He sustained a massive stroke, drastically affecting his body and more tragically, his mind.

My daughter and I became 24x7x365 caregivers (in addition to work and school) and my son simply had to fend for himself.  His college was a couple hours distant, trips home were extremely difficult and didn’t occur often. During one of those trips home, his roommate suffered a seizure while driving and totaled his car.  My son’s first responder training was life-saving that day.

After the stroke, holidays were no longer cause for celebration, only grief and strife. I can only describe this period as “living Hell.”

This tragedy was followed a few months later by another, the death of his beloved grandfather – a long miserable process wherein death was a relief.

A double whammy.

To say the next few months and years were difficult is an understatement the magnitude of which I can’t even begin to convey.  For my son, for me and the rest of our shrinking family.

Baptism by fire either causes people to cave or survive.  He survived, thankfully but baptism by fire is hell on earth.

I wanted to give my children wings, but not this way.


By his college graduation, my son had matured into a leader.

As I watched him move through the crowd, shaking hands, coordinating events, then deliver a lovely speech, I knew that his life was forever transformed.

He had indeed made it to the top of his class.  This was not the young man I had taken to college years before.

Thankfully, my mother, my daughter and I were able to attend his graduation, although our family was but a shadow of what it had been just a few years earlier.  My mother was so proud that she nearly “popped a button,” as she would have said.

And yes, she still called him Butch.

As I watched my son deliver his speech, I was struck by the fact that sometime while I was struggling mightily to deal with the repercussions of my husband’s stroke, earning a living and putting food on the table – my son had grown into a man albeit while traversing a very rocky road filled with cavernous potholes.

He had also married and brought my wonderful daughter-in-law into our life.

I was beyond proud of my son, puffed up like a puffer fish.  He had overcome hurdles that a college kid shouldn’t have to face, with his family torn apart by disability, death and the resulting strife.

He had achieved his goal by excelling, but as his mother, I fought an underlying nagging feeling that while he had achieved what he so desperately wanted, ultimately, he might not be either happy or safe. I was uncertain how much was premonition and how much was outright raw fear. Regardless, that undercurrent would be my constant companion at one volume level or another for the next 20+ years.

Public Safety

My son’s true professional career commenced a month after his graduation, as luck would have it, in a city where I was consulting at the time. I actually have no idea if that had any bearing on him being hired, because I doubt they weighed his mother’s recommendation very heavily.

Mothers do tend to be a bit biased (she said with tongue firmly in cheek.)

He was so proud to wear a uniform full time – professionally. He worked hard for that honor! He had made his dream come true.  Dreams are much more likely to come true with a lot of elbow grease, and he was never afraid of hard work.

The following year, he changed jobs to the employer where he would spend the rest of his career. The new employer was a Public Safety Department meaning the officers are both police officers and firefighters.  A perfect environment for his combined skill set.

The result is that every person on a public safety department bears twice the responsibility in terms of training and being prepared for whatever the day brings – be it a police situation, a house or car fire, someone with a health issue, a factory fire or a hazmat situation. They see them all, sometimes one after another or even simultaneously.

One night you may be putting out a major fire and the next day you may be tracking a culprit through the woods.

Training, planning and working with the public as well as local businesses is a critical function of a public safety officer.  Kind of like the Boy Scout motto of “be prepared,” on steroids.

Then and Now

The years between then and now have brought many changes to our family, our nation and our culture.

When he first began his career, I worried some, as a mother normally would, but I knew he was well trained and competent.  In other words, he wasn’t going to get himself into a dangerous situation.  He was always the level-headed person in any situation, thinking clearly.  He took “be prepared,” very seriously. His life, and others lives, depended on that.

As the years progressed, I began to worry more as some of his assignments became increasingly dangerous and the drug culture accelerated in the US.  His department was located on one of the major drug routes between two major cities.

Furthermore, his department covered two major expressways and the incidents of officer shootings, especially related to traffic stops, has increased dramatically in the past few years as well.

It seemed that being well-trained and sensible might not be enough anymore.

He didn’t talk too much about what happened at work.  I was more likely to hear something on the news than to hear about it from my son.  Partly, I think, that was because he was busy at home with his young family, but additionally, I suspect it was an attempt to protect me from the chronic, unending worry he knows I would have felt.

Unending Gut Wrenching

A day in the life…

In case you wonder, officers cry.

Not in front of anyone, of course.

They don’t tell their mothers and they certainly hope no one catches it on camera.

This was a fatal motorcycle accident.

They cry when children die.

When people are fatally trapped in fires.

Or cars.

When they can’t save a heart attack victim.

Or when they know a child’s abuse will only continue after they leave.

They don’t discuss these things.


Officers also stop to save people when they aren’t in uniform.  My son was commended for valor when he pulled a man from a wrecked burning car – with no protective gear.  He wasn’t working that day.  He was just the angel who just happened to arrive to save the man in his hour of peril.

My son doesn’t discuss that either.

Or the blue premature baby whose lifeless body he was able to breathe life back into.

He doesn’t talk about any of those things, aside from mentioning much later that it was a privilege to be able to save that child.

My daughter-in-law told me that he was also honored as Officer of the Year one year, something else he never mentioned.

I generally don’t find out any of this until years later, unless his wife happens to send me something at the time.

From him, never.

The Call

Then, early one spring, the day came that every mother of an officer dreads.

The phone rang.

In the very early morning. Those calls are never good news.

My daughter-in-law’s cell phone number backlit on the phone display in the darkness of the bedroom.


Her voice.

Those seconds waiting to hear her say something were an eternity.

She said my name.

I said yes.

She clearly knew it was me, so I knew something else was coming.

She certainly didn’t call to chat at that hour.

She said:

“I just wanted to let you know before you hear it on the news.”

Life stopped. My vision swam.

I leaned on the counter.

“He’s been involved in a shooting.”

My greatest fear.

Time stretched out in a surreal way I never knew was possible.

“It’s not him.”

“But it’s an officer shooting and there’s a fatal.”



By blood pressure hurtled through the roof and the adrenaline instantaneously surged. My heart was racing and felt like it was going to burst through my chest. My knees turned to rubber.

“Is he hurt?”

Another eternity passed.

She might have been driving.

Background noise.


“Where is he?”

“At the hospital.”

She was obviously horribly, horribly shaken. Her voice was quivering.  I had never seen her that way before. Just like I’m an officer’s mother, she’s an officer’s wife. We are not weak women.

To this day, he still doesn’t speak much about this, but it was an officer’s worst nightmare.

Ambushed in the middle of the night, fired on point blank after being called to a domestic violence situation.  My son was awakened at home.  He told me that he knew immediately when he heard the location and nature of that call that one of his young officers was responding to a situation that was extremely dangerous. My son knew the history of the family and the address. He got in his car and left immediately.

The officers were gunned down, one and then the other, in cold blood.

One officer was killed.

One was able to be saved.

I can’t even begin to recant the situation as my son described it.  Holding your fellow officer as they bleed out their lifeblood, in the dark, knowing you can’t save them but trying to comfort them, and not knowing if the killer will be shooting at you next. Even second and third hand, the raw unrelenting intensity and terror of this situation came through loud and clear.

These are the things that sear and scar the souls of officers.  That’s not the end of that story either, but even today, years later, I can’t share the rest.  Because of the circumstances, this incident dramatically increased the danger to the responding and fellow officers, even after the primary incident was over.

Not knowing what else to do, my quilt sisters and I made the surviving wounded officer a quilt, hoping it would help with his recovery.

It’s not a coincidence that the adult woman at right in the photo below is the same woman firefighter in the training burn fire department photo some 20+ years earlier.  The children are my granddaughters.  Quilts, firefighting and public safety are all family affairs and run in this family generationally.

While I grieved for the slain officer and his family, as well as the wounded officer, my son’s fallen brethren, I was oh-so-very-grateful that my son had not been the one shot or the one killed. The reason was only that he wasn’t scheduled for that shift – nothing other than the luck of the draw.

I felt so guilty for feeling that way in the face of the devastating loss of others.

There but for the grace of God…

Wounds and Scars

My son wasn’t physically hurt that day, but he was wounded just the same, as were all of the officers in his department.

The cumulative wounds of all of the pain, scars and injuries over the years.  The pain of the people he couldn’t save, and sometimes the pain of the people he could save, but couldn’t help enough.  The people fighting their own demons that he sees over and over again. The people who need help but our society isn’t structured to help, so they live marginally until they die miserably, horribly, or both.

The children.  Oh God, the children.  And the animals.  Dependent beings betrayed by those in positions of power or betrayed by fate or the blatant stupidity or irresponsibility of others.

Drunk drivers, spousal and child abuse, rapists, murderers. The children my son told me about that were molested by both their father and grandfather.

The all too familiar smell of death.

I don’t know how he keeps his sanity. PTSD on steroids.  Soldiers serving in a prolonged war that they know will never end.

This is not what my son meant to sign up for. This is not the scenario he expected.

This is what all officers have to face, every day of every week of every year. They are walking targets. Nothing prepares you for that.

Or that people hate you for no reason.

Anger and Danger – A Toxic Brew

In September of 2015, Lansing firefighter Dennis Rodeman was intentionally targeted, hit and killed by an angry driver because people were slowing down to deposit donations into a boot as part of the firefighter’s volunteer annual Fill The Boot Campaign on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Intentionally killed.

The driver turned around, went back, sped up and intentionally ran over Dennis.  Furthermore, his wife, pregnant for their first child, was working as the ER nurse at the hospital where Dennis was transported and pronounced dead.

This time, I made a baby quilt.

The saddest baby quilt I’ve ever made.

These past two years have been particularly difficult, because the political environment in the US has become incredibly polarizing and people from many walks of life have been cast as stereotypes, including people of color, police officers and others.

People are angry.  Some people feel empowered to exhibit behavior that was previously considered unacceptable and police officers are the ones caught in the crosshairs as they try to mediate and facilitate peace.  In other situations, police are the bearers of bad news and have to deal with people who don’t want to be questioned or arrested.

The most dangerous situation?  Domestic disputes where emotions are already running very high before the police are called, followed by suspicious persons and attempted arrests. Complicate all of that with either alcohol or drugs, and sometimes both.

