Edith Barbara Lore Ferverda and the Indiana Constitutional Election of 1921 – 52 Ancestors #223

Edith Barbara Lore Ferverda with son Harold Lore Ferverda about 1920 or 1921 with the crossroads “downtown” of Silver Lake, Indiana that consisted of a building on each of the 4 corners in the background.

My grandmother, Edith Barbara Lore was born on August 2, 1888 and died on January 4, 1960. Today, I’m celebrating what I feel is a landmark aspect of her life on this, the 59th anniversary of her passing over.

John and Edith Lore Ferverda, 1959

Life in Northern Indiana in 1920

The Presidential election of November 1920 marked the first time that women were provided with the right to vote (nationally) in the US. My grandmother, Edith, would celebrate her 12th wedding anniversary to John Ferverda on November 17th that year. She would have been 32 years old at the time, with a son who would turn 5 on November 24th.

Her husband, John Ferverda, owned the local hardware store in Silver Lake, Indiana, F&F, short for Ferverda and Frye. Edith and John were members of the local Methodist Church. John’s parents who lived a few miles up the road were Brethren, although apparently much less conservative than most Brethren of the time, judging by the fact that three of their sons served in WWI. Edith’s father had passed away, but her mother by 1920 had remarried and had moved to Chicago with her husband.

All in all, Edith seemed to blend in to the conservative heartland of Indiana “near-the-farm” life. While John and Edith did not own a farm, aside from chickens, they lived in a crossroads town that consisted of only 452 people in 165 households according to the 1920 census (yes, I counted), which meant that they were surrounded on all sides by farms and farm culture – which clearly flavored the atmosphere of tiny Silver Lake.

It was then and remains now a small, sleepy community where the local drive-in root-beer stand, the lake and the neighbors provided the only entertainment, outside of church of course.

At that time the B&K rootbeer stand, the drive-in on State Road 15 on the north side of town across from the Marathon Gas Station still remains. The cemetery, where virtually everyone in Silver Lake, including Edith, is buried is a block or so behind the gas station, towards the lake. I remember stopping at the rootbeer stand after visiting my grandparents’ graves. You also passed the cemetery and said a “drive-by” hello to any relatives reposing there on the way to swim at Silver Lake.

At that time, the cottages around the lake were separated from the town itself by the cemetery and a few farms which have been developed at least somewhat now. After all, the population of Silver Lake has doubled and the people have to live someplace.

It was into this community that Edith had moved from Rushville, Indiana after marrying John Ferverda. Rushville was significantly larger, with trips often to both Indianapolis and Cincinnati, vibrant centers of commerce and culture compared to Silver Lake.

Edith’s mother, Nora Kirsch Lore, started and owned a tailoring business after Edith’s father passed away, and Edith’s grandmother, Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, in 1920, hadn’t yet retired as the proprietor of the Kirsch House in Aurora, Indiana.

I’ve often wondered how Edith actually felt about settling in a small, extremely conservative town in the midst of a Brethren/Mennonite community.

Anabaptist Conservative Culture

Mennonite and Brethren wives didn’t work outside the home. They were identified with their husbands. When their names were mentioned, it was almost always as “Mrs. John Doe,” not as Jane Doe. They joined women’s church clubs of like-minded women and birthed lots of children to help with farm chores. These women worked hard on the farms, plus cooked, cleaned and took care of the ill.

I don’t know whether they liked or were happy with their lives or not. It’s doubtful that they gave that much consideration because it’s not like there were any other options, and their conservative church/family life is what they had been raised to revere. The words “obey’ were still in all wedding vows and were taken literally by both genders.

But not Edith. She had been raised in a culture of strong women, brazenly independent for their time, and had married into the Brethren culture.

I don’t know if Edith’s husband was “dismissed” from the Brethren Church for marrying an outsider, but regardless, he and Edith joined the Methodist Church in Silver Lake where they were life members.

The Methodists were somewhat less restrictive than the Brethren, but the conservative culture ran strong throughout the region.

Few women “worked,” at least outside the home, and for the most part, it was the perception and possibly the reality that the only women who worked were those who “had to,” implying that somehow their husbands weren’t manly enough or successful enough to support their families. If your wife worked, it was a slap in your face and implied some very “un-nice” things about you as a man.

In addition to their jobs, working women still had the same responsibilities at home, just much less time in which to accomplish everything. They generally didn’t garner the compassion of other women, who somehow felt that they “deserved” their fate and looked down upon them for working.

Edith worked anyway, as a bookkeeper, beginning in 1925, if not before. She literally worked from then, through the depression when there was no other family income, until just a few days before her death in 1960. Edith did what she needed to do for her family and God help anyone who got in her way.

Women’s Suffrage

This is the backdrop against which I’ve wondered how Edith felt about Women’s Suffrage. Women obtained the right to vote in August of 1920.

Did Edith vote in the 1920 Presidential election in which Republican Warren Harding won? If so, did she vote Republican or Democratic? Given how strongly Republican Kosciusko County was at that time, along with her husband’s strong political leaning, I’m guessing that I know which way she voted, assuming she voted.

I’ve speculated that indeed, she probably did vote because she was always a woman with an opinion and not afraid to speak her mind, in SPITE of where she lived and regardless of who approved, or not.

I’m not sure I’ve ever really appreciated Edith’s bravery under the circumstances. Social ostracization is a powerful deterrent, especially in a small town where it’s easy to become a minority of 1. Reading the local Indiana newspapers over the past several days as I’ve been sidelined by the winter crud has made me appreciate the life she led and the woman she chose to be.

The Election

It was in the Warsaw Union Newspaper, serving the 12,000 residents of Kosciusko County that I found clear evidence of Edith’s involvement in the election process – and the fact that she was indeed working at least episodically before 1925.

As it turns out, Edith was appointed to serve as clerk for Lake Township’s second precinct for the Special Election to be held on September 6, 1921.

Warsaw Union Newspaper, August 3, 1921, found on MyHeritage

Not only was Edith selected to serve on the Special Election board as Clerk, but Edith was NOT addressed as Mrs. John Ferverda, using her own first name. In later editions of the paper referring to the election and beyond, she was (generally) listed as Edith L. Ferverda.

When she married, Edith replaced her middle name of Barbara with her maiden name of Lore. For 1908, that was a radical way to preserve your birth surname and make a subtle statement. I think she would be proud of her granddaughter who retains her birth surname as well.

One of the ballot issues, as you might have guessed, had to do with women’s rights to vote.

On JStor, the Journal Article “Amendments to State Constitutions 1919-21”, pages 251 and 252, provides the following information about the special Indiana Constitutional Election:

And lastly, this…

Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, giving women the right to vote on January 16, 1920, following the proposal for the 19th Amendment proposed in Congress on June 4, 1919. The amendment didn’t become federal law until August 18, 1920 with Tennessee being the deciding state to ratify the constitutional amendment.

So, how did the 1921 Indiana Special Election go?

Early returns on September 6th weren’t very positive.

At 2:30 on election day, it seemed that few voted. Women seemed indifferent, but perhaps those who didn’t want to vote, wouldn’t regardless of the Constitution, and those who did care had already gained that right.

Certainly, in Kosciusko County, there were very few non-naturalized females, if any. The topic probably wasn’t terribly relevant. The legislation was apparently in response to the recent war – or perhaps it was an attempt to limit the number of women voters. It would be interesting to understand why a separate amendment would be required if the law regarding citizenship was already in place for men. In 1851, in Indiana, section 2 of the Indiana Constitution read:

Section 2. In all elections, not otherwise provided for by this Constitution, every white male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who shall have resided in the State during the six months immediately preceding such election; and every white male, of foreign birth, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who shall have resided in the United States one year, and shall have resided in the State during the six months immediately preceding such election, and shall have declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, conformably to the laws of the United States on the subject of naturalization; shall be entitled to vote, in the township or precinct where he may reside.

Regardless of disparity, if any in 1921, between males and females, the amendment was passed, but county-wide interest seemed light, according to the Sept. 7th paper.

Only about 2.5% of the county population voted. The “tax amendment” was the least popular of any.

Today, here’s how Article 2, regarding Suffrage and voting qualifications reads in the Constitution of the State of Indiana.

On a national level, today, noncitizens cannot vote in federal elections, but states control who can vote in state and local elections. Back in the 1700s and 1800s, vast tracts of land were available for homesteading and voting rights had been extended to immigrants who had filed their intention to become citizens in order to attract people by letting them know they could have a hand in deciding their own future. Territories needed to attract people to settle those lands in order to have sufficient population to become states, and states needed to have their land settled and cultivated as well, producing taxable revenue.

Edith, Leadership by Example

We will never know how Edith voted in the privacy of the voting booth, but her involvement in 1921, so soon after women obtained the right to vote tells me one thing positively. Edith was no wall-flower.

I imagine Edith walking up to the voting booth on that first election day in November of 1920, perhaps amid disproving stares, maybe with her child in tow, among all men, and voting anyway. A small but tiny act of protest. Then deciding that SHE would be the woman there to welcome future women and sealing the legitimacy of women in the polling place. Edith perhaps knew that the best was to effect permanent and positive change was through encouragement – that old honey versus vinegar adage.

Edith’s immediate involvement in the electoral process almost assures us that she DID vote, and DID care, and DID what she could in the time and place she lived to make a difference. Her name was in the newspaper, so EVERYBODY knew. She was the face of women in the polling place, the silent, or maybe not-so-silent, example for others. Encouraging participation. Encouraging involvement. Encouraging women to step out and step up to the polling booth – and to vote. They knew at least one woman, Edith Lore Ferverda, would be there to greet them with a warm reassuring smile and show them what to do – how to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Women setting examples and encouraging other women was critically important, with the small steps of thousands paving the way 98 years later for the swearing in this week of the 116th class of Congress, the most diverse we’ve ever seen as a country.

I like to think that in some small way, in the tiny community of Silver Lake, where Edith was front and center in Indiana’s 1921 Special Constitutional Election, willing to be present in the polling location, and the voting booth, seen and heard, that she in some way helped with the forward, positive momentum that set the stage for the day when women didn’t just serve as clerks, but in elected positions. Currently, 23.7% of the members of Congress are women, with 25% in the Senate and 23.4% of the House of Representatives.

Nearly a century is a long time, but I think Edith would be proud to watch the swearing in ceremony that just occurred. What a wonderful way to celebrate her passing-over anniversary. I’m incredibly proud to be her granddaughter and thankful for those old newspapers that revealed a previously unknown chapter in my grandmother’s life.

The journey of 1000 miles (or a hundred years) begins with a single step.

Edith, your small steps and public example were not in vain. Thank you!

Hiram Bauke Ferverda (1854-1925), Part 1: The Baker’s Apprentice – 52 Ancestors #222

Henry & Hiram Ferverda

Hiram (Harmen Bauke) Ferverda (Ferwerda) at left, Henry (Hendrik) Ferverda at right, assuming the Ferverda booklet is labeled correctly.

Hiram Bauke Ferverda was my mother’s grandfather. Since today would be my mother’s 96th birthday if she were still with us, I’ll let her introduce you – just like she introduced me.

Mother and I were visiting on the blustery spring morning of March 3, 2002, while drinking coffee or tea at her kitchen table, plotting our genealogy adventures for the upcoming months. Those were the days, and I miss them!

Mom said, “Grandfather Ferverda came over with his brother from Holland. They had a disagreement and the brother went up by Nappanee near or among the Amish. Mawmaw and Pawpaw [Hiram and Eva Miller Ferverda] weren’t Amish, but she did wear the hat on her head. She wasn’t among the real strict sect.”

That’s the first I had heard of any of this.

Mom was right. According to immigration records, Hiram, along with his parents and brother, Hendrick, known as Henry, immigrated from the Netherlands.

But Amish? Mennonite? Hat on her head? What was that all about?

And so began the Ferverda quest.

Meet Yvette Hoitink

Before I go any further with this story, I have to take a minute and introduce Yvette Hoitink, a Dutch professional genealogist. The Dutch records for this family are available because of her diligent research. I love her reports as well. Oh, how I love those reports!! They are concise and chocked full of information, complete with images of the document, a translation and source information. Even if I could find the records myself, I can’t read them.

If it’s a Dutch ancestor in my family, I absolutely guarantee you that Yvette is involved as a research partner. And no, this is not a paid announcement, it’s my unending gratitude for an amazing friend (that I met thanks to a blog article) and a job well done.

Let’s dive right in!

Neither Hiram nor Ferverda

Ferverda family records in Indiana provided Hiram’s birth date, which was verified by Yvette. But that’s it, all we had about Holland. No location, nothing else. We didn’t even know Hiram’s mother’s name, or, as it turns out, his real name.

Hiram was born, according to Dutch records, on September 21, 1854 in Hiaure, Westdongeradeel, The Netherlands, to Bauke Hendrick(s) Ferverda (known as Henry in the US) and Geertje Harmens de Jong.

The original birth record is shown below, and the first thing that pops out at me is that the surname is spelled Ferwerda in Holland. In the US, Hiram’s line spelled their surname Ferverda and his brother, Henry’s line spelled it Fervida. No one on this side of the pond spelled it Ferwerda! In fact, I initially thought those records were misinterpreted (meaning the handwriting), but they aren’t. The surname probably changed to the phonetic pronunciation here in the US.

Birth record of Harmen Ferwerda, born Westdongeradeel September 21, 1854

Yvette provided the following translation:

In the year one thousand eight hundred fifty-four, the twenty-third of the month of September appeared before us, Zijtse Sijbouts de Haan, mayor, clerk of the civil registration of the municipality of Westdongeradeel province Friesland:

Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda aged twenty-four years, head teacher, living in Hiaure, who declared to us that on the twenty-first of this month of September, at half past ten in the evening, in Hiaure, was born a child of the male sex from him declarer and his wife Geertje Harmens de Jong, aged twenty-five years, without occupation living with him which child he declares to give the first name of Harmen.

Said statement occurred in the presence of Oene Klazes Hofman, aged fifty-four years, cow milker living in Hiaure and of Egbert Oebeles Kijlstra, aged thirty-nine years, clerk at the “secretarie” [municipal administration] living in Ternaard.

Of which we have created this record, that, after having been read aloud, was signed by us, the declarer and the witnesses.


B H Ferwerda

O: K Hofman

E O Kijlstra

ZS de Haan

Source: “Netherlands, Civil Registration, 1792-1952”, Familysearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 29 August 2012), digital image, “Geboorten 1851-1856” [Births 1851-1856], Westdongeradeel (Friesland, The Netherlands), p. 66 reverse;  Birth record of Harmen Ferwerda.

Look at Bauke’s beautiful signature!

Not only do we discover that the surname is spelled differently, we also discover that Hiram’s name was originally given as Harmen, his mother’s middle name which was her paternal grandmother’s birth surname. Harmen’s parent’s names are provided, along with their ages and his father’s occupation. Not only that, but he was born at half past 10 in the evening. How many of us know what time we were born today?

I decided right on the spot when I saw these records that I loved Dutch record-keeping.

Visiting my Dutch Homeland

In 2014, both as a result of Yvette’s work, and with Yvette, I was fortunate enough to visit many of my ancestral Dutch locations in what amounted to a whirlwind tour.

Additionally, my Ferverda cousin, Cheryl and my husband, Jim, rounded out our foursome and did we EVER have a good time. We also worked with the wonderful staff at the Friesland branch of the Dutch National Archives in Leeuwarden, named Tresoar. If that name sounds a lot like treasure to you, there’s a reason and yes, it is indeed full of treasure – both in terms of their records and wonderful employees who we now count among our friends.

Ummm….maybe I should explain…

The Dutch really go all out celebrating King’s Day on his birthday, April 27th. Everything shuts down, all public offices are closed and a huge nationwide party takes place. We were accidentally present for the first King’s Day, which changed from the previous Queen’s Day when the Queen’s eldest son, William Alexander became King. The King is a member of the “House of Orange” and let’s just say we wanted to fit in with the locals – and we did. After all, we’re Dutch, right? Yes, there’s obviously a story behind this and yes, eventually, I’ll tell – but not today😉

I’ll be sharing lots photos of the locations where my Dutch family lived and relevant history in this and several upcoming articles.

Hamlet and Record Confusion

Many locations in the Netherlands are very small hamlets. Often records indicate ancestors living in the larger region but don’t give the name of the tiny village. It’s a bonus to find the village name and Yvette is persistent.

For example, Hiaure is a small hamlet in the larger, now extinct, region of Westdongeradeel, now Dongeradeel, which is an administrative district that includes several hamlets, villages and towns.

Additionally, there may be several places in the Netherlands, even in Friesland with the same name. For example, there are about 5 different towns, hamlets and villages with the name of Oudega. In my case, the Oudega I would have assumed, just about 3 miles from another location the family lived, is not at all the Oudega where they moved. All I can say is thank goodness for Yvette or I would have fallen directly into that tar pit.

Another complication for my family is that they didn’t do what families are supposed to do. (Now there’s a surprise – NOT.)

Ancestors are supposed to marry in the town where they were raised. Stay there. Have children there. Marry someone of their own religion. Have their children baptized in the same church with the baptism witnessed by other family members. Don’t move around, and don’t marry across the country from where their first wife died. And don’t, absolutely DO NOT, no matter what else, marry someone of a religion that does NOT KEEP RECORDS.

Oh, and don’t change your name either, first or last and certainly not both. Just sayin’…

Yep, Hiram Ferverda’s father did ‘em all.


Welcome to Hiaure!

You can see a short video clip of Hiaure in this YouTube video.