And traffic stops – any officer’s nightmare – along with those officers’ mothers.

You never know the intentions of the person you are stopping.  There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop – and it’s worse on a known drug route.

Of officers shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016 in the US, 21 were ambushed.


At work.

How many people run the risk of getting ambushed at work, every single day?

Another 53 died in traffic related incidents. Three were beaten to death, one was stabbed and one drowned. Six were from Michigan.  These aren’t green inexperienced hothead rookies either.  The average age was 40 and the average length of service was 13 years.

And while some officers are not honorable, I assure you, most are and have always been. There is very little other motivation for entering this profession.  All officers, both firefighters and police, are in much greater danger now than ever before.

As I write this in late November 2017, just last night, we lost another officer who was specifically targeted by a fleeing high-speed driver as the officer attempted to deploy stop-sticks.

Which brings me to today.

The day after Thanksgiving and I’m preparing to be very thankful, indeed.

The Home Stretch

Our Thanksgiving wasn’t on Thanksgiving Day.  Officers work holidays and often, older officers try to give younger officers a break so they can be with young families on holidays. Our holidays are whenever our family is together.

I am always so grateful to see my son and his family – or put another way – I’m incredibly thankful that I still have a son to see. Other mothers don’t.

My son goes to work every day with a smile on his face and a target on his back to serve others. And he has for nearly 30 years, since he was 16 years old. Two thirds of his life.  He’s served in his current job for almost half his life.

Thank God, he’s almost done.

He’s in the home stretch.

The final 10 days – 5 of which are in uniform.

For the first time ever, this coming Tuesday, I’m actually going to get to do a “ride along” with him.

It’s been a long and often very rough road, these past decades. More like a combination triathlon and marathon than a typical career. He still works weekends, works uncounted overtime hours, in all kinds of weather, often in danger, on icy roads, and misses many of his children’s events because he can’t leave until the job is done – not just when his shift ends.

I’m incredibly proud of my son, his decades of service, his integrity and of the positive ways in which he’s touched the lives of so many.  But I’m also unbelievably glad to be done walking on egg shells on a daily basis and hoping against hope the call that I’ve dreaded for decades doesn’t come.

I feel like I, we, have dodged a bullet, pardon the pun, every single day.

Just 5 more days until I can change prayers.

Five more days before he closes the door on his squad car for the last time and takes off that uniform forever.

Just five more days.

I couldn’t be happier.

On his last day in uniform, his wife of all these years will be riding with him, closing out this chapter of his life and welcoming him to a new, and hopefully safer, future.

As one of my friends so succinctly said, every new beginning comes from some other beginnings’ end.

Act two is about to begin.

As I ride with him, I’ll be interviewing him about his time as a fire and police officer, and I’ll be sharing his thoughts with you.

Ride Along

As I drove to station this morning to join my son today, I listened to the radio coverage of the police officer’s funeral who was killed on Thanksgiving.  Flags everyplace were at half-staff.

I remembered 9-11 when I stopped by the station to be sure he was alright because there was a HUGE accident which closed the expressway in both directions. He was safe, but quite busy on the scene.  I don’t think he ever knew I was here, as I needed to continue on to my destination.  All drivers were distracted that day listening to the unfolding of that national tragedy. I drove the back roads, wondering when the insanity would stop. I knew that police and firefighters would be in more danger than anyone else – they always are.

I promised myself not to cry as I rode in the passenger’s seat beside my son. I couldn’t help but remember earlier days of riding in the passenger seat as he drove for the very first time. He was ecstatic.  I was a wreck.

A few months later, we went to Virginia and he got to drive nearly the whole way. In fact, the only reason he went along was so that he could drive. I was much more relaxed this time.

Once again, I choked up remembering how grateful I was to have this opportunity. He had survived more than 8000 days of danger. Only 4 more to go, after today.





Holy water from Lourdes?

All of the above perhaps.

I was so pleased to be invited to join him on the road for a few hours, something I’ve never gotten to do before.  He works 12 hour shifts and when he works days, his mornings are often spent on the road responding to calls and the afternoons in the office approving reports and doing paperwork.  He’s a Sergeant, so he has administrative responsibilities in addition to his duties as an officer and as a firefighter.

Of course, as firefighters and first responders, any activity is subject to interruption.  When fires happen or emergencies, the station clears immediately.

His jobs and responsibilities have varied over the years, with some special assignments, but he is finishing out his last few days on the road. Today was glorious, warm and sunny, at least for this time of year.

As we pulled out from the station, central dispatch was busy relaying police and fire calls to all of the agencies in his county.  The fire tone sounded.  That Plectron sound hasn’t changed any over the years.  The difference now is that there was a confusing cacophony of dispatch orders and calls throughout his and neighboring jurisdictions, all of which he had to be aware of in case of requests for assistance.

A special laptop is mounted in the car, and the officers have to monitor the calls on the laptop, along with driving and whatever else comes up.

At one point, the neighboring department was dispatched on simultaneous police, fire and rescue runs – and my son’s agency provided mutual aid for the police call since one agency couldn’t respond to all of them at once.  Police and fire work is always a mixture of choreographed scrambled insanity.

These men and women are highly trained and prepared for whatever happens next.  They are knowledge workers, and you want your fire and police to have as much training and knowledge as possible. Your life depends on it, and sometimes even more important – your quality of life.  If you’re having a heart attack, your quality of life is increasingly compromised for every incremental 30 seconds that your heart and brain are without oxygen.  Crisis training matters as does having enough equipment to be able to respond promptly.

I don’t have any idea how many lives he has saved, but I hoped we wouldn’t add another one today.

What Will You Miss?

I asked my son what he would miss most about his job, after retirement, and he said that he would miss the camaraderie with his fellow officers. I could have predicted that answer.  It’s particularly evident after seeing him interact with everyone who comes in contact with him.  He waves and smiles, and more importantly, you can see that their smiles aren’t perfunctory, but they are genuinely happy to see him.

Many residents wave as well, and he has clearly fine-tuned his people skills over the years.  His genuine caring shows as he says hello, answers questions and engages people.  He’s honed the fine art of defusing difficult situations.

I am reminded of watching him interact with his fellow students at graduation, those many years ago, and was surprised when his classmates presented him with a gift.  Same leadership and people skills, two decades later.

The Flip Side

Not everyone is glad to see him though.

As we patrolled the roads, he showed me where they had found 12 meth labs dumped last year.  I didn’t know this, but meth equipment can only be used once.  If a meth lab is discovered in a house, they have to actually gut the house, including the drywall before people can live there again.  Meth is that toxic – and people intentionally put this stuff in their bodies.

A few miles later, we stopped to shepherd a flock of turkeys across the road.

I was really hopeful that we didn’t come across any animals that needed to be rescued, because he and I don’t have a particularly good track record in that vein and I didn’t know how his department would react to him returning with his mother AND some injured animal in the front seat.

And yes, I did get to ride in the front seat, not the “special” box seat in the rear.

As we rode the expressways, most people were courteous and amazingly, dropped their speeds.  So nice and mannerly.  Except for that one who passed him.  Ok, blind, death wish, idiot?  Who knows. Who would intentionally fly by a marked police car?

I reminded myself how dangerous traffic stops are – made even more so when you realize the person you are stopping may be blatantly in-your-face disregarding the law. Perhaps trying to antagonize the officer.

Part of the area my son’s department patrols is a rather seedy area marked by small alleys and bars – although many have, thankfully, closed in recent years.

Most Frightening Experience

I asked him about his most frightening experience.  Like many officers, I expect, he had to think a bit. Situations that would terrify most people are part of their daily routine.  Officers tend to bury the worst of these memories because if you thought about them very often or dwelled upon these situations, you’d make yourself crazy.

And now that I think of it, you’d make your mother crazy too.

Before I tell you this story, my son is not small by any means.

He recounted a late-night call years ago when he was working midnights.  A man in one of those alleys behind a bar with a gun.  I think he told me more, but I didn’t hear anything beyond “man with gun.”  Oh, and a very large man – like 450 pounds.  It was a gang situation, and my son was alone.  They don’t ride two officers to a car, and the only backup car on duty was across the county.

The man refused to stop when told to do so. He advanced towards my son, and started to mock him. As my son pulled his nightstick, the man taunted, “what do you think you’re going to do with that?”, laughing, and continued moving towards my son menacingly.  Five or six other men were behind the 450 pound man.  My son knew he could easily be rushed and these were clearly gang members. He didn’t know how many more there might be, or where.  He was very clearly in danger and possibly trapped. He didn’t dare take time to turn around to look behind him.

My son pulled his gun and started backing up, warning them to stop.  My son said his training clicked in and he was calculating distance, because they are taught not to allow a suspect who is advancing on you to get closer than 16 feet because they can stab you before the bullet takes them down.  Furthermore, in this case, the other 5 or 6 men following the large man could rush you before you could fire 5 or 6 additional shots, if need be, to protect yourself.

Preparing to shoot.

Backing up, shouting…





Getting ready to fire.

The last thing he wanted to do, ever, was to shoot someone.

Suddenly, the officer from across the county arrived and burst onto the scene.  He happened to know the name of the 450 pound man from having interacted with him previously, shouted his name and asked what he was doing?  He told the 450 pound guy to stop, because he was going to die otherwise.

Thankfully, he did stop, and his buddies ran off.

Even just hearing the story, all these years later, made my blood run cold and chilled me to the bone.  Not because my son almost shot someone, but because he could have died a horrible death. I knew how close he had come.

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t know at the time.

All of this made me wonder – is the glass in the squad car bulletproof?  What about the doors?  I never thought to question this before.  Yes, it’s a good thing I didn’t know.

It’s Not Just Your Life

It’s no wonder that many police officers won’t eat at restaurants in the area where they live.  They have too many people who “don’t wish them well.” The longer you work in an area, the more people you arrest, the more people (and their families and friends) who don’t care for you. Sad commentary, when you think about it. Being a police officer isn’t just your job, it’s your life and it affects the lives of your entire family.

It’s your life, but it’s not just your life. It’s the life of your family too.

Your spouse, of course.