As with all Dutch towns and villages, the church is located on the highest point of land, a small mound called a terp, because the cemetery lies in the churchyard and the Netherlands is an extremely low, meaning wet, country.

Compared to the countryside of the US, Europe is a very small place with limited land. There’s an old saying that the US has land, but Europe has history. In every square foot, I might add.

It’s quite common to be standing in one village and be able to see the church steeple of several churches by turning and looking in various directions. Those churches are the center of yet another village. This is true even in very small villages. Today, Hiaure has about 65 residents and that probably hasn’t changed much since Hiram was born there.

Because the Netherlands is so low, much of the country is reclaimed either from the sea or extreme lowlands. Windmills furnish wind-power to pumps and are commonplace scenes across the landscape.

This photo, taken close to Hiaure as we drove through the Dutch countryside is a typical Dutch scene. Today, it’s also not unusual to see wind turbines generating electricity in addition and sometimes side by side with older traditional windmills. Note the windmill in the clearing to the right of the house.

Village life centered around the church. Children were baptized there, families attended services, marriages took place, as did funerals. After the funeral service, parishioners walked outside and buried the person in close proximity to the church – sometimes in a grave the family owned, used and reused for generations.

As you can see, the Hiaure church is located on a small “terp” or raised area, the highest location in the village. One does not want to strike water when digging graves.

Hiram’s father was a school teacher. A house was typically provided to the teacher as part of their salary and research suggests strongly that this small house is indeed where Hiram was born.

The current resident was very generous to allow us to visit the backyard as well.

Was this where Hiram played as a child? Possibly, but he probably wouldn’t have remembered because by the time his brother was born in October of 1857, when Hiram had just turned 3, they were living in Eernewoude.

The traditional barns, like the one shown above at right, would have been similar to what Hiram saw when he lived in Hiaure or elsewhere in the countryside.

The Dutch love gardens, and tulips, of course. Such old-world beauty and charm.

Sometime between Hiram’s birth and the birth of his brother, 3 years later, the family moved from Hiaure to Eernewoude, Tietjerksteradeel, Friesland, about 20 miles away, probably so that Bauke could accept a different teaching position.

However, in Eernewoude, Hiram’s young life would change forever.

Hiram and Hendrick Ferwerda

Hiram had a brother Hendrick, later known as Henry in the US, born in 1857 in the village of Eernewoude, Tietjerksteradeel, Friesland, and a sister Lysbertus, born November 12, 1859, probably in the same location.

You may notice location spelling disparities, which I find quite confusing. There is a difference between the languages of Dutch and Frisian, the common language spoken in Friesland, the northwesternmost province of the Netherlands. Most people living in Friesland understand and speak Dutch perfectly well, but not all Dutch people speak or understand Frisian, a west Germanic language.

The original spelling is shown as Eernewoude (Dutch) and the current spelling is Earnewald (Frisian), at least I think I have those right.

Eernewoude, as is recorded in the Ferwerda records, was then and remains today a small low-lying village with a 2017 population of around 409 people.

Hiram’s sister died on July 23, 1860 at 8 months of age, not quite 3 months before her mother perished on October 3rd, leaving Bauke with 6 year old Hiram (Harmen) and 3 year old Hendrick to raise alone.

Young Hiram would just have turned 6 years old less than two weeks before his mother died. He would surely have been old enough to remember both his sister’s and his mother’s deaths and funerals.

We don’t know why Geertje died, but the death notice placed in the newspaper by Bauke Ferwerda on October 12th  and translated by Yvette reveals a lot:

Tonight at 9 ¼ hours died, after a very long but patient suffering, my beloved wife Geertje Harmens de Jong, in the yet youthful age of 31 years and 6 months, leaving me, after a comfortable union of almost 7½ years, two sons.

Eernewoude, 3 October 1860

Did their daughter die of something related to her mother’s death? Was her mother so ill that the child died? What malady related to the birth could have caused Geertje to suffer for nearly 11 months, killing her and the child both. I would think that infections or issues related to childbirth would be terminal much sooner than that. Whatever Geertje’s affliction, it clearly wasn’t contagious, because no other family members died.

Sadly, young Hiram would have seen his mother’s suffering.

We don’t know positively where Hiram’s mother, Geertje, is buried, but given that the family had been living in Eernwoude for several years, it’s very probable that both she and her daughter are buried in the churchyard there.

The church in Eernewoude was built in 1794, so this would have been where Hiram’s sister and mother’s funerals were both held and probably where they would have been buried as well unless there was a separate Mennonite cemetery which is unlikely.

Graves are reused in European countries after a few years, so the stones, if any ever existed for Geertje and the baby would no longer be preserved today. Perhaps the church records themselves record the location of the plots where they were buried, but that too is rare. It will have to be enough to know they are there someplace.

I would love to have been able to decorate Geertje and her daughter’s grave like this beautifully decorated Dutch grave on a little terp all its own. I so wanted to tell Geertje that her son did just fine. That I’m living proof and that she is my great-great-grandmother. To whisper that her little boy, Harmen, would become Hiram. That he sailed to America and became a leader in his community. That he too married an Anabaptist woman, just like she was. That we came back to find her. That she is not lost to us.

I was not able to visit this village, and I would not have been able to find her grave today, but she is there and I honor her none-the-less.

Rauwerderhem, Friesland, Netherlands

The Dutch population registers show that Hiram lived in Rauwerderhem between January 1, 1861 and Dec. 31, 1881. Another population register says that he lived here between 1854 and 1941. That’s surely true, just only a fraction of that time – and we don’t know exactly which fraction.

We know positively that Hiram had sailed to America long before 1881. In fact, we know that in May of 1863, the family had moved to Oudega.

Rauwerderhem as a region ceased to exist in 1984 and became Boarnsterhim which ceased to exist in 2014. Rauwerderhem includes several municipalities including Irnsum which is probably our clue as to when he lived there.

Oudega and a Step-Mother

Hiram’s father, Bauke, remarried on October 30, 1863, three years after his wife’s death, to Minke “Minnie” Gerb ens Van der Kooi. We know that Bauke moved to Oudega on May 6, 1863, several months before he married Minke. A year later, in 1864 when their first child was born, the family was still living in Oudega (Hemelumer Oldeferd), near the coast.

In 1866, Hiram’s father, Bauke, was listed as the head teacher there.

I wonder who cared for Hiram and Hendrick for the 3 years that Bauke Hendricks Ferwerda was a widower and teaching school. His older son, Hiram who had just turned 6 when his mother died was probably attending school, but assuredly the younger child was not.

A newspaper ad that Yvette discovered answers that question:

A few weeks after Geertje’s death, Bauke advertised for a housekeeper. Their first known housekeeper was Romkje Rintjes Dooijema, a 69-year-old widow who joined the family in July 1861. It is possible that they had a housekeeper before her, that did not live with the family. Romkje was in the household for two years, probably until Bauke’s second marriage in October 1863 to Minke Gerbens van der Kooi.

Hiram moved to Oudega with his father in May 1863 when he would have been 9 years old and lived there for the next four years.

We drove from Leeuwarden to Oudega which took about an hour. The Netherlands is connected by roads today, but in the 1860s and before, the Netherlands was a riverine country – connected by natural waterways and canals constructed strategically to drain the land. Boats tied loosely in canals are equivalent to second cars in the driveway here. You may well be able to get to town more quickly by water than by land.

While it appears that the residents of the Netherlands are in a constant battle with water, in reality, for the most part, they’ve learned to adapt and co-exist. In some cases, they have to tame the water, generally the sea, and they have to find ways to retain what little land they have.

Regardless of what they do, the Dutch are always innovative.

The church in Oudega was constructed in 1850, so would have been relatively new at the time that Hiram started attending with his father.

When they first arrived, Bauke, being the schoolteacher, would have been introduced around. He probably entered the church for the first time, holding his sons’ small hands in each of his larger ones as they made their way to a pew where they boys would have sat on either side of their father, probably fidgeting and squirming. A routine they likely repeated every Sunday.

Bauke was single and available, so any widows near the same age would have taken notice and maybe sat strategically nearby. Perhaps Minke Ger bens Van der Kooi sat nearby as well, exchanging furtive glances with the handsome schoolteacher widower.

Given that Bauke was a music teacher, perhaps he took a more active role in the church.

Bauke and both of his sons were listed on their emigration paperwork as Dutch Reformed, but both of Bauke’s wives were Mennonite. So maybe Minke wasn’t sitting in this church after all.

As with most Dutch churches, the cemetery surrounds the church.

Next to the church is the school and parsonage. Bauke would have likely lived in one of these buildings. It’s unclear from historical records which building was which at the time.

The building immediately next door looks like it might well have been the school, and the schoolmaster might well have lived here too.

It’s also possible that another structure stood at that time that does not remain today, in the part of the churchyard where Jim is standing, between the church and that brick building.

There is definitely space for another structure, but no physical evidence that one existed.

Regardless, this is where Hiram lived, attended church and played as a child, probably in the cemetery among the gravestones.

During the time the family lived in Oudega, Minnie and Bauke presented Hiram with 2 sisters, Lysbeth born August 21, 1864 and Geertje born May 15, 1867. Lysbeth died at sea during the August 1868 crossing. That must have been a heartbreaking, terrifying day, watching your child, or your 4-year-old sibling, slip beneath the waves – especially after having lost your mother and sister just a few years before. Did Hiram ever feel safe from death?

Minnie and Bauke would give Hiram two more sisters and a brother in the US.

When Did Hiram Emigrate?

On August 1, 1868, the Ferwerda family sailed for America, but Hiram may not have been with them. Did he arrive with his parents, or did he join the family later? He wouldn’t have been quite 14, but children then were trusted to travel alone at much younger ages than today.

Yvette provides the following information:

Lists of Overseas Emigrants:

Since 1848, the Dutch national government required each province to compile lists of emigrants each year. The government wanted to understand who was leaving and for what reasons. The lists were usually compiled by requesting lists of emigrants from each municipality. The municipality often based these lists on information in their population registers. If people failed to register their departure, their emigration may go unnoticed for some time and sometimes shows up in the lists years after the emigration took place.

1. Harmen Ferwerda

Information in the source:

The list of emigrants shows that Harmen Ferwerda emigrated from Wijmbritseradeel, Friesland in 1869. He was a 14-year-old baker’s apprentice and listed “geluk te zoeken” [finding happiness/luck] as his reason for departure. His destination was listed as North-America, precise location unknown. He was less well-to-do and had not paid poll tax the previous year.

Source: “Staten van Landverhuizers overzee” [Lists of overseas emigrants], Wijmbritseradeel, Friesland, Netherlands, 1869, p. 88-89; microfiche, Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, The Hague; citing Nationaal Archief, Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken [Department of the Interior], afdeling Statistieken [Statistics department], record group, call number 26V

Analysis: The other emigrants from Wijmbritseradeel listed ‘to make a fortune’ or ‘amelioration of circumstances’ as reason to emigrate. To find “geluk” (happiness/luck) is an uncommon reason that is not mentioned elsewhere in the list. It may be that this reflects Harmen’s own choice of words.

2. Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda

Information from the source:

The list of emigrants shows that Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda emigrated from Hemelumer Oldephaert en Noordwolde, Friesland in 1868 with 1 wife and 4 children. His destination is listed as Minnesota. The record shows he was less well-to-do, with an annual income of fl.425 the previous year. The notes column states that he was married to a sister of Bergstra. This refers to the first emigrant named in the list of emigrants from Hemelumer Oldephaert en Noordwolde, Rimmer Johannes Bergstra. Several other emigrants in the list of emigrants from that municipality were also related to Rimmer Johannes Bergstra.

Source: “Staten van Landverhuizers overzee” [Lists of overseas emigrants], Hemelumer Oldephaert en Noordwolde, 1868, p. 69-70; microfiche, Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, The Hague; citing Nationaal Archief, Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken [Department of the Interior], afdeling Statistieken [Statistics department], record group, call number 26V

Yvette’s note: No relationship between Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda’s second wife, Minke Gerbens van der Kooi, and Rimmer Johannes Bergstra is known at this stage. We could investigate this as this might lead to a better understanding of their reasons for emigrating. The way that the list mentions different relationships suggests that they traveled as a group.

The fact that Bauke and his wife have 4 children with them strongly suggests that Hiram was with them and did not make the trip, alone, later. There were only 4 children in total, including the child who died en route.

I wonder why Bauke and family decided to settle in Indiana. It looks like their original destination was Minnesota. Maybe they met someone en route who provided information that changed their minds.

The Elkhart County history book states that there was a group of Dutch that settled in this area, so the Ferwerda family was not the only family in the settlement group. I wonder how they selected Elkhart County, and why.

Checking others in the immigration group with Rimmer Johannes Bergstra (age 67) we find Dirk Peekes Hoogeboom who died in 1887 in Nappanee, Indiana, and is buried in the Union Cemetery where Hendrick Fervida and family are buried. The Union Cemetery is across the road from the Brethren Church. According to Find-A-Grave, a G. R. Bergstra was married to Kirk Hoogeboom, and the emigration record states that Hoogeboom is married to the daughter of Bergstra. Gerben Willems DeBoer was married to Anna (died 1911), a sister of Bergstra, and died in 1874. They are also buried in Union Cemetery. These people lived in the area where Bauke Ferwerda and family settled and provided tenuous ties to the old country.

A second group that was traveling with the Bergstra group from the same location in Holland settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan by 1870 and remained. Gosse Jans Molenaar, age 35, whose wife was the sister of Durk Jeremias Quarre, age 32.

More from Yvette:

Population registers

Population registers were retrieved for Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda and his son Harmen Ferwerda for the period covering their emigration.

Population registers were kept in the Netherlands since 1850, with some earlier local attempts. Population registers show who lived where in the municipality.

In the 19th century, a population register typically covered a period of 10 to 20 years, depending on the size of the municipality and the mobility of its inhabitants. This register was kept up to date, whenever somebody moved, died or was born their addition or removal from the household was noted. People were required to register whenever they moved into a municipality or moved out of a municipality.

Some population registers were arranged by address. In this case, when people moved, they were struck from the page of their previous address and added to the page of their new address. Other municipalities quickly changed to a system that arranged the population registers by household. In this case, addresses were struck and corrected every time a family moved.

Struck through names in the population register usually indicate one of two things:

  • The person died during the time period covered by the register
  • The person moved away.

All people not stricken through were apparently still living there at the end of the period covered by the register.

Populations give a very good insight in the composition of a household. However, because a population register covers a period of several years, not all people listed on the page may have lived there at the same time. Some people may have died or moved away before other people were born or moved in. Careful analysis of the dates is needed to draw conclusions about the composition of a household.

Hemelumer Oldeferd en Noordwolde 1860-1869

This population record shows the household of Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda. It covers the period 1860-1869 and shows that Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda arrived in Oudega in the municipality of Hemelumer Oldephaert en Noordwolde on 6 May 1863 together with his two sons Harmen and Hendrik. They had come from the municipality of Tietjerksteradeel. The record lists that Bauke married Minke Gerbens van der Kooi on 30 October 1863. She is listed as number 4. Subsequently, two children are born in 1864 (Lijsbert) and 1867 (Geertje).

Son Harmen Baukes Ferwerda leaves the parental home on 22 July 1867 to go to Rauwerdehem. He is also shown as incoming from Wijmbritseradeel on 17 July 1867, when he is added as nr. 8 to the household.

Source: Hemelumer Oldeferd en Noordwolde, Friesland, Netherlands, Bevolkingsregister [Population Register] 1860-1869, p. 88, household of Bauke Hendriks Ferwerda; microfiche, Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, Den Haag, Netherlands

Analysis: the dates of Harmen Baukes Ferwerda’s departure and return do not add up, as he arrived back home 10 days before leaving it. Since his listing as number 8 is below that of his sister Geertje b. 18 May 1867, we can be sure he arrived back home after 18 May 1867. More analysis is needed in comparison with the Wymbritseradeel population register.

I wonder why Hiram left and went to Rauwerdehem and then Wijmbritseradeel. Yvette wondered too – and she found the answer!

Wymbritseradeel 1862-1880

The population register of Wolsum shows Harmen Baukes Ferwerda as living in the household of Johannes Jousma in Wolsum in the municipality of Wymbritseradeel. He arrived there from Irnsum on 20 November 1867.

Now that’s quite interesting. If Hiram left home of July 22, 1867 and stayed in Irnsum until November 20th of that year, where was he in Irnsum during that time? He was only 12 years old when he left and turned 13 that September. He certainly was living with a family, perhaps someone from his mother’s side of the family who was Mennonite?

Irnsum, today Jrnsum, was a Mennonite stronghold, known to be a center of Mennonite activity before 1600. Two Mennonite congregations originally existed, but one died out relatively early. The second joined the Mennonite conference in Friesland in 1695. In 1684, that congregation had a meeting house with stained glass windows, quite the exception to the traditional “very plain” lifestyle. In 1838 the membership was 83 and in 1871, 160.

This would have been the Mennonite church that Hiram probably attended in Irnsum during his 4 months living there.

A Baker’s Apprenticeship in Wolsum

We may not know who Hiram was living with and what he was doing in Irnsum for 4 months, but we do know more about the time he spent in Wolsum living with Johannes Jousma.

From Yvette:

Johannes Jousma was a baker and Harmen Baukes a “bakkersknecht” [baker’s hand]. The term ‘knecht’ was also used for apprentices, which translation would fit with his age (13). By comparing the arrival and departure dates of the other people in the household, Johannes Jousma is shown to have at most one apprentice at the time, sometimes none.

So, Hiram was apprenticing to be a baker. Fortunately, Wolsum was on our itinerary. It’s such a small “place” that we almost missed it, literally.

Our visit to Wolsum was just amazing, for several reasons. In fact, this was one of the highlights of the trip. Ironic that we nearly abandoned this stop because we couldn’t find this hamlet amid the maze of canals and waterways. I’m so glad my friends didn’t give up.

The Wolsum church on the raised terp. While Hiram would probably have attended this church regularly, none of our ancestors or family members are buried here. Or are they?

Yvette came up with a surprise and tells us that:

In the population register Harmen lived with baker Johannes Jousma (Anabaptist) and Pierkje de Jong (Dutch Reformed). I only now realize that Pierkje was his aunt! She was the daughter of Harmen Gerrits de Jong and Angenietje Wijtzes Houtsma and sister to Geertje Harmens de Jong. Therefore, given that Pierkje was Dutch Reformed, she would have attended this church and is likely buried here as well.

Amazing what is hidden away in the details of these records. Anabaptist connections keep popping up. Hiram would cross the ocean and eventually marry an Anabaptist women himself.

In the back of every church, we find a small unobtrusive building like the one shown below.

I thought these were sheds for the groundskeepers holding lawnmowers or perhaps supplies for digging graves, but that’s not at all the purpose for these generally nondescript structures. They are ossuaries for the bones encountered when the grave is dug for the next occupant. Any bones remaining are put into the ossuary and stacked with all of the other bones where the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” process continues.

Now, I must admit, in locations where I know my ancestors or their family members are buried, I look longingly at these buildings. I know that their DNA is just laying there, but unavailable to me☹

In fact, I’m probably related to everyone in many small villages. No point crying over split-milk, or bone-dust, so let’s walk through this lovely village.

Flowers bloom everyplace in Holland in the spring, peeking through small spaces, seeking the sun.

Beautiful moss-covered walkway beside the church. I love these little peek-a-boo Dutch gardens. So inviting!

Looking across the fields. The next hamlet is always within view. The fence below isn’t between fields, but across a canal or waterway. We fence roads here, the Dutch fence canals.

Some hamlets are too small to even have a church.

One such place is named Fiifhus translated as “Five Houses,” for obvious reasons, within sight of Wolsum.

A one lane road reaches across the fields and canals in the direction of the tiny Five Houses where we were told the Wolsum baker once lived. Of course, we’re going!

A one car bridge and quaint, beautiful cottages greeted us.

It was here, in 5 Houses, officially a part of Wolsum because the two hamlets shared the church, that Hiram served his apprenticeship with Johannes Jousma.

Five Houses was located at the end of the little dead end one-vehicle-wide “road” that ended beyond the 5th house. The street looked more like a walkway and we weren’t sure we were supposed to drive there, or could turn around, so we parked at the end and walked.

The people in Wolsum told us that the “old baker” had lived in Fiifhus. There were literally 5 houses originally and only one more today, all lined up in a row across from the canal. The “road” in the 1860s to 5 Houses was the canal by boat.

Wood decays quickly in the Netherlands which is why most structures are built of brick. Stone is scarce in this lowland country. Note the moss growing on the fence. It grows everyplace.

Cheryl, always shy (humor), began talking to people and asking questions. Fortunately, Yvette and some of the Frisian-speaking archives staff were along to help with translation, although most Dutch people speak at least some English.

The residents were amazingly friendly and as interested in us as we were in their little village. In the Netherlands, many residences were both a house and a barn, combined. This one was built, remodeled or at least roofed in 1871. The house portion for the people is much smaller than the barn portion, which is typical.

We continued walking along the canal, on the left, below.

It was absolutely amazing to stand where we knew Hiram had stood, in his footsteps, and I mean exactly, daily, 146 years earlier. This boy who would become a man and have the sons who would be Cheryl’s father and my grandfather. And here we were, standing where he stood, looking at the same scenes he saw.

I’m sure Hiram never imagined such a thing, just as I could never have imaged anything like standing here when I was a young teen. When Hiram was living in Five Houses, he couldn’t possibly have imagined that he would sail to America just a year later. He planned to be a baker, perhaps right here, for the rest of his life. But life had something very different in store for young Harmen who would soon become Hiram.

If mother could only have been with us that day. My heart both rejoiced and broke. I’m incredibly glad that Cheryl and I were together, representing our family lines. I wish this could have happened a decade earlier when Mom could have joined us. I’m sure she was with us in spirit.

At the very end of the red brick road, we found the baker’s house where the driveway was wider than the road. The garage portion in front is new, but the rear is older and original. The current resident told us that when he bought the property, some 30+ years ago, he had to tear out the old ovens and haul them away, so we knew unquestionably that we were in the right place and had indeed found the baker’s house where Hiram lived.

My heart broke again.

Hauled. Them. Away.

Lead in a genealogist’s heart. Wasn’t there even one brick left? Someplace?

Nope. The Dutch are fanatically neat and tidy – a trait which I did NOT inherit.

The homeowner graciously invited us to walk on his property and here we found the old barn and building where Hiram likely lived.

Another small building at the rear of this property, below.

The Dutch seldom tear a building down. They simply refurbish, again and again, and the old building isn’t so old. Old in European terms is measured in hundreds of years. The perspective is very different from the US.

Hiram would have walked on these bricks or on this path if bricks weren’t yet laid, and perhaps gone to the supply building for what he needed for the day’s baking.

Structures are mostly made of stone because the almost constant moisture causes wood to rot quickly.

Each property along the small dead-end street also had a “location” for their boat or boats to be tied up on the canal, right across from the house.

Hiram probably rose early, before dawn, to bake bread, then loaded the boat with the baked good to deliver to Wolsum, visible across the field from where we stood, in front of the baker’s house where Hiram would have boarded the boat. It was as if he was standing with us, had guided us back in time to this very place to stand in his footprints.

Was this young man, barely a teen, homesick? Did he miss his father, step-mother and siblings? Did he think about them and wonder what they were doing in the misty or rainy mornings on the boat to Wolsum?

If you cry in the rain, no one knows.


Yvette tells us that:

The emigration record shows that Harmen Baukes Ferwerda emigrated with his father, step-mother and siblings on October 15, 1868 to North America.

Source: Wolsum, Wymbritseradeel, Friesland, Netherlands, Bevolkingsregister [Population Register] 1862-1880, p. 30, household of Johannes Jousma; microfiche, Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, Den Haag, Netherlands

So, Harmen, known to us as Hiram, did immigrate in 1868, not later, but I still wonder if he traveled separately since the rest of the family is recorded as leaving on August 1st.

We’ll catch up with Hiram on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in part 2 of his story, but first, we have a DNA riddle to solve.

The DNA Twist

This story would not be complete without something about DNA, and the DNA aspect of this story is quite unexpected.

One day, I received an e-mail from Yvette whose mother had recently taken an autosomal DNA test. The results were nothing short of amazing!

Yvette’s mother and my mother matched on 5 chromosomes. They matched at Family Tree DNA, although it was easier to compare them at Gedmatch since my cousin, Cheryl and her brother had both tested at 23andMe their results were transferred to GedMatch.

While the matches on chromosomes 6, 11 and 15 between our mothers are too small to be meaningful, the matches on chromosomes 18 and 22 are large enough to potentially be relevant, meaning identical by descent, not identical by chance.

This is exciting not just because Yvette is a friend, but because it might help both of us unravel our respective genealogy. Plus, how cool would that be – to meet through genealogy and then discover we are related.

GedMatch predicted 6.6 generations to a common ancestor between our mothers, but both Yvette and I think that a common ancestor would be further back in time. Obviously, Yvette knows both her and my Dutch ancestry quite well.

Yvette took a look at both of our pedigree charts and identified 4 different potential lines where one or both of us had holes in our tree where we could potentially intersect. That sounded hopeful.

Had my mother not tested before her death, and had Yvette not tested her mother, we would never have known of this match, because it does not extend to matches between us daughters.

The Rest of the Story

This match originally occurred about 5 years ago. I recorded it at that time, excited that someplace, Yvette and I probably shared an ancestor.

However, things have evolved, developed and changed over time.

While writing this article, it occurred to me that I should recheck our DNA matches and see if we could discern anything new.

Was I ever surprised.

Our mothers are no longer matches to each other at Family Tree DNA. At GedMatch, their matching algorithm has apparently changed too, because now they are shown only as matching on chromosome 18. The match on 22 is entirely gone. I didn’t recheck the smaller segments.

This is confounding.

Checking Yvette’s mother to see if she matches either Cheryl or her brother shows no match on this segment.

That’s not terribly unusual, because Mother could have inherited a different piece of DNA from her ancestors that Cheryl and Don did not. Nothing unusual about that for first cousins. Mom and Cheryl/Don share grandparents, so each would be expected to only share about 12.5% of their DNA with mother – and not entirely the same 12.5%.

I could have checked at that time to see if Mom and Cheryl matched on that same segment, given that Cheryl did not match Yvette’s mother, but I was waiting for Don’s results to come back and never got back to checking. Plus, I wanted to retest Cheryl and Don on a fully compatible chip at Family Tree DNA.

The next thing I knew, 5 years had passed and here we are.

However, today we have a much easier visual tool in DNAPainter.

Mom, Cheryl and Don are related in the following fashion.

Mom, Don, Cheryl and another Ferverda line cousin named Mike all match on this same segment, telling me that this is indeed either a Ferverda or a Miller segment, given that Hiram Ferverda married Eva Miller, a Brethren woman.

If Mom matches Yvette’s Mom on this segment and if the segment is a valid IBD (identical by descent) match, then Yvette’s mother will match all three of the Ferverda cousins on the same segment where she matches mother. The only way that mother can match both Cheryl and Don (on very large segments, 17 and 35 cM respectively) is through their common grandparents. Their respective mothers are not related to each other or the Ferverda line. Mike, another Ferverda descendant also matches Mom, on 27 cM that includes Yvette’s Mom’s blue segment and overlaps with both Cheryl and Don.

The perfect triangulation scenario – except they don’t.

Yvette’s mother does not match Cheryl, Don or Mike. Therefore, because mother does match all 3 of her Ferverda cousins, and they all match each other as well on this same segment, that means that the match between Yvette’s mother and my mother is not identical by descent, but identical by chance. Rats!

Better to know than not.

  1. I’m glad we have enough people tested that we can now make this determination.
  2. I’m very grateful for the visual DNAPainter tool which makes the comparison easy.
  3. I’m disappointed that Yvette and I don’t share a common ancestor someplace in the relatively recent past, but I’m glad that we can prove this conclusively one way or another. Yea, I’m trying to make lemonade.

The Moral of the DNA Story

  • Stay away from segments under 7cM. They are more likely to be IBC than IBD and we have enough larger segment matches today that we don’t have to fish in the weeds.
  • Write match results down when you do the initial comparison. Tools change over time.
  • Recheck matches, because the vendor’s algorithms change over time. GedMatch is going through a major retool right now.
  • Understand that matches over the match threshold can still be IBC. Mom and Yvette’s Mom lost one 7.8 cM segment match, and the 7.5 match was reduced to 7.1, which was subsequently proven to be IBC. Generally, matches above 10 cM are relatively safe, 15 cM or above quite safe and I’ve never seen a 20 cM or higher match that turned out to be IBC.
  • Don’t fall in love with results until (minimally) they are actually proven to triangulate with known cousins.
  • Do the basic triangulation steps at the time when you discover the match. I could have solved this riddle long ago had I simply run the comparison between Yvette’s Mom and Cheryl. Better late than never.

But most of all, test those cousins and older family members because often their DNA is every bit as important to genealogy, if not more so, than yours.


A huge thank you to the Tresoar staff as well as Yvette Hoitink.

Initially, Tresoar was planning to offer “Back to Your Roots” genealogical tourism packages, although the project never emerged in quite the way it was initially imagined. If you have Dutch ancestry, please contact either Tresoar in Friesland or Yvette for assistance anyplace in the Netherlands.

Muller, Ringeisen and Stutzman Families of Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #221

Sometimes, truth is so much stranger than fiction. I just couldn’t make these things up!

If you haven’t been keeping track – and believe me, I understand why you wouldn’t be – let me give you a brief update before I tell you about this amazing turn of events. My own version of that Christmas genealogy miracle.

The Legend of Johann Michael Muller (1692-1771) and Jacob Stutzman (1705-1773)

In the US, Johann Michael Muller 1692-1771 (the second) and Jacob Stutzman 1705-1773 were originally believed to have been “not blood related,” but functionally brothers.

By this, I mean that the original story was that Johann Michael Muller (spelled Miller here) the second was born to Johann Michael Muller the first, and his wife, Irene Charitas <some last name, although sometimes Charitas was listed as her surname>.

As the story went, Irene died and Johann Michael Muller the first remarried to Regina Loysa <some surname, and sometimes the surname was listed as Loysa>.

Then Johann Michael Muller the first died in 1795, leaving the young child Johann Michael Muller the second at age 3 to be raised by his step-mother, Regina, who subsequently married Johann Jacob Stutzman.

Are you following this? Because lots of previous researchers didn’t, believe me – and I had to draw pictures myself. It was flat out confusing!

Schwarzenmatt Muller

Regina then had a son, Johann Jacob Stutzman (Jr.) with her second husband, Johann Jacob Stutzman. Her son was always known simply as Jacob Stutzman. In the US, Johann Michael Muller was known as Michael Miller.

That’s what we thought happened. But it wasn’t!

What Actually Happened

What actually happened was this:

Schwarzenmatt Muller actually.png

That person with the long red name is really one person. I know, I know, that just doesn’t sound realistic – but that’s actually what happened and records proved it.

Jacob Stutzman and Michael Miller were half-brothers through their mother. Even though they were about 15 years apart in age, they were clearly very close and immigrated to America together on the same ship in 1727.

Michael Miller and Jacob Stutzman were never far apart during their lifetimes, both converting at some point to the Brethren religion. In the US, they only had each other – although it’s certainly possible that at least a few cousins immigrated as well.

The sun truly set on that original story, because once we unraveled all the unforeseen twists and turns, there were several factual errors. However, there were valid reasons those earlier mistakes had originally been made. The records were extremely confusing, with multiple people sharing the same names, people whose names morphed into something else during their lifetimes and people who moved across not one, not two, but three countries and the ocean.

What else could go wrong?

It’s no wonder everyone was confused, me included.


Here’s what we know, along with the relevant articles providing documentation:

  • Johann Michael Muller, the first, was indeed the father of Johann Michael Muller, the second born in 1692, who immigrated to Pennsylvania.




  • Charitas was not the surname of Irene Charitas. Neither was Schlosser. My bad on this one.




  • Irene Charitas was actually a Heitz, daughter of Conrad Heitz.


Yea, that retraction article was particularly ugly and embarrassing. I like to think of it as a teachable moment. If I was a cat, I’d lick my paw and claim I meant to fall of the couch backwards😊

However, it was the marriage record of Johann Michael Muller to Irene Lisabetha Heitz that gave us the name and location of Johann Michael Muller’s father – Heinsmann Muller of Schwarzenmatt, Canton Bern, Switzerland. What a gift that record was, twice over.


  • Irene’s first and middle names morphed several times. She must have answered to anything and everything.

As it turned out, Irene Lisabetha’s name became Irene Charitas and even that name managed to morph over time, as she changed churches and moved from Steinwenden to more distant locations. She was called Irene Elisabetha, then Irene Charitas, then Regina Loysa, then Regina Elisabetha. She was identified as the mother of Johann Michael Muller, the second, when he was baptized in Steinwenden and then years later when she stood up at the baptism of his children. All I can say is God bless those Germans and their records.

  • Johann Michael Muller and Jacob Stutzman shared a mother.

Those church records confirmed that Irene/Regina by whatever name was the mother of both Jacob Stutzman and Johann Michael Muller. Johann Michael Muller the second was actually the half brother of Jacob Stutzman, through their mother.


Chris and Tom, my trusty friends, had tracked the Stutzman family through the records. I thought they were going to an awful lot of work for pretty much nothing since I wasn’t related to the Stutzman line, but they continued just the same. I sure am glad they knew what they were doing. Tom has so much more experience with old German records that I do or ever will have.

  • The Stutzmans and Mullers came from the same Swiss valley.

In those records, Tom and Chris tracked the earliest known Stutzman ancestor to Erlenbach, another village in the Simmental valley in Switzerland, about 10 miles from Schwarzenmatt.

Schwarzenmatt Simmental Valley

By Hadi – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2369972

In the late 1660s, brothers Hans and Hans Jacob Stutzman, sons of Peter Stutzman had migrated from Erlenbach to Geislartern in the Saar Region of Germany.

  • Jacob Ringeisen is Johann Michael Muller’s cousin.

In the Steinwenden church records, a cousin of Michael Muller, Jacob Ringeisen is identified as being from Erlenbach as well. Erlenbach is about 10 miles from Schwarzenmatt, but Steinwenden is about 275 miles, so the chances of both Michael and Jacob accidentally winding up in the same locations is pretty remote. A group of Swiss settled in Steinwenden and clearly, Michael and Jacob were among those early immigrants.

  • The Boltigen church burned.

As far as the Muller records in Schwarzenmatt, the records had run out. The church was actually a mile or two down the valley, in Boltigen, and it burned, along with all the records in 1840.

That’s where we are in the story today.

Done, finit, right?

Not so fast!

Peter Mosimann

In the Heinsmann Muller article, I introduced you to Peter Mosimann whose wife’s ancestors lived in the house descended from the Muller family in Schwarzenmatt.