Life as a police officer affects the lives of everyone, from the oldest family member to the youngest, in ways that people outside of law enforcement would find incomprehensible. Suffice it to say that school and extra-curricular activities can be difficult for children.

I must confess that these pictures are some of my all-time favorites.

These exude the perfect blend of toughness, protection and love.

It seems so unfair that these innocent creatures pay a price for their father’s occupation. It’s no surprise that many officers move away from their communities after they retire.


Our excitement for my ride-along day, other than a couple calls for domestic disputes where my son (mother in tow) simply arrived as backup for other responding officers (I think they gave him a break cause his Mom was riding along), was a retail fraud situation. Retail fraud is shoplifting.  Let me translate – some guy in a dark hoodie decided to steal a laptop from a store. Merry Christmas!

Ok, let’s try this again, he stole a laptop and ran outside across the parking lot, according to the dispatcher’s second transmission. Oh, and he’s about 6 feet tall.

Transmission 3: No, no, he’s in another store now.

4: Oh wait, he’s gone again.

5: No, we don’t know if he is black or white.

6: But he has on a grey or black hoodie.

7: Uhhh…we think we might see him again.

Clearly, there’s a lot of confusion, but the officers have to assume that there is a thief to be caught and position themselves accordingly.

My son and the other responding officers stationed themselves outside the entrances to the stores in question as well as the mall entrances.  Thankfully, not a large mall or there wouldn’t have been enough officers.

Some officers walked through the stores in question looking for a six-foot male with a dark hoodie.

I told my son if the shoplifter was smart, he would simply ditch the hoodie. Maybe “trade” it for something else in, say, a nice black and white stripe.

My son said the perpetrator would likely be carrying a laptop or something that size. So we sat at our appointed location and watched. And watched. And watched.

My son gave me very specific instructions as to what I was to do in the event that the perpetrator was spotted and a foot-chase ensued.  In essence, stay in the car and out of the way.

Got it.

That is, unless the tides were to turn and my son no longer had the upper hand and was in danger.  Then, all bets are off.  Yes, always a mother, regardless.

However, when the officer inside the store saw the security video and talked to the loss prevention people, it turned out that the store security people actually stopped the man in the hoodie and he gave the stolen property back, then ran out the door.

So, we weren’t looking for someone in the second store after all, nor someone with a laptop. The man we were looking for ran off across the parking lot several minutes before we arrived. He was probably watching and having a hearty laugh or stealing from a second store while the police were distracted.

We drove around the neighborhood for the next hour or so, searching, to no avail. He was probably long gone or off to the next targeted location.

The one man we did see in a gray hoodie at the mall wasn’t the least bit concerned with police officers and it was quickly determined that he wasn’t the person being sought.

Another day in the life.


Like many days for police officers, there was no time for lunch.

I also discovered that officers can’t use public restrooms.  They can be ambushed there.  Plus, you have to take off your 11-pound gunbelt.

Officers go back to the station, or wait. Sometimes for hours. It’s not like they can just leave a scene.

Going to the bathroom when needed is a luxury most of us simply take for granted and never even think twice about.

My son was generous with me, we got to take two, count ‘em, two, bathroom breaks and wound up eating snacks in the squad car that Mom had in her purse. Had I known, I’d have brought better snacks. It turned out to be our special picnic. Much different than childhood picnics with snoozes on blankets beside the lake, those memories now softened by the haze of time.

Some things never change. Mom’s still bring goodies. Always the Mom, but to a son who hasn’t been a child in a very long time.

Immeasurably Proud

The great thing about our kids is that we love them even more as adults, as if that’s even possible. Then add to that cocktail how proud we are of them.

Immeasurably proud. I never thought I could be prouder than I was as I watched his graduation speech those many years ago, but I was, as I watched his retirement speech this week, a couple days after my ride-along.

Ironically, and perhaps being a bit cheeky, his fellow officers gave him a clock.  Now he has absolutely no excuse for being late.

My son succeeded, and survived. He has come through that long hallway, that career he had worked so long and hard for – literally through the valley of the shadow of death.

He sought to save lives.

He did.

He sought to make lives better.

He did.

He sought to inspire others.

He has.

His dream, all those years ago, came true.

The Final Day

So today, when my son signed off the air for the final time, and not only cleared his car and shift, but cleared his badge for the last time, retiring that badge number forever from service, I was torn between overwhelming relief, pride and gratitude.  These difficult days are all memories now.

His locker is vacant now, and it’s for a GOOD reason. His buddies are all jockeying for his desk and office things. Jokes are flying and backslapping is happening as he walks through the station.

I see him looking at the fire trucks, still longingly, and remember his fire trucks as a child.  HIs favorite toys.

I can set about finishing his quilt. That horrible nagging premonition that dogged me for years had, so thankfully, never come to pass.  I can finally breathe easier and know that he won’t die or be terribly wounded in the line of duty. Now I only have to worry about “normal” things.

I can finally say those words without fear of “jinxing” the situation.  No, I’m not typically superstitious, but when your kid’s life is on the line, every single day, you will do absolutely any little tiny thing that might bring them a modicum of luck or protection. I understand the genesis of superstition rooted in powerlessness and fear.


This Christmas was the best ever!  Not only did he not have to work, there was no chance he’d have to leave in the middle of the day or the meal.  He was almost on time too! But the best gift of all, for me, is his retirement.

Thankfully, this is a celebratory quilt! I’ll be sewing his patches from his now-retired uniforms into the 4 blue corners!

I gave him the quilt I made for him, but the best was yet to come. It looks like someone else in the family has inherited the quilter gene too!

His youngest daughter made her first quilting project, a hotpad to give to her Daddy for Christmas to celebrate his retirement. The center block is part of his old umpiring shirt – his first job at age 13 where he learned an incredible amount about public relations with upset parents.  Believe me, nothing upsets parents more than having their child called “out.”

I went to those games to protect him, just in case, although he never knew that.  Fortunately, he never needed protecting.

Little did we know at the time how he was being prepared, shaped by divine hands.


As we were riding back to the station at the end of our ride-along time together, I asked him whatever happened to the officer that was wounded in the shooting a few years ago. There’s a very fine line between being supportive and caring and prying – and I didn’t know where that line was in this case. The officer had been off work for a very long time and I had been hesitant to ask too much, not wanting to violate the officer’s privacy, put my son in an awkward position or make him unnecessarily sad. I knew that my son had been deeply grieved – particularly because the wounded officer was one of “his rookies” that he was training at the time. He thought of him as a younger brother.

My son kind of chuckled, so I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that this was going to be a positive answer.

“He’s doing fine now.”

I told him how relieved I was to hear that.  Maybe the quilt helped.

He smiled broadly, grinning ear to ear and said, “Guess who’s applying for my Sergeant position, now that I’m retiring?”

Yep, I knew.  “His rookie,” now all grown up.  Just like my son did all those years ago. Following in his footsteps, or at least hoping to.

Those are mighty big shoes to fill.

My son has touched the lives of so many in this path with such fleeting hands, sometimes only briefly and invisibly.  Anonymously if he had his way, and often with the whispered brush of wings.


We love them and give them wings.

Some become eagles and soar.

Irene Charitas Schlosser, Beware the Overlooked Umlat, 52 Ancestors #176

4-15-2018 – After this story published, we subsequently discovered that Irene is not a Schlosser. I am leaving this story because parts of this information have been on the internet for some time – and I want to be sure the entire story of why people thought Irene was a Schlosser, and how we know she isn’t, is available. For the rest of the story, including her correct surname, click here.

One of the reasons I was initially hesitant to write these 52 Ancestors articles, (that were supposed to span one year, but are now beginning year 4) is because I didn’t want to publish something in error.

Years ago, I was speculating with a cousin, who subsequently published my speculation, and today, some 25 years later, I still fight that same information that turned out to be incorrect in trees every day. Or every day that I look at that ancestor’s parents anyway. And to think, I started that problem, albeit very innocently.

I’ve learned, so I really try to be precise and when I don’t know something, I say so. When there is a hint but no conclusion can be drawn, I say so.

Today is one of those really great days when hints have paid off. Furthermore, one of those 52 ancestor articles paid off too, because someone replied with an EXTREMELY valuable piece of information about an umlat. Yes, an umlat.

As it turns out, two little dots made all the difference in the world.

Irene Charitas

For years, Irene Charitas, the wife of Johann Michael Mueller (the first), was shown in trees with her last name being Charitas. That was as a result of misunderstanding German records where Charitas was her middle name.

I wrote about Irene Charitas Mueller here, or at least as much as I knew at the time.

Cousin Richard Miller, when he visited Steinwenden back in 1996 was provided with a translation and of an original record from 1689 in which a daughter of Conrad Schlosser was confirmed and Irene Charitas (then Miller) stood up for her as the godmother. At least that’s what we thought.

The original record is shown above, second from last, and below, the typed document provided to cousin Richard.

At this point, it was clear we might have a lead on a relative of Irene Charitas, but not more. We do know this group of pietist leaning families arrived in Steinwenden, Germany from Zollikofen, Switzerland sometime in the 1680s.

The Umlat

A week or so after the Michael Mueller article was published, and a week or so before the Irene Charitas article was published, a nice person named Karen Parker posted a comment on my blog. She says that the entry said that Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula are Conrad Schlosser’s daughters, as in plural. I’ve seen assumptions made before, so I asked if she could translate the record, and she did, stating the following:

Auf Ostern means “at Easter.”

u is the abbreviation for und, meaning “and.”

Tochter with an umlaut over the o, means “daughters.” (If there’s no umlaut of the o in Tochter, then it’s singular, “daughter.”)

von means “from.”

So it’s: “1689 at Easter. Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula, Conrad Schlosser’s daughters from Steinwinden”

In case you’re interested, in the entries below the ones for Easter, “Auf Weynachten” means “at Christmas,” and “Auf Pfingsten” means “at Pentacost.”

Don’t ask me how I managed to miss the significance of this, but I did. I would like to blame it on being distracted by two birthdays that week in the family, but that’s no excuse for missing something this critical to my genealogy. Not to mention, I owe Karen a huge debt of gratitude, and yes, I’ve e-mailed her to say such.