Heinsmann Muller original house

Peter authored a historical book about the area, including the Muller family, which much to my chagrin is out of print. Writing to his publisher and asking for the e-mail to be forwarded was not fruitful.

After waiting a respectable amount of time, Chris graciously wrote a snail mail letter to Peter Mosimann, who kindly replied.

In Peter’s reply, he mentioned a 1653 house inventory of Schwarzenmatt.

Johann Michael Muller, the first, was born about 1655 in Schwarzenmatt to Heinsmann Muller. 1653 is only two years before Michael’s birth, so surely Heinsmann was living there then.

Chris and I reasoned that if there was one Heinsmann Muller in Schwarzenmatt in 1653, he had to be the father of Johann Michael Muller.

Keep in mind how small this village is today.

Schwarzenmatt map

The original village is the area encircled in purple. Peter Mosimann’s wife’s Muller family home is located there – house number 409, right at the bottom right of the encircled area, at the intersection of the roads where the red arrow is pointing.

A Stutzman Researcher

Earlier this month, after discovering the work Chris had done with the Stutzman records, another researcher contacted him stating the following:

Just to keep you updated, I have found out that Stutzmanns living in Boltigen and Erlenbach are connected through Bettler family. Namely, Hans Stutzmann born in Erlenbach in 1625 married Magdalena Bettler, while another Magdalena Bettler who deceased in Boltigen in 1687 was also a wife of Hans Stutzman (see page 71: https://www.query.sta.be.ch/Dateien/18/D94449.pdf). The Hans Stutzmann who deceased in Boltigen in 1693 (see page 78) may be the husband of this Magdalena and might be the father of Hans who emigrated to Mönsheim.

I was excited. Chris and Tom were both more reserved.

They discussed this finding, and although it was interesting, this researcher also faced the same problem of the Boltigen records having burned, so they were rightly skeptical of this connection.

Then, the researcher sent another comment:

It is indeed intriguing as I have spotted one Stutzmann living in the very Schwarzenmatt hamlet, see here on page 44 (in pdf file, page 87 in the document): https://www.query.sta.be.ch/Dateien/18/D94449.pdf

You can bet that I jumped on that link right away which led to a book in the Canton Bern archives, from Boltigen. (Hmmm, apparently ALL the records didn’t burn after all.)

The dates on the book spine look like the records are from 1669 to 1720 or 1728. Of course, I can’t actually read this book, but I can do limited pattern matching and I do see a Muller on page 19 under 1682. I also found the record on page 87 that the researcher above referring to, along with several Muller names. It appears that the two Muller families in 1653 probably had several descendants by the early 1700s.

Christmas Wish

Ok, I’ve decided – what I want most for Christmas this year is for someone at the archives to transcribe this book into German that I can then enter into a translator. That would be just dandy. Santa, are you listening?

Really, what I need most is a name index. These old records written in German script are difficult for even the most seasoned translator, so all kidding aside, it’s no small feat. Let’s hope that Peter Mosimann has already transcribed these records. Will I be that lucky?

The House List

Peter Mosimann’s letter mentioned the 1653 house inventory in addition to saying that he would copy and send the relevant chapter of his book to Chris for translation. Peter does not speak English.

Patiently waiting apparently isn’t a trait that either Chris or I possess, so Chris found the Schwarzenmatt 1653 house list showing 43 houses in total. I’ve also learned that this isn’t actually a house register, but a hearth or chimney register and it’s possible that two families could be living in the same actual “house” but be listed separately because the house was large enough to have two chimneys.

Schwarzenmatt 1653 house list

With appreciation to Bern State Archive (Berner Staatsarchiv), BE II 283, page 69, Peter Mosimann and Chris.

Nine lines up from the bottom on the left page, we find Heintsman Muller. So it really is Heintzman or Heintsman, not Heinrich misspelled. This is me, doing a happy dance!!!

Schwarzenmatt two Mullers

If my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me, we also find a Wolfgang Muller four from the bottom, just 5 below Heintzman Muller. Is Wolfgang perhaps Heintzmann’s brother or maybe even his father?

Then, at the top of the right hand page we find Hans Stutzman.

Schwarzenmatt Stutzman

Bern State Archive (Berner Staatsarchiv), BE II 283, page 69

Yes, one Hans Stutzman lived right in the tiny village of Schwarzenmatt in 1653. Is it possible that he is the progenitor of the Stutzman line, and that both Hans and Hans Jacob found in the late 1600s in Erlenbach descended from Jacob in Schwarzenmatt or Jacob’s ancestor? If so, it’s certainly possible, if not probable, that Michael Muller born in 1655 and Hans Jacob Stutzman born in 1645 were already related. In fact, one would expect no less in a small mountain village in the Swiss Alps. Who else was available to marry except your neighbors, who had probably been neighbors in that same village or valley for generations. I wonder when surnames were adopted in this region.

Schwarzenmatt Miller Stutzman pedigree

It’s feasible that Jacob Stutzman and Michael Muller might well have been related, perhaps several times, on their respective father’s lines, in addition to sharing the same mother. They could have been second cousins paternally, or more distant. Or cousins several times over.

Further down on the right-hand page, below the heading for what appears to be a different village, it looks like there might be two more Mullers, but I can’t tell for sure. Eight rows below the heading it looks like Mulford Muller followed by two other words, and 4 below that might be Jacob Muller.

Although I can’t read the surnames on the list today, it’s also likely that Heintzmann Muller’s wife’s family is also from this village. Her parents may be listed as well. We just don’t know who, and probably never will, barring a new miracle of course.

Let’s do Math!

If 43 houses existed in 1653, and each couple had 10 children total, with half living in each generation, and half of the survivors being males, how many generations working backward until the first person settled in Schwarzenmatt. We are assuming no new people settled in the village which probably is not a legitimate assumption – but hey, how many people travel up a valley into the high mountains looking for a small village to live in.

For this exercise, we divide each generation by two. Two surviving male children and one child gets the existing house. The surviving females marry males in other families.

  • 43/2= 21 houses 1622
  • 21/2 = 11 houses in 1590
  • 11/2 = 5 houses in 1560

Using this example, in 1530, only 2 or 3 houses would have existed in Scharzenmatt, except settlement wasn’t exactly that linear or predictable. For example, in 1396 when the Canton of Bern acquired the land, the villages of Boltigen, Eschi, Schwarzenmatt and Weissenback were all listed, so clearly someone lived there long before 1530.

The local Boltigen church of St. Mauritius was first mentioned in 1228, so people were living there then, and enough people to organize and attend church. This also suggests that these families were probably all interrelated and had been in 1653 for at least the previous 4 generations and probably much longer.

Another Cousin

We know from the Ringeisen church records in Steinwenden that people living in the village of Erlenbach, 10 miles distant, are recorded as being cousins of Johann Michael Muller.

First cousins would share grandparents.

Of course, we don’t know if the church records in Steinwenden meant first cousins, or cousins more broadly.

Schwarzenmatt Ringeisen

It’s very difficult to discern more, but two of the possibilities are that Johann Michael Muller’s mother was a Ringeisen or a Seiler, sister to Jacob Ringeisen’s father or mother, or that Jacob Ringeisen’s mother or father was a sibling to Heintzman Muller’s unknown wife.

At this point, I’d like to say that we’ll probably never know, but this family, with the help of Chris, Tom and other researchers continues to surprise me. Maybe Peter Mosimann’s letter will contain additional information!


My mother is one generation closer than I am, and I am fortunate to have her autosomal DNA results at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

The Stutzman/Miller line is greatly confused, not just by the fact that the two men are actually interrelated through their mother, but also by the fact that the Miller and Stutzman families subsequently intermarried in the US as they progressively migrated across the country together in Brethren communities, generation by generation.

I decided to see what I could find utilizing Ringiesen/Ringeisen, even though Ringeisen is very likely to be misspelled in the US. The Miller-Ringeisen connection, if it pertains to my line, is at least 10 generations back in time. A segment could persist, but it’s more likely NOT to. On the other hand, if endogamy is in play, that might help because many people in that population will carrying the same segments of DNA from a few founding ancestors.

Endogamy may have started in Schwarzenmatt and the Simmental Valley, but it continues to this day in Brethren communities.

At Family Tree DNA, I found no matches using Ringeisen or Ringiesen.

At MyHeritage, Mother does match an individual who has Ringeisen ancestors in Thurnen, Switzerland, not terribly far from Erlenbach. Is this a match from a common line, and in particular, this common line? I don’t know. I don’t recognize any of the other people that they match in common.

Schwarzenmatt Thurnen Erlenbach

I decided to paint that matching segment at DNAPainter to see if I could rule it out as a possibility or determine if it matches my Miller line which would lend the match some credibility. An 11.8 cM match is significant.

Schwarzenmatt DNAPainter

That gray-green segment overlaps with Mom’s nephew (burgundy), but so far, no other matches on that particular segment. The lavender colored band below the burgundy segment is Mom’s European ethnicity estimate from 23andMe. Both the lavender and burgundy are mostly obstructed by the black information box.

While Mother does triangulate with several people on this segment at MyHeritage, I don’t recognize any of them. Their trees, if they exist, don’t provide hints. I’ll need to be patient until Mom has a match on that segment from a known relative or someone who descends from a common ancestor to make more progress.

At GedMatch, by searching the pedigree charts for Ringeisen, I found one person who listed Hans Jacob Ringeisen born July 13, 1653 in Erlenbach who died on June 1, 1691 in Steinwenden. I then checked my mother’s kit and there was no match to the person’s email address listed as the Gedcom owner. They did have parents for Jacob listed as Christen Ringeisen who married Cathrina Seiler on December 23, 1629 in Erlenbach.

I checked my two first cousins for matches as well as a few another Miller cousins, all with no luck.

I’m striking out here.

At Ancestry, I have one Ringeisen DNA match of 15.6 cM on 1 segment to a man with 3 people in his tree. His mother’s birth surname was Ringeisen. I was able to track his Ringeisen line back to John H. Ringeisen born in 1812 in Germany. His first 4 children were born in Germany before he migrated to Ohio between 1844 and 1852. A private tree shows Johann Henrich Ringeisen born in 1812 in Waldmohr, Kusel, Germany, about 15 miles from Steinwenden.

We may have found a segment of Miller/Ringeisen DNA. Of course, without knowing  ore about other potential common ancestors in that gentleman’s tree and without being able to utilize a chromosome browser, I won’t be able to confirm. Perhaps I’ll ask if my Ancestry match will transfer to either Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or GedMatch where I can confirm that segment.

In Summary

We made an amazing find on the 1653 house list among those 21 families living in Schwarzenmatt, positioning Hans Stutzman and Heintzman Muller as near neighbors. This opens the very real possibility that perhaps the Miller and Stutzman lines were related in the Simmental Valley, prior to immigrating to Germany, given that the families in Schwarzenmatt were few and located in a fairly remote alpine region.

Solving the mystery of how the Muller and Ringeisen families are related will have to wait for another day, if ever. I suspect that the Muller roots run deep in that beautiful alpine valley and Michael may have literally been related to everyone.

We have truly found the home of the Miller family in the beautiful Bernese Oberland, the highest portion of the Canton of Bern, in Schwarzenmatt, just beneath the Juan Pass.

My heart reaches back in time to Heintzmann Muller and before, to countless generations of my ancestors whose dust and DNA grace the majestic mountains and lush valleys of Switzerland. Johann Michael Muller may have left, but my soul found its way home.

Barbara Jean Ferverda “Bouché”: The Dancing Years – 52 Ancestors #220

As a grandparent, I love attending my granddaughters’ dance and theater performances. Every time, I think of mother and miss her. At every single performance, as I sit in the dark as the lights drop, before the program begins, I ponder how much mother would have loved to see her granddaughters’ perform. How proud she would be. I touch her ring that I always wear, bringing her with me, as much as I can.

My eldest granddaughter performed this fall in “The Music Man” at the local college. I see my mother clearly in her face.

My youngest granddaughter danced in “The Nutcracker” this year. She shares mother’s zest for life.

They sing, they dance, they play the piano beautifully. They didn’t get that from me.

It came directly from my mother, a woman they would never get to meet. But boy, would she ever be proud of them.

Girls, I’d like to introduce you to your great-grandmother. Long before she was a great-grandmother (although she was always a great grandmother😊), she was a grandmother and before that a mother and before that, a beautiful young woman with aspirations, just like you.

Like you, she was beautiful, both in body and soul, and it showed through her entire life in her every action. She was a glowing presence, leaving no one’s heart untouched. She saved lives, changed lives and loved deeply. She perfected dance, and through it she learned, inspired and taught. Dance changed her life, propelling her into an uncertain, amazing, terrifying future.

I’d like for you to meet that incredible woman, that hard-working professional dancer.

Mom danced tap and ballet in a modern style for the 1930s and 1940s when she was performing. She also sang beautifully and played the piano.

She began with local dance lessons and danced in recitals, just like you.

I think you’ll like her. Get a cup of tea and pull up your iPads, because hers is quite an incredible story that we’re about to unfold.

Silver Lake, Indiana

This older black and white picture of the house where Mom was born looks somewhat bleak, but the house still stands today. The porch has been enclosed and everything looks better in color and drenched in sunlight. Mom’s bedroom was upstairs in the little roof area that you can see extending over the porch.

Now, don’t laugh, but Mom’s childhood home is a funeral home today. Mom avoided all funerals held here. She just didn’t think she could deal with that.

Mom was born and raised in Silver Lake, Indiana back in 1922 when people used horses and buggies to get from place to place and cars were rare.

Mom began dancing about 1932 after a long painful bout with rheumatic fever, a disease that damaged her heart. She was 10 years old, exactly the age of my youngest granddaughter.

Mother spent months recovering and told me stories about how the weight of her own arms hurt her so badly she couldn’t stand the pain – or stand up. Her father carried her up and down the stairs and laid her on the couch. Her lifelong love of books began with him reading to her for hours to distract her through the characters in the book from her all-too-present unrelenting pain.

Physical therapy didn’t exist at the time, so dancing was suggested by her doctor to strengthen her heart after she recovered. Of course, dancing was vorbotten by the conservative churches in Silver Lake – but mother danced anyway. After all, it was for her health, not her enjoyment.

Dancing apparently worked. Mom lived another 73 years, until 2006 when she passed away at 83 years of age, still carrying the scars of that childhood disease but it did not defeat nor define her. Neither did the conservative churches nor the wagging tongues of the church women. Even her Brethren grandmother, Evaline Miller Ferverda who helped care for mother during the long months of her illness relented and approved.

Mom danced for years, studying with Violet Reinwald in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a nationally known dance instructor and performer. As mom got older, she began teaching and then performing professionally with Violet’s dance company. They toured northern Indiana, performing in theaters and in colleges. Her mother, Edith Lore Ferverda often played the piano and accompanied the performers.

Marriage, WWII and Divorce

Mom’s life took shape in another way, marked by WWII, graduation from high school, a marriage to her high school sweetheart, Dan Bucher, a child and divorce. All of those things happened quickly, in 1942 and 1943. Mom was all of 19 and 20 years old.

Mother and my brother John lived with her parents as she waited for her husband to return from WWII, but that marriage was destined to dissolve before he ever came home. Let’s just say that he wasn’t ready to settle down.

Divorced with a baby, Mom had to earn more than she could in tiny Silver Lake teaching dancing. There weren’t many options in a farming crossroads town – actually – there weren’t any options.

The divorce decree called for Dan to pay $4 per week child support, and no one could live on that and support a child as well.

The closest big city that sported a professional dance troupe – the only thing Mom knew how to do – was Chicago. Mom told me many years later that dancing, let alone dancing in Chicago far from her family wasn’t at all what she wanted to do. But she had no choice.

Mom wanted to go to school and become a bookkeeper, but her family didn’t believe in spending money on educating a female. Her brother, on the other hand, was sent to college to become a chemist. Besides, they had already spent all that money on dance lessons. So dance is what she did. And how!

Mom always made lemonade out of whatever lemons life served up.

Off to Chicago

Wearing an old borrowed fur coat and a hat made out of a muff, Mom traveled to Chicago with fingers crossed to audition for the Dorothy Hild Dancers.

Mother must have been terrified. Trembling in her dance shoes. What would have happened if she hadn’t gotten the job? Her life would have taken a dramatically different path, that’s for sure.

Mom aced the audition, got the job and began the next chapter of her life in Chicago. That sounds glamorous and seductive, but the reality was much different. She worked at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and lived in a hotel room with another dancer as a roommate with Dorothy Hild acting as both the house mother and the warden, enforcing strict rules.

According to the Chicago Tribute whose posh entertainment columns covered the Dorothy Hild Dancers’ every move, shows were offered in the Marine Dining Room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel daily at 8:30 and 10:30, except for Sunday when the dinner show was performed at 7:30.

The challenge in show business, of course, was to keep up and stay one step ahead of the competition. Acts couldn’t get stale.

An article on March 11th, 1945 mentions that the Dorothy Hild Dancers in the Marine Dining Room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel would offer four new routines; Arabian Nights, a swing novelty, Paper Dolls and Spangled Bolero. The dancers were accompanied by the full Wayne King Orchestra. At other times by Emil Vandas and his orchestra.

The Dorothy Hild Dancers’ reviews were glowing, such as, “the dazzling production numbers staged by Dorothy Hild who is doing the sort of work that should make some veteran producers search their souls and see if they haven’t been resting on dusty laurels.”

I even found a Thanksgiving dinner ad in the Chicago Tribute for the Marine Dining room, so we know what Mom was doing on Thanksgiving Day 1944 – and it wasn’t eating turkey with her family.

She was smiling through the pain of knowing that her family was gathered together and she was not there with them and her 17 month old son.

Judging from the reviews in the Tribune for just 1944 and 1945, it looks like the dancers prepared for at least a new set of 4 shows every other month, so 24 new complete shows each year – plus the renowned Christmas Extravaganza. On some of Mom’s clippings, the dates indicate that a particular specialty show only ran for 3 or 4 weeks. No wonder they were known as the most ambitious and the best show in Chicago.

What a grueling schedule. Learning the next set of shows while you were practicing and performing the current shows.

Stage Name

Mother’s birth surname was Ferverda and her married name was Bucher. Neither name made a good stage name, so she became Barbara Boucher or Bouché, with a French flair and a stage presence that belied her humble conservative Brethren roots in small-town Indiana. It may have only been 139 miles from Silver Lake to the Edgewater Beach Hotel, but show business was another world entirely.

This photo of Mom, one of my all-time favorites, was taken at the height of her dancing career when she was dancing in Chicago in the early 1940s. She always told a funny story about this picture, which was one of the marque slicks outside the theater.

Apparently in her haste to get to the studio in time for her photo shoot, Mom forgot her dance trunks. Trunks are like shorts that cover underwear. Costume skirts are short and you’re really not seeing anything risqué underneath.

She had a running tug-of-war with the photographer (Maurice Seymour) who kept exposing more of her legs for artistic purposes, and mother kept readjusting her skirt more modestly.

Based on the final photo, mother won. If you knew my mother, there was never any doubt about that.

As beautiful as mother was, and as glamorous as her life seemed, she missed her family, and in particular, her son desperately.

This photo was taken during these years and she looks profoundly sad. Makeup can hide a lot, but not this.

Dorothy Hild Dancers at the Edgewater Beach Hotel

By July of 1944, John had just celebrated his first birthday and Mom was in Chicago performing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers at the esteemed Edgewater Beach Hotel.

This was during the heyday of grand hotels who each tried to outdo the others with their Hollywood big band type shows. The Edgewater Beach was Chicago’s finest luxury hotel, on the waterfront with its own private beach, catering to the rich and famous including several presidents of the United States. One of their claims to fame was that they offered seaplane service.

The hotel was surrounded by a private park and gardens which you’ll see in some of the following photos.

Below, one of the lounges at the Edgewater Beach hotel.

A rare aerial photo at the time shows the massive structure on the lake.

Today, all that remains of the Edgewater Beach hotel built in 1916 and the apartments built in 1928 is the apartment building, now upscale condos with a pink façade.

The Scrapbooks

Mom faithfully kept scrapbooks, at least for the first couple of years she lived in Chicago.

I think that the scrapbooks of yesteryear were much like today’s resume. If you were looking for another dancing position, or side work, you took your scrapbook along. Not to mention my grandmother loved it!

Mother didn’t always use her stage name.

Above, a promotional photo of the Dorothy Hild Dancers with Mom second row far right. Look at those eye lashes! On the following page, on the back of the picture, Mom wrote the 10 dancer’s names.

Mary Lou Hai, probably not her real name, was mother’s roommate. Mother recalled that during World War II, Mary Lou’s family was “detained” in one of the detention camps in Arizona where the government secretly sent Americans of Japanese heritage living in this country. Mother said they were always afraid the authorities would come after Mary Lou, so Mary “became” Chinese. The war was very difficult for these young women, especially Mary Lou and mother whose families were affected in dramatically different ways.

Mary Lou couldn’t communicate with her family for fear of discovery. No letters, no calls, nothing. The US was at war with Japan, and Mary Lou couldn’t be exposed as Japanese or she would be sent to the detainment center with the rest of her family. All Japanese at that time and those with Japanese heritage, more than half of whom were US citizens, were suspected of being enemies.

Mother, on the other hand, was dating and then engaged to a man in the military. He was actively fighting the Japanese and would ultimately die in the war – yet these two women shared a room and a bond, dance, that transcended prejudice.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel advertised the shows on theater marquis style billboards outside like the old-time theaters. The Dorothy Hild Dancers opened for the big bands and famous acts like Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Wayne King, among others.

These photos were taken by Maurice Seymour known as “the photographer to the celebrities.” His specialty was theater, dance and in particular, ballet.

These “Maurice” photos, in addition to the one at the beginning of the article have been framed and hanging in my home for decades. He was clearly a talented photographer, catching Mom at her best. I’m so very grateful to have these.

I would love to have seen those larger-than-life marquee slicks outside the Edgewater Beach Hotel, advertising the performances by these lovely ladies. My grandparents and family members were also given copies of these photos. I hope that all those small-town naysayers who gossiped so cruelly about my mother caught a glimpse.

A friend sent me this video of the glitzy Chicago nightlife in 1947.

I believe mother was still dancing with the Dorothy Hild dancers at that time, and the Dorothy Hild Dancers are featured at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in the video. I think Mom may be the dark-haired woman in the front beginning at about minute 6:14. The Dorothy Hild group begins at minute 5:45 but the dancing horse received more coverage than the humans. I was so excited to see this – transporting me back 75 years in time – allowing me a brief glimpse into mother’s world.

Regardless of whether this is actually mother in the video, it’s the vibrant Chicago that mom knew.

Promotional Photos

The great news about being a dancer is that photos were taken. In fact, lots of photos.

If you’re wondering why I’ve included so many photos, that’s all I have left now. Photos and memories, and oh yes, her DNA. But as time creeps on and I pass from this earth and join mother, eventually, no one will have the memories to share, and fewer still will carry her DNA. The only thing I can pass on are the photos and the stories so that she isn’t forever erased.

The following pictures found in Mom’s scrapbook were taken in order to provide photos to the newspapers and for other publicity purposes. As I worked with these photos, I do believe we have an entire photo shoot here. How many people are that fortunate!

The above two photos were also pressed onto wood about one quarter inch thick. Then small statues approximately 6 inches high were cut in the shape of the outline of the dancer from the wood. The feet of the cutout were placed in a small wooden base. When I was a child, these two “dancers” stood on the table in the living room. Eventually, the extended hand broke off. I surely wish I had these mementoes today.

Mother had beautiful legs even into her 80s. She wore heels and skirts her entire life.

At one point, mother became almost skeletally thin. There are photographs of her  where her cheeks are sunken and she looks virtually anorexic, although anorexia had not been defined as a disease yet at that time, and I know that she did not have an eating disorder. She had a dancing disorder!

I also know mom missed a lot of meals, both due to scheduling and finances. The Dorothy Hild Dancers were regularly performing two shows per evening, plus one practice daily, and Mom told me she would lose 9-12 pounds a day during this time. She couldn’t keep weight on.

The metabolism she acquired during her dancing career would stay with her for the duration of her lifetime and would successfully see her through many years of 3 desserts, chocolate Hershey bars and plates of homemade fudge without gaining an ounce. I didn’t get that from her either.

As a teen, I was incredibly envious of how much Mom could eat. I would gain weight just watching her. She could and literally did make and eat copious quantities of anything and everything and never gained weight. When she passed away, weighing less than 100 pounds, we thought she had frozen prepared meals in her freezer, but the entire freezer was crammed full of different kids of ice cream. “Second” and “third” dessert she called them.

Mother loved chocolate. That, I did get from her!

The War Interferes

Once again, the War would directly affect Mother’s life.

Sometime before the end of 1944, mother met Frank Sadowski, a medical student who had enlisted to serve in the Army in February of 1943.

Frank’s sister, Margie or Maggie, also danced with the Dorothy Hild dancers which explains how they met – especially given that Dorothy’s dancers were not allowed to date nor to go out in the evenings. There would be no rumors about her dancers!

By the end of 1944, Mom and Frank were an item and planned to marry when his military tour was over.

Frank’s military service ended brutally when he was killed on April 19, 1945 on Okinawa, attempting to save another man.

Frank’s body wasn’t returned to the family until March of 1949, just a couple of weeks before Mom abruptly ended her dancing career. I don’t know positively, but suspect those two things are related.

I wrote about Frank here, here and here. (Entire case of Kleenex warning.)

The Premonition

Mother confided that she knew Frank would be killed, in the same way she knew so many things she couldn’t have known. Mom said she cried too long the last time Frank left from the train station, and couldn’t stop crying…because she knew it would be the last time she saw him on this earth. Frank’s death devastated mother – to the point where she was never the same. Throughout the rest of her life, this chapter was extremely difficult for her to discuss. It only closed when she rejoined him across the divide.

In 1945, the war was drawing to a close. Had Frank managed to survive just a little longer…

If only.

If only.

Victory in Europe Day

Mother was at the home of her voice coach in Chicago when the word of VE (Victory in Europe) Day arrived on May 8th, 1945, via a call from the Mayor’s office requesting a group of singers for a victory celebration in the circle that evening in downtown Chicago.

Her coach hung up and asked Mother if she could perform. Mother said yes, she could, and she did, singing her heart out for America and “the boys” on State Street, along with 20-25 others, many of whom were vocal students at Northwestern University.

This photo from the Chicago Tribute shows the massive crowds. The city literally shut down. In the paper the next day, the following column tells more about the atmosphere.

I never realized until I read this article that lights were dimmed to conserve resources during the war.

Mom said that the VE Day announcement was wonderful and that some of the people she worked with had family in the European theater.

She also told me that she almost didn’t make it through her solo, knowing that while many would come marching home, Frank would not. He hadn’t even been gone a month. I’m amazed she could perform at all. It’s a testament to her strength. She straightened her back and stiffened her spine and that mighty women simply did whatever was required. If any single moment defines my mother, this is it.

In a 1995 interview with the Kokomo Tribune to celebrate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, Mother said “we were kind of a chorus on a hastily constructed stage.” Festivities began “two o’clockish and the downtown was very, very crowded.“ Everyone was celebrating. Mom said they performed songs that everyone knew, such as God Bless America, the National Anthem and “most everything of a patriotic nature.”

The program lasted about 90 minutes and “I remember I got tired standing.” Her voice breaking even then, a half century later, as she recalled “the sad undercurrent. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was VJ Day too?” (VJ = Victory in Japan)

For Frank, and for mother, victory had come too late.

The newspaper article indicated that Mother communicated with two men fighting the Japanese, and she mentioned “underneath the festivities was the fact that there was still war in the Pacific; you couldn’t see any end in sight.”

Mom wasn’t alone. This small buried article tells what was happening in Okinawa on VE Day, and how those men felt.

Mom continued, “I felt kind of lonesome in the crowd…there was no one I knew there. But I did sing…I did what I was supposed to do. I was glad those people in Europe were ready to come home.”

What she never told the reporter was that Frank had just been killed – 19 days earlier. I’m not sure how long Mom had known. Dan had returned alive, but that relationship and her hope of being his wife and raising a family in Indiana was lost to mother just the same. WWII was nothing but one heartbreak after another for Mom – and she danced and sang through it all.

I asked mother if she was excited, and she said that she was, but she knew all of the problems were not yet over. Many of her friends were serving in Europe and Japan, and not all of them would return alive.

Frolicking on the Lawn

Mom continued dancing. At some point in time, a roll of film was taken of her friends in the Dorothy Hild Dancers enjoying themselves on the lawn of the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Cameras and film were both rare, and many items were rationed during this time in order that the country’s resources could be focused on the war effort. A roll of film was a luxury indeed.

There’s more than one way to climb a slide! Success!!

Mary Tan Hai

Mom at the wishing well. I wonder what she was wishing for.

Mom is sitting second from left in the chair.

I’m glad to see that the ladies knew how to have fun. I suspect Mom took these photos since she isn’t in the ones above.

I love this candid. Mom is so beautiful.

Mom in both photos, above. These photos were taken on two different days because she has two outfits on, and coats are worn on one day and not the other.

Mom and Mary look so happy in this photo. It’s one of my favorites. Two lovely young souls. Sadly, Mom lost track of Mary and her address book, still in my possession lends no clues.

Mom’s and Mary’s two worlds collided head on. Mom’s fiancé was killed by the Japanese in the war, while she was rooming with Mary. Mary’s family had been incarcerated in the US because they were of Japanese heritage, despite being citizens.

It would have been so easy to blame each other for circumstance neither woman could either influence or control, but they didn’t. They loved each other as sisters and the protective shield that the dancers wove around Mary may well have spared her life. It certainly preserved her freedom.

On the Road

At some point, the dancers began to travel. I know that Mother met my father on a train between Philadelphia where she was dancing and Chicago where the troupe was returning. There are other hints as well in the various newspaper articles in her scrapbook.

Below, she performed at the State Fair at the Coliseum, with Jimmy Dorsey, but it never says what state’s fair.

Mom’s second left from the end.

Judging from the newspaper article, Andy’s was in Minneapolis.

A few of the girls formed their own smaller dance troupe. Mom also performed on her own.

The Club Belvidere was in Springfield, Illinois

At least one of Mom’s engagements was in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I have to laugh. “Slick tap routines.”

1331 Hennepin Avenue was in Garden City, Michigan, which surprised me. I had no idea she had danced in Michigan.

The Silver Cloud was located in Chicago.

Mom performed at the Faust Club in Peoria, Illinois. I see her stage name was Boucha here, or misspelled.

Wayne King was a Big Band leader. This appears to be the gentleman in the dance promotional photograph with mother.

This photo looks like another from the Maurice Seymour studio.

More clippings from Mom’s scrapbook.

I sure wish I had the originals of these photos.

Fencing? Well, I had to admit that’s different!

The Club Hollywood was located at 9000 West Belmont in Franklin Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Today, this location is the O’Hare Logistics Center for the airport.

There’s a significant gap in Mom’s scrapbook entries. I wonder if she simply got tired of clipping, or if an entire book went missing.

While many of Mother’s engagements were in the Chicago area, some were fairly distant. The program for this event tells us that she was Miss Zenith Radio.

Who knew. It looks like this might have been in 1948.

The event below took place in Omaha, and they thought she was sweet.

The Trocadero was a well-known up-scale club in Omaha in the 1940s. I’m sure mother received lots of propositions and proposals too.

Mom probably developed a second sense about situations like this. However, as a very interesting side-note, George Bentley IS in Mom’s address book with two phone numbers. Four digit phone numbers no less. Now you know I just HAVE to research this person.

In the 1940 census, George, an electrician is married and 41 years old, if it’s the same George. Of course, by 1948, he might not have been married, although his wife is still listed as his SS death beneficiary in 1972. Or he might have been separated, or not been truthful about being married. I might have the wrong George Bentley too, as the address doesn’t match that of the City Directory or the 1940 census, but there isn’t another George Bentley in Omaha.

Looking at the map today, 1411 N. 30th, the address in mother’s book is a residential neighborhood with a contemporary church on the property, not the type of area where clubs are located. Judging from this and other hints, it appears that mother might have been attracted to older men. My father was about 20 years older than Mom. Hmmm….

Was George another heartbreak that we know nothing about? Is that why his note is in her scrapbook and his name in her address book?

The above photo is inside the Memories of Omaha folder. I just have to ask myself, what was Mom doing in Omaha and is there a “rest of the story?”

This is also the only photo in existence where my Mom appears to be a bit “chubby.”

The duration of a dancing career is by necessity, short. A dancer’s body just can’t withstand the prolonged abuse. At some point, mother broke her foot, the kiss of death for a dancer.

In 1949, she withdrew her membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists, officially ending her career as a performer just a couple weeks after Frank’s body was returned home and buried. I can’t say for sure that those two things are connected, but I’m willing to bet that they are.

The Scrapbooks End

Mother’s Chicago scrapbook ends between 1945 and 1948 although she didn’t withdraw from the guild until 1949. The Miss Zenith Radio clipping was from 1948 and she was clearly still performing at that time. Mom said that after the war ended, dancing engagements were more difficult to procure, and things had changed. There was less interest in big bands and the clubs were becoming more interested in less clothing, a style of dancing Mom personally did not embrace.

There’s no question that dancing profoundly influenced Mother’s life. Dancing probably saved her life when it functioned as physical therapy to strengthen her heart, but it also cost her greatly in many ways, as she was never able to be “normal.” Mother traveled and performed, a lifestyle not conducive to a traditional relationship. And far from anything she had seen or dreamed of growing up in Silver Lake. This was not in any of the accepted role “scripts” for women of that era.

Because of her nontraditional career, in a time when few women had any career and most women aspired to marry, have children and not work outside the home, she was never a candidate to become a traditional wife and mother. Mom struggled mightily with that dichotomy. It “shouldn’t” have mattered, but it did.

Like other women, mom very much wanted a loving relationship and a family. She was also divorced which carried with it a shameful stigma at that time as well, not to mention that her parents were raising her child. Mother was supposed to somehow fit into a traditional mold, which she clearly couldn’t, and was judged personally by failing at those “traditional” standards. She was trapped between two worlds and didn’t fit in either.

Whether dancing ultimately benefitted her more or cost her more, only she could say.

Looking Back

As I look back on her life, I’m impressed at the incredible bravery and fortitude my mother exhibited. Of course, I had no idea of the challenges she faced when I was younger. True to form, she never shared the negative aspects of her life.

I could not have realized the magnitude of the discrimination faced by women and the stigma painted upon women who worked, especially in the entertainment industry, that many conflated, intentionally or otherwise, with “working girls.”

Mother spent the first third of her life working hard and training to be “good enough” to dance professionally, and the rest of her life trying to leave her showgirl life behind and simply be considered be “good enough,” period. Good characteristics of an outgoing performer weren’t considered assets in a demure obedient wife.