As it turns out, I owe my friend Tom, a second huge debt of thanks, because he is the one who saw the comment and realized its relevance for me. Not to mention he dropped everything, found original documents and translated them for me. I’m telling you what, this man is on Santa’s “good list!”

When I saw Tom’s e-mail arrive with the title “Irene Charitas,” I skipped right over everything else and jumped to that e-mail in which he called my attention to Karen’s comment.

An umlat!

A pesky umlat. Two little dots!

Have two dots ever been more important?

Of course, we don’t have umlats in English, and little did I understand the significance of that umlat, especially in this case – making a plural from a singular.

Here’s my reply to Tom:

So, Irene Charitas was originally Irene Charitas Schlosser.  That helps.

One more cog in the wheel.

Now we know that Conrad was Irene Charitas’ father.  I wonder what other entries are in those records for him.  I wonder if his wife is mentioned in any of them.

I wonder if the fact that the wife isn’t mentioned in this record means his wife is dead at that time.

So many things to wonder.

So excited that one more piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Whoever would have thought an umlat would make that much difference!

Tom replied as follows:

Michael Muller is one of the godparents for the first child of Melchior Clemens and Anna Maria Schlosser, daughter of Conrad in a 1686 baptism. The child was named for him.

Conrad Schlosser’s wife is mentioned in another baptism. Her given names are Anna Ursula.

And there you have it, the surname and parents for Irene Charitas, after all of these years, all because of an overlooked umlat.

I’ve never been more grateful for an umlat! Or for Karen and Tom!

That Nagging Question

Do things ever nag at you? Is there sometimes just something that isn’t right, but you can’t put your finger on it?

There was for me with these records, when I realized that both Irene Charitas and her sister, apparently both confirmed in 1692, were not children. Irene Charitas was about 27, born about 1665, very clearly an adult, and Anna Ursula had to have been 13 or older for her mother to have given birth when she was 45 years of age or younger, although the mother’s last child appears to have been born when she was 47 years old.

Originally, I thought this record was a baptism. Tom pointed out to me that this was a confirmation, and confirmation in the Lutheran church is typically performed on young adults and is referred to as an “affirmation of baptism.” That helped put the record in context and explain why the people being confirmed, called confirmands or confirmants, were older.

Were both Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula being confirmed at the same time? It appears that way, although I initially thought that Irene as standing up for her sister, but after the retranslation, it doesn’t look that way. No witnesses are mentioned and the godparents would have stood up with the family at their earlier infant baptisms.

Next, I pondered the possibility that perhaps Irene and her sister had not been baptized as infants, but given the fact that the Lutheran church still wasn’t terribly far from its Catholic roots at this time in history, I doubt that seriously. All children were baptized.

The Catholic Irony

There’s a great irony here relative to Catholic roots. Irene Charitas Schlosser had a sister, Anna Maria who married Melchior Clemens in Steinwenden in 1685.

Anna Maria and Melchior had a child, Johann Michael Clemens, in Steinwenden who was christened on January 31, 1686. Johann Michael Mueller, Irene’s husband, was the child’s godfather, but then the unthinkable happened.

Apparently Melchior was Catholic, because their subsequent children were all baptized in the Catholic church.

Given that the godparent’s duty was to see that the child was raised and in particular, raised within the church in the event something happened to the parents, I wonder how that would have worked in this circumstance. Surely that means that Anna Maria became Catholic as well, so the family was officially divided. I have read records of other families in this region that never spoke again or even acknowledged that the “other” side of the family existed after part of the family “defected” to the dark side. By the way, the definition of “dark side” is based entirely on perception.

I want to say that all is well that ends well, but frankly, we don’t know how that ended and religion can be an extremely divisive topic, especially following shortly on the heels of the 30 Years War which ended in 1648 and ravaged the very land in Steinwenden that the Schlosser family settled on in the early 1680s.

More than 30 years later, Germany had been so depopulated during that war that much of its land still lay fallow, creating opportunity for these immigrant families, often escaping religious persecution elsewhere. Extreme hardship and displacement due to differences in religion and very strongly held views were fresh in everyone’s memory – if not still an everyday occurrence.

For a Lutheran family member to return to Catholicism might not have been well received.

However…Carl Schlosser, the brother of both Irene Charitas and Anna Maria was the godfather in 1694, in the Catholic church for the son of his sister, Anna Maria. He is noted in the Catholic church record as “the honorable young man, Carolus Schlosser, Calvinist of Steinweiler.” Honorable in this context probably means that his parents were married at his birth, but still, if the Catholics were willing to allow a “Calvinist” and Carl, “the Calvinist” was willing to stand up in a Catholic church with his sister and nephew – maybe the family relationship was just fine after all despite being members of different religious sects that had recently been at war.

I hope so. Life is hard enough without religious differences dividing families.

New DNA Possibilities

Along with newly discovered sisters come new possibilities for people who qualify to test for mitochondrial DNA – that carried by Irene Charitas and her sisters, contributed to them by their mother.

Sadly, Irene Charitas Schlosser didn’t have any female children who lived.

What this means is that if anyone descends from Irene’s sister’s female children through all females, to the current generation, where the tester can be male – the mitochondrial DNA will be that of Irene Charitas’s mother, Anna Ursula.

Anna Ursula gave her mtDNA to her children of both genders, but only females passed it on. The only one of Irene Charitas’ sisters who had female children who lived was Anna Maria Schlosser who married Melchior Clemens or Clements.  They had three daughters who would be candidates, as follows:

  • Anna Appolonia Clemens born August 26, 1691, married on May 26, 1712 to Johannes Nicolaus Heller of Reweiler in the Catholic church in Ramstein..
  • Reginam Catharinam Clemens born December 3, 1697. Unknown if she married.
  • Anna Christina Clemens born September 29, 1700 and on November 4, 1722 she married Jacobus Wuest of Obermohr in the Catholic church in Ramstein.

If you descend from these women through all females, I have a testing scholarship waiting just for you!

Not The End

That’s not quite the end of the discoveries yet, but the next chapter is literally not written. There’s a plot twist too!

We now have at least some evidence that suggests that Irene Charitas Schlosser Mueller might not have died around 1694, as previously thought, but I’m holding off on that because the evidence is actually rather unusual in addition to being somewhat contradictory and, frankly, I don’t want to miss another doggone umlat!

Michael McDowell Sr. (c 1720 – after 1755), Breadcrumbs Scattered From Maryland Across Virginia, 52 Ancestors #175

Michael McDowell Sr. could have been born in Baltimore County, Maryland, on the boat to Maryland, or back in Ireland.

We don’t know.

What we do know is that in 1752, Michael McDowell sold portions of the property in which he had an interest that had belonged to Murtough McDowell, an immigrant.  Murtough was living in Baltimore County in 1722.

We are presuming that Murtough’s wife in 1730 was indeed the mother of Michael, but we don’t know that for sure either.  It’s certainly possible that Elinor was a second wife, but there is absolutely no evidence either way.

Halifax County, Virginia

Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg in 1752, and that’s where we find Michael McDowell in that same year, selling his father’s land in Maryland. Thank goodness for this link, because without it, we would never have been able to connect Murtough McDowell in Baltimore County, Maryland with Michael McDowell in Virginia.

The following power of attorney was issued in Halifax County, VA and recorded along with a land sale in Baltimore County, Maryland.

May 3, 1755 – Page 407 – Power of attorney from Michael Macdowell to John Hawkins, signed in Halifax County.

The power of attorney itself was entered into the Baltimore County record below the deed sale and is dated September 19, 1752.

This signature does not contain an X for a signature, which may be a later differentiator between Michael McDowell Sr. and his son, Michael Jr.

The following document is recorded in Baltimore County, Maryland:

Mich McDowell to Joseph Murry Jr. – September 19, 1752, Michael McDowell of Halifax County in the colony of Virginia to Joseph Murray Jun of the County of Baltimore in the Province of Maryland, 10 pounds current money, land known as “Bring Me Home” beginning at two bounded white oaks at the head of the north line of Jones Falls…

March 5, 1753 John Hawkins by virtue of authority of power of attorney to him made for that purpose by the within Named Micheal Macdowell to Joseph Murray Jr., and the land and premises herein mentioned to be the estate rights and interest 6 pounds current money.  Signed and witnesses by Thomas Hooker and Joseph Hooker

These signatures above do not contain an X for Michael’s signature.

Based on the above information, Michael was not in Baltimore County in person, but in Halifax County, VA on September 19, 1752 signed a Power of Attorney document. In 1753, the land was sold to Joseph Murray.

These dates are confusing, because they don’t tally exactly with the dates in the deed books.

For example, the sale date for Bring Me Home is noted as in 1755, not 1753.  I’m left with the impression that some of the documents we need are missing or perhaps some transcriptions are in error.

It looks like in 1752 Michael sold his shares in this property to Joseph Murray, and in or by 1755, he sold the actual land to Joseph.  This suggests that perhaps Michael is related to Joseph Murray, which means that Joseph Murray may have been married to Michael McDowell’s sister.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of “suggestions” here and not much more. Worse yet, if accurate, Joseph Murray’s wife is shown to be one Margaret Jones.  I might just have gone down a rathole.

We know that in 1753, Michael was in Halifax on May 3rd per the deed registration in Baltimore County, or at least that’s what was registered based on the Power of Attorney document signed in 1752. What we don’t know is whether or not Michael was actually living in Halifax County in 1753, or if he had moved on by that date.

Regardless of the actual sale date, the essence of this is that Michael, from Halifax County, Virginia, appears to be the son of Murtough McDowell from Baltimore County, Maryland.  Unfortunately, no will or other administrative or estate records for Murtough or his wife have emerged.

Next Stop – Bedford County

There are no other records for Michael McDowell in Halifax County, although there is a Peter McDowell found there in 1752.  However, if Peter was also Murtough’s son, you would think there would be another power-of-attorney document for Peter, and there is nothing.

Michael McDowell was listed on the Bedford county tax list in 1755. And before you ask, no, we don’t know for sure that this is the same Michael McDowell.  Fortunately, Michael McDowell isn’t a popular name, and the best we can do is track the name forward and backward in time.

Perhaps Michael was using his inherited money on the frontier where land was cheaper than in Halifax County which was largely settled at this point in time.  The problem with that theory is that we have no record of any Michael McDowell purchasing any land until 1783 in Bedford County, and by then, the Michael who purchased land could have been Michael Sr. or Michael Jr. who was born in 1747.

Based on subsequent records, including Michael McDowell Jr.’s Revolutionary War pension application which states that he was dismissed in 1777 or 1778 and returned to his home in Bedford County, combined with a land sale in 1793 in which the land purchased in 1783 was sold by a Michael McDowell who made his mark when signing with an X, it appears that the land in 1783 was purchased by Michael McDowell Jr., not Sr. Michael McDowell Jr. apparently could not write his name, while it appears that Michael McDowell Sr. could.

We also know, according to that pension application, that Michael Jr. was born in 1747.

What else do we know about Michael McDowell Sr.?

There are be more hints in Lunenburg County.

Lunenburg County, Virginia

We first find Michael McDowell in Lunenburg County in 1748, but what did he do between then and 1752 when we find him in Halifax County? Or perhaps Michael didn’t move, but the county line did.

Keep in mind that Halifax County, where we positively identify Michael McDowell Sr. as Murtough’s son in 1752, was Lunenburg County before Halifax was formed in 1752.

However, we may have an even earlier sighting of Michael.

We find a similar name in Albemarle County, VA in the 1745 road records, dated June 27th in which Andrew Wallace was appointed surveyor of the highway from D.S. to Mitchams River.  Archebald Woods, Jeremiah Marrow, William Shaw, Robert Mannely, John Dickey, William Wallace, Merlock McDowell, Micah Woods Jr., Micha McDowell, Anthony Osbrook, John Lawson, John Cowan, William Little and Robert Anderson ordered to assist in clearing.  Looking at this list, I have to wonder if Merlock McDowell is actually a Mortough McDowell Jr. and if Micha is Michael, of course.  The rest of these people would have been their neighbors up and down the road. Is this our Michael?  There is no way to know.

A search of Albemarle deed and will indexes from 1748 through 1753 shows no McDowells.  Albemarle was formed from Goochland in 1744, although deed and will records didn’t begin in Albemarle until 1748.  A search of Goochland County records from 1731-1749 also show nothing, so if Michael and Merlock were there, they are silent residents.

Lunenburg County was formed in 1745 from Brunswick County, Lunenburg deeds and marriages exist from 1746. Brunswick County land records exist from 1732, but no marriages. Michael McDowell is not in the compiled Virginia marriages, created from extant early records. Strike, strike, strike and out.

The 1748 tax map for Lunenburg is the first tax list available, so we don’t have any way of knowing whether or not Michael Jr., born about 1747 was born in Lunenburg, or if his father was still living in Maryland or elsewhere when Jr. was born.

The Lunenburg County 1748 tax list shows Michal McDanel with 1 tithe in the district taken in June by Mathew Talbot from Bleu Store to Little Roanoke.

Sunlight on the Southside by Landon Bell provides the Lunenburg tax lists, where extant.  We find the McDowells mentioned in the intro portion as being from Lunenburg Co., Va. before they went to NC.

In 1749, we find Michael McDowell in William Caldwell’s district, which was probably the district that would eventually become Charlotte Co., which neighbors Halifax. Michael had 1 white tithe, meaning white male over 16, and no negroes.  His neighbors were as follows:

  • William Russell
  • Thoms Walters
  • Thomas Lewis
  • Michael McDowell
  • Robert Wood
  • Estate of Major John Cole
  • William East overseer for John Cole

In 1749, the Lunenburg road orders included a Michael McDaniel, who may have actually been Michael McDowell who was ordered to work on Randolph’s Road from Thomas Worthys to the Mossing foard.

Looking at a current map, the Roanoke is called the Staunton between Halifax County and Charlotte County, and at a location called Randolph, Virginia, very near the River in Charlotte County, we find another Staunton, probably referred to in the road minutes as the Little Roanoke.

You can see that Charlotte County, shown in red below, abuts Halifax to the west.  Michael’s 1752 Power of Attorney was sworn in Halifax County.  The court house at that time was near the village of Halifax.

Randolph’s Road, from the Lunenburg County road orders seems to be a main road that crossed the Roanoke at the Little Roanoke River where a ferry was located.  According to the 1821 field survey notes the Little Roanoke is located in Charlotte County.  Of course, Randolph’s road continues on through Lunenburg and into Prince Edward County so Michael’s road duty may have been elsewhere along this then major road.  It’s referred to as a “roling road,” which means tobacco casks were literally rolled down the road to the docks to be graded and loaded onto boats. However, given the fact that the road order includes mention of a “foard,” this suggests that the road crosses some river that is more significant than a creek, but probably not as large as the Roanoke which is too large to ford without a ferry.

I suspect that Randolph’s Road is Highway 59 today.  Some road orders reference George Moore’s.  He owned Moore’s Ordinary which was located on what is now Ordinary Road, near the Whistle Stop.

In 1750 we find Michael in Nicholas Hale’s district with one tithe again as follows:

  • John Freer
  • Robert Baker
  • John Helton
  • Michael McDowell (Michal Macdowel)
  • Nicholas Alle
  • John Pybon
  • Jacob Pybon

In 1751, Michael is missing from the list and in 1752, Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg. We already know that Michael is in Halifax in 1752.

According to the map below, in 1746, reflecting the 1748 tax lists, Mathew Talbot’s District became Charlotte County in 1764, formed from Lunenburg. On the 1746 map, it looks like the Little Roanoke is called “Roanoke Creek.”

Michael Talbot’s district is the area that would initially become Charlotte County in 1764. Today Charlotte County is separated from Halifax County by the Roanoke River, which is the dividing line between Mathew Talbot’s District and Cornelius Cargill’s District in 1746.

The Lunenburg Order books 1746-1755 reflect the following:

June 1753 Michael McDuel vs Jacob Pyborn – Pyborn not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

What this does not tell us is whether Michael was still a county resident, and we don’t know when the suit was filed, except at a session prior to June of 1753.

Note that Jacob Pybon was one of Michael’s neighbors in 1750.

May court 1754 John Thompson vs Michael McDuel – def not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

This tells us that Michael probably left between June of 1753 and May of 1754, and it might give us some idea of why. Trouble was brewing perhaps.

We also know that Michael McDowell was in Halifax County on March 5, 1753 where he was considered a resident, at least according to the deed filed in Baltimore County, Maryland. Of course, that information could have been based solely on the information in the Power of Attorney document.  We don’t actually know that Michael was still living in Halifax in March of 1753. He could have moved on. He seemed to do that pretty regularly.

Sept. 1755 – John McDuel witness for Richard Booker vs Samuel Seekright, paid by Booker for 3 days attendance and once coming and returning 50 miles.

Is this John somehow connected to Michael? If so, he either died or moved on too.

There were no McDowells in the order books, deeds, road orders or wills from 1746-1766.

Bedford County was created in 1753 from Lunenburg County.

Reconstructing Michael’s Movements

As best we can tell, Michael spent his childhood in Baltimore County, Maryland.  Of that we are positive based on Murtough’s records. Murtough owned this land at the head of the North Branch of Jones Falls which Michael sold.

I wonder how Michael felt selling his boyhood home. Difficult under the best of circumstances, and even moreso if your parents were buried there – especially if you never got to say goodbye.

Today, this guardrail marks the location near 12100 Park Heights Avenue in Owings Mills, Maryland where the road crosses the North Branch of Jones Falls Creek. This would have been Murto, then Michael’s, land, or very close.

Michael may have been in Albemarle County by 1745, which probably meant he was at least 25 years old, so born 1720 or earlier.

There was a Michael McDowell in Lunenburg by 1748, probably in a portion of Lunenburg that became Charlotte County, just across the river from Halifax. MIchael could also have been living in the portion of Lunenburg that simply became Halifax.

We find Michael, Murtough’s son in Halifax County in 1752 when he signed the Power of Attorney, then possibly in 1753.

Michael McDowell is in Bedford County on the 1755 tax list.

We find no other records of any Michael McDowell during that time in Virginia or Maryland.

And there, our trail goes cold.

The next piece of information about any man with that name is what we discovered in Michael McDowell Jr.’s 1832 Revolutionary War Pension.  We know that pension application is not for Michael Sr. because the Michael McDowell who filed for the pension doesn’t die until after 1840, and he gives his age in the pension application which tells us that he was born in 1747.  Clearly not the man who sold property in Maryland from Halifax County in 1752 when he would have been 5 years old.

What happened to Michael McDowell Sr.?

We simply don’t know, other than he’s surely dead by now.

It’s pretty clear that MIchael was in Bedford County in 1755 and his namesake son lived there in 1777, but the years in-between are entirely devoid of information.  We simply know Michael Sr. died sometime after 1755 and didn’t own any property.

The possibility that Michael Sr. bought the property in 1783 and sold it from Wilkes County in 1793 exists, but is unlikely.

First, Michael Sr. would have been more than 63 years of age in 1783, purchasing his first land.  The man who sold the property from Wilkes County in 1793 when Michael Sr. would have been about 73 signed with an X, meaning he couldn’t write.  Michael Sr. could write. Additionally, in the 1787 “census” of Wilkes County, only one Michael McDowell lived there at the time, not an older and younger version.

The connection of Michael McDowell Sr. and Michael McDowell Jr. as father and son is not concrete.  There is no will or other relationship-defining document. The names and locations are the same, but there is room for error.  And the DNA doesn’t help us this time, at least not yet.

DNA Will Tell the Story – Someday

We have what is purported to be the Y DNA of Michael McDowell Jr.  I say purported, because the DNA comes from a line not firmly attached to Michael Jr. through a presumed son, Edward.  However, there is paper evidence to suggest that Edward is either Michael Jr.’s son, or is at least connected to Michael Jr.

Two types of evidence, both genetic and genealogical, confirm a male line.

First, if one male who takes a Y DNA test matches other men who have taken the same test at 37 markers or more (generally), then the surname line is confirmed – meaning that these men share a common ancestor at some point in history.