While it wasn’t guarded as a secret, let’s just say we didn’t discuss Mom’s dancing career at the Baptist church after she married my wonderful step-father and moved to a hog farm in conservative, rural Indiana. Her previous career was treated much as a mysterious “famous” past that mother was simply too humble to brag about.

However, that suitcase full of beautiful, glittering sequenced costumes holding their secrets of spotlights past bedeviled the plain “housewife” existence she tried to mold herself into for the rest of her life. Perhaps that was her greatest and most successful act of all, guild actor’s card or not.

After the dancing chapter of her life ended, she found a way to pursue the career she had dreamed of initially – that of becoming a bookkeeper. Her new career, although it paid poorly as all women’s jobs did at the time, ultimately led her to heartland Indiana where I was raised.

Ironically, the life of struggle that she endured stoically and bravely and tried so hard to put behind her is one of the very reasons I’m so proud of her today.

Proud that she broke ground for the rest of us.

Proud of her sacrifice.

Proud of who she was.

Proud that she never let her beauty alter her moral character.

Proud of her humility and lifelong service to others.

Proud that she endured in a period of unending challenges and struggle – and survived.

Proud that she ultimately found a way to follow the dream she had never been able to pursue. She became a bookkeeper for more than 20 years, followed by being an Avon lady for another quarter century. Mom didn’t retire until she was 82.

Here’s Mom, saying goodbye to her last Avon customer in May of 2005.

Proud of her three careers, spanning more than 65 years.

Proud of that stunningly beautiful dancer who would one day become my mother and infect me with her hard-won tenacity.

Proud that she has passed her legacy on to her lovely granddaughters.

I see her in their beautiful faces and hear her in their sweet voices. She would be so proud of them.

Mom loved Christmas, Christmas music, and Christmas performances. She would have been in the midst of her element at these performances, making sure everyone’s makeup was “just so.” Their lipstick on straight and enough rouge and powder. No washing out and no shining skin on stage. Yes, she would have been right in the middle of everything, a mother hen, helping everyone.

So girls, even though she can’t sit in the theater seats beside me in person to watch your stage productions, she is here, always here, always beside me, proudly watching. I guarantee it!

Finding Mary Younger’s Mitochondrial DNA – 52 Ancestors #219

Ah, the blessings of cousins.

The Y and mitochondrial DNA of our ancestors can provide us with a smorgasbord of information. Unfortunately, we only carry the Y and mitochondrial DNA of one or two lines. If you’re a female, you carry the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of your matrilineal line only, and if you’re a male, you carry the paternal (patrilineal meaning surname) Y DNA line (blue squares) in addition to your mother’s matrilineal line (red circles.) You can read about the difference between maternal versus matrilineal and paternal versus patrilineal here.

Y and mito

Therefore, to collect the rest of the haplogroups and match information about our ancestral lines, meaning those with no color above, we must depend on cousins who descend from those ancestors in such a way that they carry the desired Y or mtDNA.

For men, their surname is generally reflective of the Y DNA inheritance path, presuming that neither the surname nor the Y DNA was changed, intentionally or otherwise – meaning adoption or name changes, for example.

Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on to the next generation.

This inheritance path assures that neither the Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with the DNA of the other parent, meaning the DNA changes little if at all generation to generation and we can see back a very long distance into the past by following the stair-step mutations that have accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years.

Think of it as your genetic periscope!

Recently a press article reported that in very limited cases with a medically co-presenting mitochondrial disease, the father’s mitochondrial DNA is found in children. Blaine Bettinger explained further here. It’s actually not new news and you really don’t need to worry about this in regard to genealogy.

Mary Younger

When I originally wrote Mary Younger’s 52 Ancestors article, I didn’t know anything about her mitochondrial DNA because no one from that line had yet tested.

In that article, I detailed her descendants as best I could, and of those descendants, who would carry Mary’s mitochondrial DNA.

A cousin, Lynn, read the article and replied that indeed, she descends from Mary through all females – and was willing to DNA test. Thank you Lynn!!!

Mary’s mtDNA Dispells a Myth

Lynn’s results came back and told us that Mary Younger’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup H1a3a.

Often in early genealogy research, when a colonial lineage brick wall was encountered, the comment that “maybe she was Indian,” was made. Sometimes those comments fanned the flames of myths that took hold like wildfire and are reflected today in many online trees. The “maybe” became quickly omitted and the comment was elevated from the realm of speculation to gospel.

Mary Younger was born about 1766, probably in either Essex or King and Queen County to Marcus Younger and his wife, Susannah whose surname we don’t know. Therefore, Susannah would have been born between 1720 and 1746.

There’s a persistent rumor that Susannah’s surname was Hart and there is some reason to suspect that it may have been, but the bottom line is that we don’t know.

If Susannah’s surname IS Hart, we don’t know which Hart individual was her father, although Anthony Hart (1755-1832) and Marcus Younger were both associated with one Robert Hart, believed to be Anthony’s father, but that too is unproven. The King and Queen County courthouse burned and that’s where the Hart land was located, so most records are gone. Bummer.

There is some amount of suspicion that Anthony Hart and Susannah that married Marcus Younger were siblings. To make matters even worse, Marcus and Susannah Younger’s son, John Younger married Lucy Hart – so autosomal DNA from that line will match the Hart line and not (necessarily) because of Susannah. Therefore, John Younger’s line can’t be used for comparisons to the Hart line for either mitochondrial or autosomal. However, cousin Lynn’s DNA as Mary Younger’s direct matrilineal descendant can be utilized for both mitochondrial and autosomal comparisons.

What we do know, from Mary Younger’s mitochondrial DNA alone is that Susannah through her matrilineal line was NOT Native American. Haplogroup H1a3a is European, unquestionably European.

We can dispel that Native American myth forever, at least about this particular line.

Lynn’s H1a3a Matches

What can we tell about haplogroup H1a3a and in particular, Lynn’s matches?

Mary Younger matches map

None of Lynn’s three exact matches have completed their geographical information for their most distant known ancestor. These match maps are such powerful tools if people would only complete the information.

Other than the three with no information, so aren’t shown on the map – the matches on the map in the US aren’t terribly relevant unless specific clusters suggest a particular migration path. In this case, nothing of note, although those 3 Canadian maritime matches are curious. I don’t know if there is any useful information there or not.

However, Europe is different, because those matches are fairly tightly clustered.

All of Lynn’s matches are either in the British Isles or in Scandinavia. This could suggest either that descendants of her ancestors, hundreds or thousands of years ago migrated to both locations, or it could mean that the English locations are perhaps showing a Viking influence.

Lynn’s matches themselves are unremarkable other than the fact that her only rare mutation occurs in the coding region, which means that we really do need the full sequence test to make use of this information. She has 107 full sequence matches, of which three are exact, providing the following most distant ancestor information.

  • Martha Patsy Terry was born in 1805 in North Carolina and died after 1865 in Alabama
  • Sarah Emma Doyle was born in 1824 in Fayette County, TN and died in 1890 in Cass Co., Texas.
  • The third match says “information needed.” Well, me too😊

The only person with one mutation difference shows their most distant ancestor with a name and birth of 1534. They apparently misunderstood what was being asked, because if you look at their tree, their most distant matrilineal ancestor is Margaret Moore born in NC, died in Texas, and who had daughter Dicie Moore in 1830 in Tennessee.

Unfortunately, these matches aren’t terribly helpful either, at least not today.

Two of the three exact matches have trees which I checked for the surname of Hart and Younger and looked for geographic proximity.

Checking advanced matches by selecting both Family Finder and the Full Sequence mitochondrial matches shows no individual who matches on both tests.

Haplogroup H1a3a

If Lynn’s mtDNA matches aren’t being productive, what can I tell about haplogroup H1a3a itself?

Doron Behar in his 2012 paper placed the age of H1a3a at 3859 years, give or take 1621 years, so therefore haplogroup H1a3a was born between 1238 and 6480 years ago. An exact match with no additional mutations could be from long ago. Fortunately, Lynn does have a few additional mutations, so her exact matches share mutations since the birth of haplogroup H1a3a.

Using the Family Tree DNA mitochondrial tree and searching for H1a3a, we discover the following information.

Mary Younger H1a3a

Haplogroup H1a3a is found in a total of 21 countries. The most common location is Germany, which isn’t reflected in Lynn’s matches.

Mary Younger mtDNA countries

This is especially interesting, because it suggests that the haplogroup itself may have spread from the Germanic region of Europe into both England and Sweden. Lynn’s matches are only found in those diaspora regions, not in Germany itself. To me, this also suggests that the people still in Germany have accrued several mutations as compared to Mary Younger’s DNA. They are no longer considered a match since their common ancestor is far enough back in time that they have accumulated several mutations difference from cousin Lynn today. Conversely, the people closer in time that share some of those mutations do qualify as matches.

And no, haplogroup H1a3a is not Native American, in spite of the one person who had indicated such (the feather icon.) Many people record “American” or “Native American” because they believe, before testing, that they have Native American on “that side,” as opposed in that specific line. Of course, the maternal side could mean any one of many ancestors – as opposed to the matrilineal line which is directly your mother’s mother’s mother’s line until you run out of direct line mothers in your tree.

What we know now is that sometime between 1200 and 6500 years ago, the haplogroup defining mutations between H1a3 and H1a3a occurred, probably someplace in Germanic Europe. From there, people migrated to both the British Isles and portions of Scandinavia.

Given that we find Susannah in the early 1700s in King and Queen County, Virginia, it would be a reasonable working hypothesis that she was English (or at least from the British Isles) and not Scandinavian. Alexander Younger, the grandfather of Marcus Younger was from Scotland and many of the early era colonial settlers in that region were English.

Hopefully, time and more DNA testers will eventually tell more of Susannah’s tale – either through mitochondrial or autosomal DNA matches, or both.

What About You?

If you haven’t yet tested your mitochondrial DNA, now would be a great time. In fact, you can click here to order the mtFull test. Who knows what you might learn. Are there specific questions you’d like to answer about dead end female lines? Mitochondrial DNA is one way to circumvent a surname/genealogical blockade – at least partially.

If you don’t carry the mitochondrial DNA line that you need, sponsor a test for a cousin. You’ll get to meet a really cool person to share information with, like Lynn, and learn about your common genealogical bond as well as your ancestor’s DNA.



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Thank you so much.

William Sterling Estes’ Court Martial and Escape; 3 Wives and 4 Aliases – 52 Ancestors #217

Oh yea, this cliff-hanger installment in the mystery series better known as “Dad’s Better-Than-Any-Soap-Opera Life” is a doosey!

I’ve been trying for years to piece my father’s life together, and slowly, the puzzle pieces fall into the place. However, it doesn’t feel like one puzzle, but a schizophrenic mixture of several puzzles that all have the same shaped pieces but different pictures on the front.

I’m chronically confused by his life, events and choices. Nonetheless, I persevere, because I really want to unearth the truth which, I hope, can serve to unlock some understanding of this man who passed from this earth when I was but a child.

I knew that my father had served in the military. Initially I thought it was once, then twice – once during WWI and WWII. Then, I discovered that it was twice during WWI, then a third enlistment was added. Tidbits about my father’s life tended to creep up on me like that – a slow drip of truth confounded by lots of obfuscation and drama.

I was confused – very confused, and to complicate matters even further, his service records burned in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis Missouri. Then, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1991, his medical records from the veterans facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana were forwarded to the Dayton, Ohio Record Center for storage in 1960 and that all records prior to 1964 had been destroyed – and that they were sorry.

Not nearly as sorry as I was.

I guess high drama even followed him around AFTER his death in 1963. I remember hearing about the St. Louis fire, vaguely, but I had absolutely no inkling at the time how adversely it would affect my ability to unravel the life of my father years later.

When I did find out, I wrote letter after letter and tried to obtain what scraps I could. When I was mostly unsuccessful, I figured that was it. Finished. Done. That chapter forever closed. At least that’s what I had been told by all the government agencies and had accepted as truth.

I was wrong.

Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches

When Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Genealogy ran a special for record retrieval and reconstruction, I figured that it couldn’t hurt and might be fruitful. They knew where to look, and how, and I didn’t.

A few weeks later, I received at least a few of my father’s records and while I was saddened by the contents, I wasn’t surprised. What I’d hoped for was some additional detail. There wasn’t nearly as much detail as I wanted, but at least there was something. Genealogists NEVER find “enough” details😊

Some tidbits solved long-standing puzzles. Some begged new questions – but all of it was interesting, including the fact that they had archived the original letter I’d written back in 1991, adding it to his file, when they clearly HAD this information and DIDN’T send it to me then. How startling to see my own handwriting in his file.

First, I sent Twisted Twigs all of the information that I had compiled. No use replowing the same field.

I’ll spare you the details of the paperwork flow, but the information Twisted Twigs received was that court martial records should be in the archives in College Park, MD and that the case number was 138991. Court martial records had not been stored in St. Louis!



Then, I felt queasy. My father had a court martial number.

A court martial number.

me and dad crop

This man, the father who held me in my childhood and left me far too soon.

The man I adored, and grieved, had been court martialed.

That was tough. Sickeningly tough. Nauseatingly tough.

The Army

My father also had two service numbers: 0900796 and 21585201, but he enlisted three times.

  • Service from August 24, 1917 to May 19, 1919
  • Service from May 20, 1919 – Nov. 26, 1921
  • Service at Fort Sheridan, Illinois

His third enlistment at Fort Sheridan began on January 8, 1927. He deserted on May 23rd of that same year, but he wasn’t discharged until October 31, 1938 – 11 years later?

That’s bizarre.

Why? What was going on?

What new origami puzzle is waiting to unfold?

First Enlistment

The first document in the Twisted Twigs document packet was the May 1919 discharge from my father’s initial enlistment.

Two items are of note.

First, he was in some kind of trouble, because he forfeited 2/3rds of his pay for one month.

Keep reading however, because under remarks, we see why:

  • AWOL Nov 11, 1918 (Thursday) to Nov. 20, 1918 (Saturday)
  • AWOL from Feb. 10, 1919 (Monday) to Feb. 12, 1919 (Wednesday)
  • AWOL from April 4 (Friday) or 11 (Friday,) 1919 (I can’s make out which date is correct) to April 13, 1919 (Sunday)

Hmmm, apparently, my father had a bit of an AWOL (absent without leave) problem.

Also of note, we discover the location of his original enlistment at Lafayette, Indiana. I already knew that he initially trained at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis after enlistment, but I was never positive where he had actually enlisted.

I do have signatures of my father, but I have another one here.

The great irony is that he immediately re-enlisted at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan the day after he was discharged.


Camp Custer still stands, although it was deserted and hollow a few years ago when I visited.

Camp Custer Battle Creek - Copy (2)

Perhaps that $60 re-enlistment bonus, especially after forfeiting 2/3rds of his pay might have had something to do with it. His actual monthly pay was a whopping $49, according to this document, of which he sacrificed $30?

Where the heck was he when he was AWOL? I expected those AWOL dates to be weekends, but there is no consistent pattern. I thought perhaps a relative had died back in Claiborne County, but I don’t see any evidence of that either.

Maybe he had met Virgie and was going back and forth to Indiana? Nope, not until the summer of 1919.

Perhaps my father’s drinking problem was escalating. That’s more likely.

Second Enlistment

My father’s second enlistment ended a bit differently. He was Honorably Discharged from Fort Leavenworth on November 26, 1921 when his term of service expired.

Aren’t the words “honorably discharged” and “Fort Leavenworth” oxymorons? Polar opposites?

This time, he requested travel pay back to Tazewell, TN, where his parents were from originally and where his father was living at that time.

But, based on other records, it doesn’t appear that he actually went to Tazewell. Instead, he went back to Battle Creek, Michigan where Camp Custer, also known as Fort Custer, where he had been serving before going to Leavenworth was located.

Ilo Bailey

What was happening in my father’s life during this time that might have had something to do with his decision to become AWOL?

Ilo Bailey, that appears to have been what happened.

On February 24, 1920, Ilo had a son, Lee Joseph Estes. Using a pregnancy calculator, Lee’s conception most probably occurred between May 26 and June 2, 1919. These dates of course presume a pregnancy of normal duration.

These dates may also explain why my father re-enlisted on May 20th, and they might also have something to do with his AWOL status in April. He may have been quite smitten with Ilo and wanted to stay in the vicinity.

On November 4th, 1919, he was AWOL and a month later, on December 3, 1919, he married Ilo in Battle Creek under an assumed name, Don Caroles who he claimed was from New Mexico.

When I initially discovered this marriage, I wondered why the alias. It seemed so bizarre. Now we know. He was AWOL. However, his mother’s name is listed as Mary Claxton. Margaret Claxton was his grandmother on his mother’s side. Even more interesting, Ilo’s mother is listed as Ollie Bolton, which was my father’s mother by her maiden name. I’m taking this as evidence that Ilo’s family did not approve of this marriage and the couple probably married without her family’s knowledge and/or consent.

This also makes me wonder if Ollie was somehow involved and may have gone along, posing as Ilo’s mother. Ilo, at 19, was surely old enough to sign for herself to marry. The problem was that Ilo wasn’t actually 19, she was 17, underage and pregnant, so perhaps Ollie was along as her “mother” to vouch for the fact that she was 19 and old enough to marry.

My father, aka Don Caroles, is listed as “in the service,” even though he’s AWOL. This could be a clear indication that he never intended to actually desert and still considered himself a soldier. As you’ll see in a bit, this may seem irrelevant or trivial, but it has important ramifications.