What that test cannot tell you is which common McDowell ancestor or which point in history, at least not exactly.

That information needs to come from a combination of genealogy and genetics, with the genetics confirming the paper trail genealogy.

Sometimes this methodology is lacking.  In this case, my McDowell male matches two other McDowell men at 25 markers, but both of their genealogies reach back to Michael Jr.  There is no other McDowell match at that level.

This leads to a couple of questions.

First, is the historical surname really McDowell? In other words, why aren’t their more McDowell matches, and some matches with genealogy reaching further back in time.

My McDowell male was originally only tested to 25 markers, and we’ve recently ordered an upgrade to his Y DNA to see what kinds of matches we retain at 37 markers and above.  Unfortunately, many McDowell testers tested early and haven’t upgraded.  Neither do they have trees online today.

Second, if the historical surname is McDowell, is my tester really descended from or related to Michael McDowell Jr. on the paternal line? Fate is sometimes a jokester and might just have put Michael McDowell beside his known son John, plus Luke and Edward, on the 1810 Lee County tax list just to mess with me.  Could happen.  Stranger things have happened before.

One of the best indicators of Luke being related to Michael McDowell Jr. will be if the McDowell male tester also matches people who descend from Michael McDowell Jr. through autosomal testing.  The autosomal test, known as Family Finder, is underway at Family Tree DNA.

Third, if we knew of other sons of Michael McDowell Sr., we could simply (and I say simply like it really is) test a McDowell male descendant of a different son.

Some things are simpler than others, and this isn’t one of them. We don’t know the identities of any of Michael McDowell Sr.’s other children, assuming he had them and they lived.

We will likely never be able to find additional sons of Michael McDowell Sr., at least not through paper trail genealogy, barring that miracle Bible discovery.  However, in time, if we find enough McDowell males who match this line through Y DNA as well as match at some level utilizing autosomal DNA, we may be able to find people who we think may be descended from Michael Sr.

Notice the weasel-wording, “if”, “may” and “think,” because success proving additional children of Michael McDowell Sr. is not assured – ever.  One of my life-long mottoes is, “if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed!”  This is no different. So much progress has been made in the past few years utilizing DNA testing that who knows what tools will be available to us in the future.

The answers to the questions we can answer today reside with the descendants of Michael McDowell – proven or otherwise.

Is it YOU?

  • If you are male or female and descended from Michael McDowell Jr. born in 1747 and died after 1840 in Claiborne County, Tennessee (now Hancock County), please contact me.
  • If you are male or female and descended from Edward McDowell who married Lucy Harris in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY and died in 1858 there, please contact me.
  • If you are male or female descended from Luke McDowell born in 1791 who married Frances Field in 1811 in Pulaski County, KY and died in 1879 in Dekalb County, TN, please contact me.
  • If you are a male McDowell descended from Michael McDowell Jr.’s proven son, John McDowell or William McDowell from Claiborne (now Hancock) County, Tennessee, or John’s line that settled in Lee County, VA, please contact me.

The only way to prove Michael Sr.’s line is to first prove Michael Jr.’s line, and to do that, I specifically need to find a male McDowell, meaning a male who carries the surname today, from a proven son of Michael Jr.

In the meantime, if we can prove that either a group of people, either males or females proven to descend from Michael Jr., through autosomal DNA testing, matches our McDowell Y DNA tester descended through Edward, especially on the same segments, that too is pretty compelling evidence.

The only way to compile that evidence is for descendants to test.

Is that you?  If so, please contact me and let’s discuss how we can get that done, or maybe you’ve already DNA tested someplace. Regardless, I’d love to hear from you.  It’s always fun to meet cousins and exchange information!


Did that just strike terror in your heart?  Is your pulse racing right now? It should be.

Fire has played a transformative role in the lives of our ancestors, especially since they built houses and tried to heat them, meaning their home could burn to the ground, killing the occupants or best case, rendering them helpless and reliant on other community members for food, clothes and other sustenance.

And sometimes, fire strikes very close to home – or at home.

Yesterday, my friend nearly lost her home.  She lit an advent candle on her kitchen table that was surrounded by evergreen boughs.  Then she forgot about it and went to bed.  Her religious devotional tribute combined with fatigue nearly cost her dearly.

Thankfully, due to a WORKING SMOKE DETECTOR, she is alive today and her house only needs a thorough cleaning and new carpet – not to mention a new kitchen table, of course and a few other items that burned.

Candles look so innocent and beautiful, but they aren’t.

Another friend lost her son, house, pets and all belongings except for the clothes she was wearing to escape and her car in the driveway a year ago August.  I can’t even begin to explain the devastation to this woman.  And the great irony – she was (and is) a firefighter.

Fires move so quickly, once they start.  There is often no prayer of containing the fire or for escape.

I’m a third generation fire daughter, wife and mother.

My son retired last week and I must tell you, I won’t miss that constant underlying nagging worry.

Being third generation, and having had a house fire of my own about 25 years ago, let me share with you my house rules:

House Fire Prevention Rules

  1. No open flames in the house. Nada.  Not ever.  No candles.  Period. Yes, my kids hated me, right up until one of them became a firefighter himself. Try these flickering battery operated candles instead.  You can find them at places like WalMart. They are beautiful and much safer.
  2. My fireplace does not burn logs, which create chimney residue. My fireplaces are gas and the flame is always contained behind a glass door. Never go to sleep or leave with the fireplace burning.  Keep your emergency shutoff key in the valve.
  3. No real Christmas trees. If I was going to have a real tree, and I did for awhile, no lights.  Lights get hot and electronics short out.  Ever see how quickly a dry tree goes up in flames?  Is it really worth the risk?  My mother tells of when my grandfather grabbed their burning Christmas tree and ran out the door with it, throwing it in the snow outside.  Everyone was lucky in their case.  No so for others.
  4. Fire extinguisher resides in the corner in the kitchen. If you need it, you don’t have time to hunt for it.  Mine is in view, not terribly stylish, but safe.
  5. No leaving things cooking in the house unattended. That means no oven autotimer meals, no crock pots when an adult isn’t home.  Nada.  It can’t burn or malfunction if it’s not turned on.
  6. No cars starting in the garage for warmup, or running inside even for a couple minutes, EVER.  My neighbors accidentally killed three family members this way and it’s a sight I never forgot.  This includes, by the way, remote start. Remote starts should require two separate buttons to be pushed simultaneously or some safety feature that does not allow you to accidentally start the vehicle without being aware that the vehicle was started. Never, ever, remote start a vehicle in a garage.  Why?  Ever get distracted? Me neither!
  7. Battery replacement and testing of smoke alarms every Easter. See the here for information about a new type of 10-year smoke alarm with a sealed battery compartment.
  8. Carbon monoxide sensors/alarms. Preferably in both the furnace area and the sleeping areas. These make great, if not exciting, Christmas gifts.  What better way to say “I love you and want you around.”
  9. Irons should have auto-shutoffs. I personally hate this because I’m a quilter.  But I want to be a quilter with a house and without my quilts going up in flames because I forgot to turn the iron off and the cat knocked it on the floor.
  10. Matches are secured. That means from kids and from pets. One of my husband’s acquaintances’ young grandsons was fascinated by matches, took them to bed and hid under the covers while playing with them…and you’ve already guessed the rest. They wound up filing bankruptcy in addition to the loss of their home and pets.
  11. No smoking on the property. That means anywhere on the property, not just in the house. Why?  Guess what happened a few years ago when a well-intentioned smoker put their cigarette “out” and threw the butt in the trash that was sitting beside the house.
  12. No outside fires close to the house, and none without a hose close by, just in case.
  13. No outside fires at all when it’s dry – like a drought in the summer or the early spring before things turn green.
  14. Unplug appliances not in use. They can’t short out if they aren’t plugged in.
  15. Be very vigilant of dust near extension cords and such. If an electrical short should occur, dust, as in dust bunnies or lint near an outlet combusts immediately. This is actually what caused my own house fire back in the 1990s. Fortunately, I was home at the time and the fire started in the basement laundry room which had a concrete floor. You don’t have any dust bunnies, right???
  16. Clean out the dryer vents and vent pipes. If you have a plastic vent pipe, replace it with metal.. Lint combusts too, and dryers involve a heating element. Yes, I have another family member whose college-age son came home to do laundry and the dryer caught fire.  The apartment did burn, but not to the ground and the people and pets escaped with only about 6 months of inconvenience.  Of course, his laundry escapades are now the family joke that he will never outlive – but that’s only funny because no one died. (See you Christmas Eve, Firebug.  Trying to find a smoke alarm ornament for your Christmas tree.  Just sayin…)
  17. No going to bed or leaving with the clothes dryer running. By the time you realize there’s a problem, it’s too late.
  18. No plug in type air fresheners.  They heat up, which is how they dissipate that lovely smell, but sometimes they catch fire and burn.
  19. Have your furnace checked and serviced regularly. Change the filters twice a year.  Not only does this protect you, it saves money on heating too.
  20. Do not grill, as in BBQ grill, right beside the house.  Yes, I know this should be intuitive, but sometimes it’s just not.  You don’t really want “grilled house,” melted siding or worse, now do you?

Call me paranoid if you want – but I’d prefer the term alive and vigilant😊

I want you to be too.

I don’t want fire to be your legacy.

Fire – A Sad Family Legacy

My father’s Camp Custer military record during WWI refers to him as a fireman.  When I saw that detail, I couldn’t help but wonder if my father remembered the house fire that took his brother’s life when he was a mere child?

Did my father remember running terrified from the flames that consumed everything? Of course he did. How could you ever forget that?

Was I named for the memory of that child?

Robbie, whose name was Robert, was born in June of 1898 while the family was living in Arkansas.  By 1900, they had moved back to Tennessee, to Estes Holler, in Claiborne County.  The census tells us that my grandfather had fallen on hard times and not worked for 6 months of the previous census year, meaning from June 1, 1899 to May 31, 1900, according to the census instructions.

Did this have something to do with why they moved back from Arkansas?  Possibly.  The family story was that William George Estes, my grandfather, was a hard drinking man who loved to fish but who didn’t much care to work.  In Springdale, Arkansas, Ollie Bolton Estes, his wife, ran a boarding house and Will fished.