Otherwise, why would he make that declaration about being in the service? And why would he stay in the same town if he actually wanted to desert? People from Camp Custer were sure to see and recognize him there.

Interestingly enough, he’s also listed in the 1920 census, taken on January 14, 1920 where he as Don and Ilo, age 17, are living with her mother, Maud at 221 East Avenue North.

Here’s the property today.

The Battle Creek property tax system indicates that this home was built in 1920 and is a 5 room, two bedroom house, but was it built before or after he lived there? If he lived there, it was relatively new and that’s not likely given the circumstances.

If he was living in this house with his very pregnant bride and her family, it was cozy quarters indeed. Furthermore, given that they were living with her mother, it doesn’t appear that her family was estranged, at least not at this point. Perhaps he was helping to take care of her mother and her three siblings too.

Research reveals that Ilo’s father died on March 28, 1917, so her mother would have been left as a widow to raise the children alone. This puts the statement recorded in legal documents that “her people couldn’t” provide for her in a different light than meaning they wouldn’t care for Ilo. There’s a big difference between can’t and won’t.

It still doesn’t explain Ilo’s letter in March of 1921 to Dad stating that she had sacrificed the love of her family for him.

However, that’s not the only thing going on in his life, as if this wasn’t enough.

Martha Dodder

Dad had met Martha Dodder too.

We know from my half-sister Edna, daughter of Dad and Martha, that they met while he was hospitalized in the Camp Custer Hospital, shown below, with the attached YMCA building where families and volunteers came to comfort the ill or wounded soldiers.

Among other things, the YMCA provided soldiers with paper, envelopes and postage so they could write to their loved ones. My father’s letters to Virgie were written on YMCA stationery. It’s probably in this very building that he met Martha.

Dad was admitted to the hospital on or before August 7 and remained through August 30, 1919. His illness may have started with the flu epidemic, but it quickly morphed into something much worse and life threatening.

Image result for camp custer guard house photo

From his letters to a third girlfriend, Virgie, in Indiana, whom he met in June 1919, he literally thought he was going to die. He had previously proposed to Virgie, but her letters had dwindled to once a month while he was hospitalized, and he clearly knew that something was amiss in that relationship. In those letters, he had told her that he had broken it off with the previous girlfriend in Michigan, who would have (presumably) been Ilo.

His health deteriorated. From August 7th until at least August 30th he was hospitalized with either meningitis or encephalitis following a tonsillectomy.

My half-sister, Edna Estes, shown with her mother, Martha Dodder, below, was born on May 22, 1920.

The conception calculator (that’s getting a workout thanks to Dad) tells us that Edna was probably conceived between August 12, 1919 and August 29, 1919 but possibly as late as September 3rd.

He had broken up with Ilo, been ghosted by Virgie, had surgery, spent a month in the hospital, thought he was dying and clearly took comfort with Martha.

Surname Manipulation

If you’re wondering how Edna’s last name was Estes if he was married to Ilo at the time Edna was born, that too appears to be a clever construction of my father’s somewhat devious cunning. If nothing else, he was ingenious.

Purely guessing now, but given that at the time of Edna’s birth he was in the midst of being court martialed and was married to another woman with an infant 3 months old, he probably speculated that the judge might not look kindly on his leniency request if the judge knew that my father had indeed gotten two different women “in trouble” 3 months apart. Yep, that judge might, just might, view this behavior as a character flaw and decide to throw the book at him. And since the consequences of violating article 58 under which he was being court martialed were “up to and including death,” the outcome was incredibly important. So, Dad apparently successfully convinced Martha to protect him. I would like to have been a fly on that wall!

Edna’s original birth certificate, at the time she was born, listed her father as Edward Polushink and her name was listed as Edna Marie Polushink. No one in the family knew about this original birth certificate, nor had anyone ever heard the name Edward Polushink when the birth certificate was accidentally discovered after Martha’s passing.

After my father married Martha Dodder in 1921, they petitioned to have the birth certificate amended, and today, Edna’s birth certificate lists William Sterling Estes as her father which DNA testing of her granddaughter subsequently confirmed.

The dead give-away is that Edna’s birth certificate is listed in the official clerk’s book, not in the date order of the other birth records as babies were born, but on the date that the record was changed, in 1922. The clerk had a great deal of difficulty finding Edna’s birth record due to the out of order recording, which is also how that original record was discovered. The original was listed in the correct date location but was stricken through.


I just can’t keep events like these straight without a timeline, not to mention that timelines help me visualize more accurately and see “holes” in things, literally or figuratively.

  • October 1, 1901 or 1902 – William Sterling Estes is born based on census and family records. Could possibly be 1903 but less likely.
  • August 24, 1917 – First military enlistment – age 13 or 14, falsified age
  • October 1, 1917 – 14th or 15th birthday
  • October 1, 1918 – 15th or 16th birthday
  • First Enlistment AWOL Nov 11, 1918 (Thursday) to Nov. 20, 1918 (Saturday)
  • First Enlistment AWOL from Feb. 10, 1919 (Monday) to Feb. 12, 1919 (Wednesday)
  • First Enlistment AWOL from April 4 (Friday) or 11 (Friday,) 1919 to April 13, 1919 (Sunday).
  • May 19, 1919 – First enlistment complete, honorable discharge
  • May 20, 1919 – Enlisted for the second time at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan
  • May 26 – June 2, 1919 – Ilo Bailey’s son conceived
  • June 25, 1919 – First letter to Virgie whom he had recently met in Indiana, states he has broken up with the former girlfriend
  • June-August 1919 – Has proposed to Virgie. Is taking her an engagement ring when he gets out of hospital.
  • August 7 – 30, 1919 – Hospitalized, flu, pneumonia and eventually either meningitis or encephalitis, meets Martha Dodder who is a volunteer at the hospital
  • August 1919 – Virgie not writing back according to his letters which she kept
  • August 30, 1919 – Letter to Virgie with entirely different tone, understands that her lack of communication means the end, says goodbye, terribly saddened, but leaves the door open
  • August 12 – September 3, 1919 – Conception dates for Edna Estes, daughter with Martha Dodder
  • October 1, 1919 – 16th or 17th birthday
  • Second Enlistment AWOL – November 4, 1919
  • November 18, 1919 – Status changed from AWOL to desertion (this changed his legal status from Article 62 AWOL to Article 58 desertion)
  • December 3, 1919 – Marriage to Ilo Bailey in Battle Creek using assumed name of Don Caroles. Ilo is 6 months pregnant.
  • February 24, 1920 – Ilo’s son, Lee Joseph Estes born
  • April 7, 1920 – Arrested for desertion/AWOL in Battle Creek, confined to the guard house at Camp Custer
  • May 20, 1920 – Martha’s daughter, Edna Estes born as he is being court martialed. He is still married to Ilo.
  • May 20 through August, 1920 – Court Martial proceedings
  • August 1920 – Court Martial sentencing
  • August 1920 – November 1921 – Fort Leavenworth performing hard labor
  • October 1, 1920 – 17th or 18th birthday while in Leavenworth
  • March 22, 1921 – Ilo letter saying she is leaving the state with the baby and has sacrificed the love of her parents for him and their marriage was never legal. Perhaps this is why a line was at some time drawn through the marriage record in the clerk’s marriage book.
  • October 1, 1921 – 18th or 19th birthday while in Leavenworth
  • November 26, 1921 – Term of service ended, honorably discharged from Fort Leavenworth
  • December 12, 1921 – Marriage to Martha Dodder in Battle Creek, 2 weeks and 2 days after leaving Leavenworth
  • October 1, 1922 – 19th or 20th birthday, married to Martha and living in Battle Creek
  • September 5, 1923 – Martha files for divorce stating that he “loafs around doing nothing and she has to go out to work.” (Was he the original stay-at-home Dad?) Both are seeking a divorce and she alleges the legally required phrase of “extreme cruelty” in order to obtain a divorce in Michigan at that time.
  • October 1, 1923 – 20th or 21st birthday, in process of getting divorced from Martha
  • February 26, 1924 – Divorce from Martha final in Battle Creek
  • October 1, 1924 – 21st or 22nd birthday – who knows where the heck he is? His two children are living with their mothers and he isn’t living with or married to either mother anymore.

That’s a lot of ground to cover by your 21st or 22nd birthday. One heck of a lot!

But that’s not the half of it.

Court Martial

Reading your father’s court martial is brutal. I was torn between wanting to know and not wanting to look. This would be a lot easier if this history was a couple of generations removed, and much less personal.

For God’s sake, this is my FATHER. Half of me is from him, but hopefully not the AWOL half.

I need to read this and try to unravel what happened. Perhaps I can understand why.

The investigation, above, recommended that my father be court martialed, and that’s exactly what happened. He was to be charged with a violation of the 58th Article of War.

ART. 58. DESERTION.–Any person subject to military law who deserts or attempts to desert the service of the United States shall, if the offense be committed in time of war, suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, and, if the offense be committed at any other time, any punishment, excepting death, that a court-martial may direct.



My father was messing around with an offense that could result in a death sentence? Where they stand you up against the wall and your fellow soldiers line up and shoot you point blank.

What the bloody hell was he thinking?

This document was followed by 22 typed legal pages of testimony, much of it having to do with the morning reports in barracks, shown below, and the process that soldiers used to obtain passes.

Camp Custer Battle Creek - Copy (3)

Clearly, my father did not obtain or attempt to obtain a pass. The court martial also includes details such as that there was nothing missing, meaning no equipment or clothes had been taken when he was not present for the morning report. In other words, he hadn’t stolen anything from the government and it goes as evidence to suggest that he wasn’t planning to desert. He was just a few months late returning, that’s all.


He apparently was cooperative and said little. He said nothing about disliking the service or military at any time, according to the testimony from various people.

During the proceedings, my father answered questions respectfully, with “Yes Sir” and “No Sir.”

Reading the transcripts of the trial, several tidbits were revealed.

Question to his commanding officer: Was the accused ever in trouble in the company?

A: Well I believe he would go downtown and stay late and that is about all.

Q: What is your opinion of his character?

A: He seemed to be a very good soldier.

That’s so sad. It’s also worth noting that he was a Sergeant at one point, but ultimately was discharged as a Private.

The police officer, Edward Abbey, who arrested my father was tipped off by two ex-soldiers who spotted him along with his (presumed) wife, baby and another female at the Majestic Theater in Battle Creek.

The officer waited until the movie was over, then stopped him on the way out, put his hand on him, and asked if he was a deserter. My father replied no, that he wasn’t, but the officer took him to the station to question him.

Based on the testimony, there is apparently a difference in the classification of someone who is absent without leave (Article 61) and a deserter (Article 58.) The primary difference between the two offences is “the intent to remain away permanently” or if the purpose is to shirk important duty, such as combat. If a person intends to return to “military control,” then they are AWOL and not a deserter – even if they are away for years. For the first 30 days, the unit attempts to locate the soldier and convince them to return to the unit.

Oh yea, one other tiny difference. AWOL doesn’t carry the death penalty as a possibility – so it would have been important to have him convicted as AWOL and not as having deserted. Much safer for his neck that way.

So my father was just late – really, really late.

Today, at the 30 day mark, the soldier becomes “a wanted person” and their status changes to deserter. At that time, the line in the sand may not have been as clear. Anyone AWOL for more than 30 days is tried by court martial.

Given this distinction, the several pages of testimony by various individuals regarding the fact that my father was wearing at least a partial uniform when arrested and never left the area provides evidence that he may have not actually intended to permanently desert. When I first read this document, that repeated testimony seemed unnecessary overkill, but now I understand why so much focus was placed on that seemingly trivial information.

In essence, desertion requires intent while being AWOL does not. Although being gone for 5 months indicates that he made the same bad decision to be AWOL for roughly 150 consecutive days. However, every day was a new decision while a deserter makes one decision, once, and carries it out. A deserter likely leaves the area immediately to minimize chances of being caught, and he didn’t do that either.

So either he really didn’t intend to actually desert, or he was incredibly short-sighted – to put it nicely.

At the police station, my father apparently freely admitted that he had “left the army without permission” which is technically AWOL and not desertion. He denied being a deserter. He obviously knew the technical difference.

At the time my father was apprehended, he was wearing civilian clothes that mostly covered up his military issued uniform. According to the arresting officer, “I noticed his uniform pants because his civilian pants had a three cornered hole in them. He had on a dark colored civilian coat.” He was not wearing military leggings which you can see in the following picture of him kissing Virgie.

Based on letters he had written to Virgie during the time when they were briefly engaged in the summer of 1919, he was trying to figure out how they could live on his soldier’s pay. He commented that he didn’t need non-military clothes because the Army would provide his clothing. I’m wondering if the reason he was wearing his military garb under other clothes is because he only had one civilian outfit (with a tear in the leg) and he needed the layers for warmth. Wearing military issue simply increases the odds that someone will notice and recognize you, which is the last thing you want if you are a deserter. Or AWOL.

These pieces don’t all add up. Had he always intended to go back “tomorrow?” Yet each tomorrow looked increasingly bleak in terms of the consequences?

He had never left Battle Creek during the 5 months he was AWOL, so clearly wasn’t trying very hard to hide. He had been driving a team for someone, meaning a team of horses. And he was wearing a uniform, or at least pieces of his uniform in the town beside the military base where he was AWOL from. I have to wonder at his thought process.

The night he was apprehended, the officer said that there was a woman at the station without the baby, and a woman at city hall with a baby. Ilo could simply have had her friend take care of the baby while she waited for him. Or, maybe, the two women waiting separately were pregnant Martha and Ilo with baby Lee. If that was the case, then incarceration might have sounded like the best of two bad options and much safer than the explosion that might have resulted had Martha and Ilo met.

Or perhaps, they had met and his goose was already cooked in more than one pot.

During the court martial proceedings, my father stated that he did not wish to make a statement or testify on his own behalf. There really wasn’t much he could say.

Counsel for defense closing argument:

“The defense wishes the court to take into consideration that the accused has a wife and a 2 or 3 month old baby with no means of support and the accused asks that the court show leniency.”

The Judge Advocate read that there were no previous convictions and read my father’s statement of service that omitted his prior service enlistment, which he brought to the attention of the judge.

Fortunately, the Judge Advocate took pity on him and the sentence was modified, the dishonorable discharge order suspended and the hard labor being reduced from 18 months to just 6.

Ahhh, it looks like Dad got a break and the judge remarked that he was not determined to be guilty of desertion, simply AWOL. Six months for AWOL versus 18 for desertion. Maybe those old Army clothes he was wearing, for whatever the reason, saved his skin.

Hard labor at that time meant exactly what it implied – working rock quarrys, building roads or laboring on docks. Or, perhaps, building state or government buildings, like the prisons themselves.

The next document is an amended sentence.

The original sentence was for 18 months of hard labor, but this document says 6 months. He had been granted the leniency he requested.

It appears that the Adjutant General has a significant amount of discretion. There’s a difference between this type of case and one of desertion under fire that jeopardizes the lives of other soldiers. While there appears to be no justification for the choice he made, it’s still not comparable to defecting to the enemy or risking the lives of others.

Still, the fact that he would have done something that even MIGHT result in his own death sentence boggles my mind.

BUT, my father actually DID serve more than six months, and the reason why will astound you!

More Confusion

Then, the most confusing document of all was dated the day of his sentencing:

Let’s take this apart piece by piece.

  • Born in New Mexico, October 1, 1898? We already know that he “modified” his birth year significantly to enlist in the service. He was born in either 1901 or 1902. But he was NOT born in New Mexico. Why did he say that? What don’t we know?
  • Raised in urban environment by parents. That’s not true either. He was raised on farms and his parents divorced.
  • Quit school at age of 16. Assuming he attended school until he enlisted in 1917, that means he would have quit school at the age of enlistment of 14 or 15.
  • Claims that he was in second year of Carlyle Indian School at the time.

I’m dumbstruck at this claim which is clearly patently false. Why would he make this up?

The Carlisle Indian School was a “boarding school” for Native American students with the intention of removing them from the “Native influences” of their family and community and mainstreaming their assimilation into the Europeanized version of American life by depriving them of their culture and language.

My father was quite dark and our family had an oral history of Native heritage, so I’m not surprised that he could pull this off.

As fate would have it, a few years ago I transcribed the entire list of Carlisle Indian School residents, including the list from the school itself and from the National Archives, neither of which are individually complete. There is no Estes on this list. There is also no Don Caroles or anything similar. For those interested, I wrote about the records here.

Other information includes:

  • He worked as a fireman on the Grand Trunk Railroad. If he did this, I don’t know when it would have been. Firemen on the railroads tended the fire for the running of a boiler to power the steam engine.
By Elsie esq. – Copied from en:Image:Boiler man.jpg. Original image from flickr, URL: [1] flickr image ID: 7708375_03dd1f7439.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3829347

His job in the Army was at one point listed as fireman as was the 1920 census entry, so this is at least believable. It may be the only remotely true statement made by him in this sentencing memorandum.

  • He was about 5 months before being apprehended. True.
  • He denies use of alcohol, drugs and civil offences.

Alcohol probably played a factor in this situation, one way or another. Either that, or he got himself so head-over-heels in trouble that he drank to drown those problems. Of course, then alcohol would have made the problems even worse. He had a drinking problem which I believe started as a child when he was fed alcohol by his parents to ease hunger pangs when the family had no food.

  • He was convicted of AWOL and escape and given a sentence of 18 months.

But wasn’t his sentence reduced to 6 months, from 18?