By 1900, Ollie was probably pregnant again, and if not, would be shortly. In any case, my father was born in October of 1901.

After returning to Claiborne County, Will, Ollie and family lived in a cabin along the little creek that ran through Estes Holler.  A holler, for those not from Appalachia, is the little valley between two small ridges.  The entire area IS hills and hollers.

Sometime around 1907, the cabin caught fire.  Some people said Ollie was outside in the yard.  Some said she was at a party.  Oddly, no one commented about where William George might have been, only the mother.

This is a picture of a Ollie, whose son had recently burned to death in that fire.  The look of sorrow on her face is palpable. We know the photo was taken between the births of her two daughters, Margaret born in 1906, in arms, and Minnie who was born in 1908 and not in the photo.  We know that the boys are Estel, the oldest, my father in front, about 5 years old and Joseph Dode, two years younger than my father.  Robbie was dead by this time, so the fire happened before this 1907 photo.

Reportedly, the family Bible was also burned in this fire. Along with any other records and photos.

Everything burned, including Robbie.

Surely Robbie was buried in the family or the church cemetery, but there is no stone, at least not one that is carved, to mark his short life.

His little body lays here someplace in an unmarked grave, probably near his brother, Sammie who died in 1893.

Estel, the oldest child, was about 9 or 10 at the time, and he tried his best to get Robbie out, but Robbie crawled under the bed to hide, where he burned to death.

The family said that Ollie in particular, was never right after the fire, never the same. She was probably pregnant at the time with Minnie, born in 1908.

I know the fire and Robbie’s death haunted Estel as well throughout his life, in various ways, none of them good. He blamed himself.  Estel drank throughout his life, affecting his entire family – a truly sad story told by his daughter.

My father would have been about 5 at the time and surely remembered that horror.  He escaped those flames, but I don’t think he truly ever escaped entirely.

Years later, Uncle George (who was really a cousin) would come to own the land where the cabin that burned once stood.

George planted a willow to honor the child who died four years before he was born.

When Uncle George told me the story of Robbie’s death, standing on this very spot about 1990, I stared, transfixed, at this willow, fallen, it’s life spent too soon.  It too was dead.  Was nothing to ever live here?  Is this land cursed?

I realized that in that moment, in that place, my family’s life was forever transformed here. The horrible reality sunk in, like swampwater seeping into my soul with icy fingers.

I felt sick.

Sick for Robbie, for my grandparents but especially my grandmother who was blamed by at least some, for Estel, and for my father.

My uncle died here, a child who suffered a horrific death, on that very spot. Right where that willow lay.

My father ran out of the door, but never, ever discussed that day.

The family left the area not long after.

This fire also killed what was left of my grandparent’s already ailing marriage. Escaping the geography couldn’t cure the pain.

That fire was a fork in the road, in so many ways, sending the survivors on paths they had never anticipated and surely didn’t want to travel.

My father drowned his sorrows with alcohol as well, many times, creating new problems. He also drowned his marriages, as did my grandfather, and eventually – he drowned himself. I was 7 and heartbroken.

Grief kills over and over again.

A generation later, my (former) husband would be a volunteer firefighter, with me being known at the station as 928 and a half.  That’s the nod to the wife (or spouse – some public servants are females) for her important but often nearly invisible role in supporting the firefighters.

My son would join the ranks on his 16th birthday, officially, because he couldn’t volunteer before then.

My son devoted his career to public service, both as a firefighter and police officer on a Public Safety Department where the officers served in both capacities.  I’ll be writing about him soon, but for now, please simply incorporate the lessons learned by decades of being a “fire family” and heed those warnings this holiday season and year round.

Fire is quick – much quicker than you are.  One tiny misstep can have devastating and deadly consequences.

Forever is forever. The results trickle down through generations.

Please, please be vigilant this holiday season.

No open flames.

Share the word!

Jacob Kirsch’s Deposition and The Abandoned Wife – 52 Ancestors #174

Over time, tidbits continue to trickle in about Jacob Kirsch, the infamous one-eyed lynching saloon keeper from Aurora, Indiana. And yes, he just happens to be my ancestor.  I love them colorful!

Recently, a gentleman, David, contacted me inquiring about Jacob and asked if perhaps I knew anything about Jacob’s relationship with his ancestor, Henry Hahn (Haun).

Henry, it seems, had served in the Civil War, came home to Aurora, Indiana and lived with his wife, Barbara, until sometime after the 1880 census.

Henry subsequently left, abandoning his wife and children.  In 1911, after Henry died and was buried, his wife, who had never in the ensuing 25 years divorced her deadbeat husband, filed to collect a widow’s pension based on Henry’s Civil War service.

The Deposition

In Henry’s pension file was a deposition from Jacob Kirsch given on January 11, 1911 that Henry’s descendant very generously offered to share with me.

Not only is the deposition in and of itself very interesting, but it also contained Jacob’s signature – a wonderful find!

This deposition is the only existing narrative in Jacob’s own words. I’m presuming that his deposition in the 1887 lawsuit that stemmed from Jacob’s role in the lynching of an itinerant bricklayer that brutally murdered a man in Aurora was actually written by his attorneys.  The preamble of that deposition says, “Now comes Jacob Kirsch…by his attorneys, and answer to said plaintiff’s complaints says that he denies every allegation…”

So, while that 1887 deposition clearly states Jacob’s position, I doubt seriously if it’s Jacob’s own “voice.” It sounds like “lawyer speak” to me.

However, the 1911 deposition given for Barbara Vogel Hahn reads differently.

I am 69 years of age.  I am a hotel keeper by occupation.  My post office address is Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana.  I have resided in the City continuously for the last 45 years.  I first became acquainted with the soldier, Henry Haun, late in the sixties, and knew him intimately from that time until he left here.  He left here a little more than 25 years ago.  I have not seen him since he left.  I also knew his widow, the claimant, Barbara Haun, before their marriage.  Neither one of them had been married before their marriage to each other.  I know this from having have known them both intimately before they were married.  I knew the families of both of them.  She was a Vogel before her marriage, and I knew her father well.  From the time of their marriage until he left they lived here as man and wife.  During that time I would see him as often as nearly every day.  He was in business just a few doors below me and we were great friends.  I have known and seen Barbara often since he went away.  I know that she has lived by herself with her three daughters and that she has remained a good, true wife to him during all the time of his absence.  She worked hard and made a great struggle to hold her little flock together.  She has been highly respected in this community as an honorable, hard working woman.  She has had a mighty hard time of it, and deserves credit for the struggle she has made.  I do not know and do not believe that she has ever sought for any divorce between herself and him but that she has remained during all the years of his absence his true and honorable wife.  I remember the occasion of his body being brought home here for burial last July.  The body was taken to the house of her son-in-law, Louis Baker, where she now lives and has for a number of years.  From there it was buried in Riverview Cemetery here.  I have known her since that time and know and believe that she has remained and is today his widow. 

You have just shown me B.J. #6.  The signature is mine.  You have read it to me.  It is absolutely true and correct and I do not want to make any change or correction in it.

I am not related or interested.

I have heard this statement read.  I understand it.  You have correctly recorded all my answers to your questions.

Jacob Kirsch (signature)

Lending further credence to the fact that this is Jacob’s actual narrative is the statement at the end that says “You have read it to me.  It is true and correct and I do not want to make any change or correction in it.  I have heard this statement read.  I understand it.  You have correctly recorded all my answers to your questions.”

And one last tidbit, just in case there was any doubt. “I am not related or interested,” meaning of course, a financial interest.

After rereading this a number of times, the realization finally dawned on me that while Jacob could clearly speak English, he couldn’t read English.  That’s why the document had to be read to him.  His native language, of course, was German.

Jacob’s signature.  Be still my heart.

Seeing my ancestor’s actual signature just takes my breath away.  Signatures are so intimately personal – a last vestige of their presence on this earth.

As a bonus, Henry’s descendant also included a second signature where Jacob signed in addition to two other witnesses to another deposition given the same day.

For me, Jacob’s signature is the Holy Grail.  It’s personally his, he wrote it, and it still exists today – the only thing of his personally that remains. Except of course for the DNA carried by his descendants. I’m still trying to find someone who descends from this line to test in order to determine which pieces of my DNA came from Jacob.

I know that Jacob touched this paper when he signed it, and part of me wonders if there isn’t just a smidgen of his DNA someplace, still lurking.  Of course, even if there was, there would be no way to separate it from the DNA of the other people who handled this document. Nor would the National Archives be willing to let me do anything destructive to the paper – nor would I want to.  But it’s a nice fantasy for a minute. 

It seems like we’ve been so tantalizingly close to Jacob’s signature so many times, but never managed to capture one.  Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, even provided a “likeness” when trying to collect her own widow’s pension, after Jacob’s death, but we don’t know what that “likeness” looked like, because it wasn’t included in his file that was sent from the National Archives. For all we know, she might have traced this signature, although she would only have had access to this signature if a copy of this deposition was retained locally. 

This deposition provides other valuable tidbits waiting to be excavated by the archaeologist in every genealogist. 

It tells us that Jacob lived in Aurora continuously for 45 years, dating to 1866, after his own service in the Civil War.  In May of that year, Jacob married Barbara Drechsel who lived in Aurora, and apparently, they never left.  The couple and their young family were living in Aurora in 1870 and purchased a home there in 1871.  Now, thanks to this deposition, we know that they lived in the City from the time they married in 1866 until the 1870 census catches up with them. 

Friends and Abandonment

This deposition states that Henry was Jacob’s friend. Jacob refers to Henry as having “left” and “went away,” with no mention of stronger words like abandonment.  I wonder why. Clearly Jacob understand the ramifications of Henry’s actions on Barbara and their children.

It’s interesting that Jacob painted longsuffering Barbara with a different brush, suggesting that she did what a “good wife” should do by not divorcing Henry after he “left.”

Jacob did say that Barbara lived by herself and “worked hard and made a great struggle to hold her little flock together.” Also that “she has had a mighty hard time of it.”

However, Jacob also says that, “I do not know and do not believe that she has ever sought for any divorce between herself and him but that she has remained during all the years of his absence his true and honorable wife.”

True and honorable wife?  Is that how a woman betrayed by her husband is supposed to act, or was between 1885 and 1910? What about Henry? But then, this deposition really wasn’t about Henry, but about Barbara’s behavior. What did Barbara’s behavior after he left have to do with his pension and her ability to receive it?

My next question, of course, is why the heck she didn’t divorce the scoundrel?  Perhaps she would have been vilified for the divorce while he got somewhat of a free pass for “leaving.” Times were different 132 years ago, and Jacob may have been answering questions in a way such that there was no doubt about Barbara’s fidelity.  Jacob surely would not have wanted any stray rumors, if there were any, to cost Barbara that valued pension.  Henry may have abandoned her in life, but in death, there was at least some amount of value left in the relationship.  Barbara assuredly deserved that, even if it was nothing more than a consolation prize.  At least she had the pension to help her through her elder years even though she appears to have sacrificed any possibility of happiness with a second husband or even a comforting relationship. Small consolation, I know, but certainly better than nothing.

What Happened to Henry? 

Out of curiosity, I dug a little deeper and discovered exactly why Jacob testified as he did.  It turns out that Henry Hahn was a resident at the US National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1909, just a few months before his death, where he is listed as both currently single and divorced. He listed his daughter as his next of kin, so he clearly knew she had married. He might have been absent, but he wasn’t entirely disconnected.

Barbara was probably required to provide proof that indeed, they were not divorced. 

Had Henry not already been dead, she probably wanted to kill him, several times over, but I don’t think that counts. 

Henry’s Leavenworth record also notes that he was discharged to Oklahoma, a long way to ship a body back to Aurora, Indiana.  I wonder why Henry went to Oklahoma, who cared for him there and why he wasn’t just buried in Oklahoma.

Why Did Henry Leave?

Jacob testified that he met Henry in the late 60s, which of course meant 1860s, and that Henry “left more than 25 years before,” so before 1886.  This suggests that Henry and Jacob were friends for about 20 years, owning similar establishments just a few doors apart on the main street of Aurora for approaching two decades. No wonder they were in Jacob’s words, “great friends.”  It must have pained Jacob for Henry to run off and leave his family destitute. Did Jacob know more than he was telling?  I’d guess so.

This surely begs the question of what happened to Henry Hahn to cause him to leave.

Yes, yes I know that Henry isn’t my ancestor, but I just can’t keep myself from digging.  There’s a lot to be said for researching your ancestors acquaintances and neighbors, because you just never know what you will find, plus it allows you for just a few brief moments to become part of the neighborhood microcosmic environment where your ancestor interacted day to day.

“Hello Henry, how’s it going today?” 

“Not so good Jacob.” 

“Sorry to hear that.  What happened?” 

“Those danged well-drillers from Pennsylvania drank too much again.  Barbara is cleaning up the mess now.  I sure hope they pay their bill. It’s a whopper!” 

“Ahhh, the joys of being an innkeeper.  I sure hope they don’t come to my place.”

“I saw one of them flirting with your daughter…”

Note that in 1888, one of the danged Pennsylvania well-drillers would become Jacob’s son-in-law while still married to a wife in Pennsylvania, but that’s another story. Neighborhoods and the people in them are intertwined like vines.

While digging, I did find some hints as to why Henry might have left – and no, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with another women – just in case you were wondering.

A tree on Ancestry carries a note that says, “March 4, 1885 – Left after losing everything.  He was in saloon business. Left to find work as a cooper, his trade.  Lived with his brother Charles and his wife Minnie in Louisville, KY for a few months.” 

A few months apparently stretched to years, because Henry is still living In Louisville in 1891 and in Nelson County, KY in 1900 as a fisherman, although I’m not quite sure where he’d be fishing as a profession in Nelson County.  

Henry’s parents died in Aurora in 1892 and 1893, and I wonder if he returned for their funeral and to see his family.  Were his wife and children glad to see him, or angry? What about his siblings? What did his parents think of him leaving his wife to fend for herself with 3 small children? Was Henry shunned by the community, or welcomed as a prodigal son returned?  Why did he leave again, assuming he returned for his parents funerals?

Did Henry send money home to Barbara as he could?  It doesn’t seem like he was making any effort to hide if he lived with his brother. Louisville isn’t terribly distant – about 90 miles by road and both Aurora and Louisville are on the Ohio River.

Ironically, Henry may have been gone, but was still closely enough connected for his body to be brought back from Tulsa County, Oklahoma to his daughter’s home, which included his wife, and buried in Aurora after his July 1910 death. This just seems odd.

These various tidbits of information cumulatively make me wonder if Henry didn’t scheme to maliciously leave, but was suffering and perhaps unstable.  Maybe he never intended to be gone forever.  Maybe Barbara prayed for years that he would get better and return.  Maybe the situation was simply sad, not intentional abandonment. Maybe that’s why she never divorced him, and he never remarried or had another family. Maybe Barbara loved him regardless and never entirely gave up hope.

Maybe that’s the Barbara that Jacob knew. Not angry, just sad – and maybe Jacob was simply sad for his friends too.

No matter how damning things appear at first glance, it’s always best to reserve harsh judgement of our ancestors, and their neighbors.  By now, I simply feel sympathy for all involved and a little guilty about what I first thought of Henry.  Of course, he still might be a scoundrel, but that jury is still out.

The Neighborhood   

Curious, I was able to reconstruct some of the neighborhood and residents living in the various houses listed on the 1880 census in-between Henry Hahn and Jacob Kirsch.  Next to Henry, we found Nelson, the photographer, then a railroad conductor, which makes sense since the depot was adjacent the Kirsch House.  Next, we found a laborer, a cooper, a woman who kept a rather large boarding house, another cooper and a night watchman.  Finally, we have Jacob Kirsch.

We also have a map of the area from about that time.

On this map, the French House is what would be renamed as the Kirsch House, beside the Depot, and I believe that Henry Hahn’s might have been lot 33 on Second Street, just a few properties south of Jacob Kirsch’s residence.  Today, I think that’s the library.

An 1880 Indiana Gazetteer and Business Directory has this to say about Aurora:

AURORA. Pleasantly located on the Ohio river, in Center township, Dearborn county, 4 miles below Lawrenceburgh, the county seat, 25 below Cincinnati, and 90 southeast of Indianapolis. The place was laid out in 1819, was incorporated in 1848, and is now a flourishing business city, traversed by the O. & M. Ry. Owing to its superior transportation facilities, Aurora is quite an extensive manufacturing place, having the largest distillery in Indiana, and that, together with a large brewery, nail factory, brickyard, two saw mills, one furniture factory, two flour mills, a stave and heading factory, chair factory, and one foundry, comprise the principal manufacturing interests. Among the chief features of the place are its ten churches of different denominations, two handsome school buildings, seven hotels, a national bank, two weekly newspapers—the Independent and Saturday News—and a handsome opera house. The city, from its beautiful location, is very attractive and has an excellent fire department, is well lighted by gas, patrolled by police, and is, in fact, a very pleasant, thrifty place. Population 5,441. Liquors, hay, furniture, iron, nails, chairs and grain are the leading exports. Express, Adams and O. & M. Telegraph, Western Union. Mail received 8 times per day by rail, and 3 times by boat. John Walker, postmaster.

Among a long list of businesses we find:

  • Epicurian Hotel, Henry Hahm (sic), proprietor
  • Kirsch, Jacob, saloon and hotel

In the 1884 Gazetteer, Henry’s business isn’t listed, but Jacob’s is.

I wonder if Jacob felt badly that his hotel succeeded while his friend, Henry’s, didn’t.

The 1890 census is missing of course, but in 1900, we find Lewis Baker, the husband of Henry Hahn’s now-married daughter living what appears to be just 4 doors away from Jacob Kirsch, and next door to Jacob’s son, Edward Kirsch.  I’m betting that Barbara Hahn tried to run the saloon and hotel herself until her daughter, Elizabeth, married in 1894 and then her new son-in-law moved in to help with the hotel.  Barbara must have been relieved after trying to handle everything herself for more than 9 years. Being a single Mom is difficult under the best of circumstances, and Barbara’s clearly weren’t. Jacob obviously saw that, based on his deposition.

By 1910, the Louis Baker family had moved to another part of town and Barbara Hahn was living with them. I’d bet she was incredibly relieved to leave the innkeeper/saloon days behind her. Enough cooking and cleaning sunup to bedtime day after day with no end in sight. 

Back to The Civil War

One last piece of information that did not prove terribly useful, but is interesting nonetheless, is that while both Henry Hahn and ostensibly Jacob Kirsch both served in the Civil War, they did not serve in the same unit. 

According to Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, he served in the Indiana 137th and Henry Hahn, according to his Fold3 index card served in the 134th.

There was a method to my research madness.  While Barbara Kirsch claimed that Jacob Kirsch served, and she should have known, her pension application was denied.  It appears that two different Jacob Kirsch’s Civil War records may have been combined, so some doubt about Jacob’s service still remains. 

Therefore, if Henry Hahn had indeed served in the 137th, the unit Jacob supposedly served in, it would tell us that very likely our Jacob Kirsch had not.  Why?  Because in his deposition for Barbara Hahn, Jacob says that he met Henry in the late 60s, not in 1864 when Henry Hahn and presumably Jacob both served in the Civil War. Had Jacob served in the same unit with Henry, he would surely have said so. However, since the units in which they are reported to have served are different, it proves exactly nothing at all. Still, it’s a path I had to tread in search of those fantastic tidbits!

However, finding Jacob’s deposition for Barbara Hahn does give me hope that maybe there are other depositions yet waiting to be scanned and indexed at the National Archives, and someday the juicy tidbit that we need may yet surface to prove Jacob’s military service beyond any doubt. That would certain vindicate Barbara Kirsch’s denied pension application and allow me to honor Jacob appropriately for his service.

Today, I’m just incredibly grateful for Henry Hahn’s descendant, David, who was gracious enough to share Jacob’s deposition and signatures with me. David and I both learned things about our ancestors by combining our efforts that we would never have learned individually.