What escape?

  • Prisoner’s statement is that he had got a young girl into trouble and married her and as her people were unable to support her he went AWOL to do so.

So, he finally tells us why, or at least a sanitized version of why. Is it a reason or an excuse?

As sad as this sounds, it’s likely at least partially true, given the nature and commentary of the Ilo letter that she wrote as a form of “Dear John” letter a few months later while he was serving his time at Fort Leavenworth. Not that she didn’t have cause (think Martha Dodder), but it’s sad nonetheless that he was incarcerated in Leavenworth as a result of taking care of her (and his child) but she left him by leaving town while he was serving the sentence.

Keep in mind that in 1919, my father was all of 17 years old, possibly 18, had gotten himself into one whale of a mess, had no family to turn to and no resources to help. A 17-year-old with a wife who was reportedly estranged from her family because of him, and a newborn baby.

By the time this statement was taken, he also had a second child with Martha who was born on the day his court martial began. It’s unclear whether the two women knew about each other or each other’s children. Furthermore, Virgie, whom he proposed to in the summer of 1919 was long gone although I don’t think he every stopped loving her – given that he married her 42 years later in 1961.

In other words, in 1919, he was a hot mess.

Lastly, he had survived a hospitalization in August that had very nearly taken his life and may have left him with some level of residual brain damage that exacerbated his poor decision making. Not to mention, the US was engaged in a war. Nope. No stress there.

  • Physical condition good.
  • Low-average intellect.

I wonder how they decided his intellect was low-average. He made very poor decisions, but he was not an intellectually impaired or stupid man by any means. Again, I wonder about brain damage from the August 1919 hospitalization.

  • Fair emotional stability.

I sure would like to know the criteria for this assessment. From the distance of 99 years, I’d say he was a train wreck!

  • Not recommended for the Battalion July 27, 1920, because of no desire for further military service.

But then, there’s that escape…

Escape? What Escape?

Just when I think my father is done surprising me, there’s more.

“While awaiting the results of trial, the prisoner escaped confinement on or about June 2nd.”




He escaped custody?

After his trial?

Inside a military base?

What on earth was he thinking?

How far did he get?

How long was he gone?

I was so stunned by the “escape” that I nearly missed the rest of the information on this page that tells us that he never served overseas. I had never seen evidence that he did, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

What does it mean that he’s “not recommended for the Battalion?”

In the Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 4, No. 6 (Mar., 1914), pp. 918-920 (3 pages,) the difference between a Disciplinary Barracks and a prison is set forth. The barracks hopes to reform military offenders whose offences are only military in nature. To that end, for prisoners whose merit warrants, they are allowed the privilege of being assigned to a special unit (battalion) to receive military training for a portion of the time that would otherwise be devoted to hard labor. He did not qualify for that privilege. In part, that might have been because his term of service would expire while he was at Leavenworth, so he would have no time left to serve.

The last statement was:

  • Clemency is not recommended.

No kidding. He blew that opportunity with his escape attempt and his reduced sentence of 6 months was reinstated to the original 18. Someplace he had also lost his officer status. He had been granted clemency, and then he subsequently lost it by his bone-headed escape. He made his own bad situation, literally, three times worse. I don’t think this man was firing on all cylinders. I truly do wonder about the meningitis or encephalitis from 1919 having a detrimental effect on his logical decision making ability.

Was he suffering from a brain injury? He went from being “a good soldier” to this. The change is like Jekyll and Hyde. What happened?

Amazingly, they did not reduce his discharge to dishonorable.

Maybe there is more to this story that we don’t know – something like he went out drinking with his guard buddies. Maybe his escape wasn’t quite like it appears. But we’ll never know.

I can’t imagine any soldier that was both AWOL and having escaped being given an honorable discharge under any normal circumstances. There must have been some sort of extenuating circumstances.

But then again, this is my father and “normal” has never been a word associated with him or even one day of his life.

Fort Leavenworth

I’ve heard of Fort Leavenworth, but what is it really?

First, Fort Leavenworth is a military base, but it’s better known for the prison, or prisons, actually.

Two Fort Leavenworth prisons exist, the Federal Penitentiary and the military United States Disciplinary Barracks. That’s where my father was sent.

The original military prison building was built in 1877 with a second additional building, below, being completed about 1921. Inmates at this older facility were used in the construction of the second building and the Federal Prison by the same name which was located nearby and completed about the same time.

Perhaps now we know the “hard labor” to which my father was assigned. This mustard colored building with the barred windows may have been his home. Somehow very ironic to build your own prison. Did he live in the new one too?

The original Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) was Fort Leavenworth’s biggest and tallest building sitting on top of a hill at the corner of McPherson Avenue and Scott Avenue overlooking the Missouri River. The largest buildings of the original barracks (“The Castle”) were torn down in 2004.

You can see a photo of the original building and cells, here. Note the pile of rocks by the shed that would have been quarried by the inmates.

The old domed building was nicknamed “Little Top” in contrast to the domed federal prison 2 1⁄2 miles south which was nicknamed the “Big Top”. The walls and ten of the buildings in the original location remain and have been converted to other uses at the Fort.

The original prison was 12 acres and the walls were from 16 to 41 feet high. Given the timing of the construction of this facility, it’s certainly possible that he worked on this wall, or others similar.

In 2002, Gail Dillon of Airman magazine wrote:

A visitor would immediately notice the medieval ambiance of this institution – the well-worn native stone and brick walls constructed by long-forgotten inmates when ‘hard labor’ meant exactly that – have witnessed thousands of inmates’ prayers, curses, and pleas over the past 128 years” and that entering the facility was “like stepping back in time or suddenly being part of a kitschy movie set about a prison bust.”

Given that my father was sentenced in 1920, it’s quite likely that he helped build the complex above (mostly torn down in 2004), those prison walls, as well as the Federal Penitentiary below.

By Americasroof – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8727865

He was discharged from the Disciplinary Barracks on November 26th of 1921, two days after Thanksgiving, with travel money to return to Tazewell, TN. Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s where he went.

We already know that 16 days later, he married Martha Dodder in Battle Creek, Michigan. Maybe he hoped to start anew, with a clean slate, and raise his daughter.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Third Enlistment

And, because twice in the Army evidently wasn’t enough for him, he had to go for enlistment number 3, but not for another 5 years and two months.

Where was he for those 5 years?

We know that he married Martha Dodder in Battle Creek on December 12, 1921 and that in February 1924 their were divorce was final, so he was apparently living in Battle Creek during that time, “being lazy” according to Martha.

A subsequent report from a different source tells us that he stated that he joined the Army from Lafayette, Indiana in 1926. Given his disregard for the truth, it’s hard to know if there is any shred of validity given that I’ve have found no evidence of a 1926 enlistment.

The third enlistment document in the Twisted Twigs packet is from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and it too is very confusing.

My father re-enlisted on January 8, 1927 at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, an induction and training center.

And yes, he did it AGAIN! He went AWOL again!

What was this man thinking? Was he even thinking?

The top clearly says “Supplemental pay roll of deserter William S. Estes, Private Company A, 2nd infantry.


It just kills me to see that word associated with my father.

Again, let’s dissect this information.

  • Deserted at Fort Sheridan May 23, 1927
  • Due US at date of desertion
  • Due US $17.53 for T fr Ft. Leavenworth Kansas to Fort Sheridan, Ill issued by Maj C.A. Meals May 14, 1927 on T/R 191,119 May 14, 1927
  • Reimburse Appn FD 700 P 5024 A 9-7
  • Due US clo lost RS $34.03 (clo apparently means clothing)
  • Due US C&E 20.74
  • Due US for clo overdrawn at date of desertion 41.40
  • Money value of clo drawn since enlistment 103.96
  • Sol having deserted within the 1st 6 mos of enlistment
  • Last paid to April 30, 1927 by Capt. Thomas B. Kennedy FD
  • No AWOL during current enlistment

What? Fort Leavenworth again! And he hadn’t even deserted yet when he was at Fort Leavenworth this time? Wouldn’t simply being AT (or anyplace near) Fort Leavenworth have been enough of a reminder that he would have sworn never to desert, be late or even sneeze again? You’d think so.

What do we have here? Did he just miss the home boys?

My heart sunk when I saw the mention of Fort Leavenworth. Based on what I think I’m reading, he traveled from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Sheridan on May the 14th. He then deserted on May 23rd. Or, conversely, he never made it to Fort Sheridan from Leavenworth.

Fort Leavenworth is the same location where he was sent for 18 months hard labor in 1919. You’d think that after one “visit” there, he would do absolutely everything in his power never to have to set foot anyplace near there again.

So he apparently enlisted on January 8th, got into some sort of trouble that was not AWOL, according to the last line, got sent back to Leavenworth for no more than 4 months where he had “resided” previously in 1921, returned to Fort Sheridan and then permanently deserted 9 days later on May 23rd.

He was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, one or the other. I’m betting he carried the “risk taker” mutation in the dopamine receptor DRD4.

This time, given his actions, there is no question that he intended desertion. Yet, somehow, in some way, his record was cleared and he received a military burial and a commendation certificate from President Kennedy, not to mention a military headstone.

How did that happen, given that NARA records indicate his discharge date from this third enlistment as October 31, 1938 was “other than honorable?”

This man is truly a conundrum and a contradiction of every expectation or assumption I’ve ever held.

Twisted Twigs, Again

I contacted the fine folks at Twisted Twigs again, and asked if there was any possibility of finding records of whatever happened at Fort Sheridan that resulted in him being sent to Fort Leavenworth again after his enlistment of January 8th. Obviously, he was in some kind of serious trouble right?

Well, as it turns out, maybe not.

Kathleen, at Twisted Twigs, tells me the following:

Fort Leavenworth was and still is also a working base, as well as a detention center. Soldiers passed through there without being headed for the prison, so he was probably just in transit from base to base.

She clearly didn’t understand my father!

Soldiers would receive their travel allowances in sequence rather than all at once. The payment mentioned there would be the money issued to him to travel from there to Fort Sheridan, and apparently he never made it to Fort Sheridan.

OK, so maybe he wasn’t sent to Fort Leavenworth from Fort Sheridan because he was in some kind of trouble. How ironic if he just happened to get assigned to Leavenworth for some task or duty, given the reason he spent almost 18 months there in 1920 and 1921. Still you would think if anything would have deterred him from deserting again, it would have been the vivid reminder of seeing those walls again. How much more “in your face” could a reminder be?

Was he just working on the outside, looking in, this time? Or is there still more to this story that we just don’t know? Again, Kathleen:

I’d say there are probably more records out there buried somewhere, but his peacetime service makes it a different type of search. A lot of peacetime paperwork was routinely destroyed, because it was perceived to be of little value once shipments were received or equipment was repaired. What survives most from those times are the higher level communications, rosters, and training records.

And of course, those records could have and probably did burn in 1973 in St. Louis.

I asked if we could find any records about his deserter status, and why he wasn’t discharged until 1938, which seemed really odd to me. Why wait until 1938 to give him the boot?

We did request the court martial from this time period as well, but it was not located. It doesn’t mean that it no longer exists, it means that at this moment in time its whereabouts are unknown, and it may in fact be destroyed.

He would not have been discharged without being present. Otherwise, the army had no authority to apprehend him as a deserter. Even if he was incarcerated by civilian authorities, the army maintained ‘control’ over him. It’s possible they simply took the paperwork to the prison and discharged him there since they had finally located him. This would have been part of his service record and was most likely lost in the fire.

The fire. Always that fire! Dang that fire!

The Conundrum

Why, then, if his final military enlistment ended with a less than honorable discharge did the family receive this document upon his death?

Envelope above which held the following document.

And the burial flag from his funeral service. As it turns out, given that he had two honorable discharges, even if he had one dishonorable discharge, he might still have qualified for the flag.

And why was a military tombstone sent when requested by the family in 2003 or 2004?

Would a deserter have received these things? It never in my wildest dreams occurred to me that his discharge was “less than honorable.” Why would I have ever suspected?

Not only that, the man was a proud veteran and very active in the Red Key, Indiana American Legion post, along with the Knightstown orphan’s home. To this day, I have his well-worn American Legion hat, threadbare in places, tie and pins.

Legion hat 2

My father is so confusing!

Kathleen again:

While he had a dishonorable discharge, he also had an honorable discharge on his record. In 2004, after the fire that destroyed so much information sometimes simple proof of service was enough to obtain a headstone, and by then nobody really looked terribly closely into fragmented seventy year old records when a vet’s family made a simple headstone request. If they presented the honorable discharge pay stub from 1921, it could conceivably have flown right through.

While I’m sure the family didn’t have a pay stub from 1921, there were other things. In the records sent by Virgie, I found his second honorable discharge. That would probably have sufficed. Obviously, something did.

William Estes honorable discharge 1921

Then, after my sister, Edna’s death, her granddaughter sent me a copy of his first Honorable Discharge that has been saved by Martha all those years.


And, the VA confirmed my father’s honorable discharges, never mentioning the third enlistment.

William Estes VA confirm of discharge

Given this documentation, you can understand why I was so shocked to discover the court martial, not to mention the third enlistment complete with dishonorable discharge. There weren’t any hints about either. I was utterly astounded, gobsmacked, not to mention heartbroken.

In spite of everything else, up until this point, I could still be proud of his military service to his country, and at such a tender age, but now that too is compromised.

Kathleen continued:

I’m not too surprised at either of those things occurring – it’s also possible that someone petitioned the Army to have his record polished up, and the commendation served as confirmation of that. Involve the right people high enough up in the food chain, and anything is possible.

Then I recalled what Aunt Margaret, his sister, said:

It was his second hitch in the service when he was in trouble that I had investigated for you after his death.

However, that letter from President Kennedy arrived within a couple weeks of his death, before Aunt Margaret had time to investigate and remedy anything. It may have simply been a “form letter” sent to the families of all deceased veterans, but that fact that Virgie received it suggests that the government themselves hadn’t put 2 and 2 together and figured out that he had a final less than honorable discharge from his third enlistment.

I’m betting neither Margaret nor Virgie knew about that third enlistment. If they did, they never breathed a word of it, and Margaret talked about everything.

My mother, who was permanently and thoroughly disgusted with my father mentioned something disdainfully about some issue being “fixed” as well, but I was never clear about what was “fixed” or why, nor did I realize how relevant that tidbit would be to me after anyone who might have known the answers was gone.

Mother’s comment about “fixing” might have been about his military record, but it also might have been about his divorce to Ellen not being final when he married Virgie – yet one more thing the women in his life had to fix and clean up. He left one messy trail.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line to all of this is that while he may not have been sent to Leavenworth as an inmate in early 1927 during the first few months of his third enlistment (or he may have, we’re not sure,) he clearly didn’t manage to get himself from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Sheridan between May 14th and 23rd. Or, he did make it back to Fort Sheridan and then deserted. Regardless, he was in a heap-o’-trouble. And he clearly, very, very clearly knew better and was already painfully aware of the consequences.

Either way, that was the last straw, so to speak, and when the military caught up with him again 11 years later in 1938, they simply dishonorably discharged him. I believe that soldiers were only sentenced to Leavenworth until the end of their enlistment, which is why he only served 17 of his 18 months in 1921.

Regardless of what happened, he was “less than honorably” discharged as the result of his third term of service. Do we have any idea, any idea at all what happened?

Next Stop – A New Alias and A New Disaster

By 1927, when he deserted from Fort Sheridan, my father had apparently learned the power of an alias and how to misbehave more successfully. This time, he didn’t stay in the same town, and he apparently didn’t wear any part of his uniform. In other words, he wasn’t just chronically AWOL, he flat out deserted with full intent.

This time, he became Paul Lamarr (LeMarr), an alias he would maintain for the next 15 years. Yes, 15 long years. How did he select that name anyway? It’s quite unique.

It’s amazing that I ever found him, but he did, inadvertently, leave a few bread crumbs and sleuths in this digital age found his trail. Amazingly, he kept his past buried for 91 years.

Just over two months after disappearing from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on August 6, 1927, now 24 or 25 years old, Paul LaMarr wrote a bad check in Berrien County, Michigan, across Lake Michigan from Fort Sheridan. The legal proceedings also mention that he had used the alias of Art Thomas, although we don’t see that name again.

He began living as Paul LaMarr.

On that same day, Paul LaMarr married Cora Edmonds, a minor, whose mother and grandmother, both widows, were members of the celibate religious order (some would say cult) known as the House of David.

If your jaw just hit the floor, mine too. No, I can’t even begin to explain that dichotomy, so don’t ask.

The next chapter in my father’s never-ending life-long-drama, now (mostly) as Paul LaMarr, but also at least for a short while as Dr. Donald McCormack, had begun.

And….Yet ANOTHER Shoe Drops

Not only that, but Cora’s family lived in the same multi-family commune home as Bessie Boruff…someone who would one-day have a daughter named Violet, surnamed Miller, last name compliments of her step-father. I never met Violet, but my mother and sister (Edna) did and I knew that she existed – but our families lost track of each other more than half a century ago.

Was Violet my father’s child, my half sister? He, Bessie, Violet and Edna all believed so.

Violet Miller crop2

This grainy photo from the newspaper is all that I have.

I do believe we look at least somewhat alike when we were younger, but who knows if we actually do, or if I’m simply looking for the resemblance and wanting to see one. I know how easy that is to do, because I did it with my brother who was not my biological brother, Dave Estes. I’m not about to find and fall in love with a sibling again just to discover that they aren’t.

Roberta and Violet

In the collage below, Violet is at left, me center, Dad at right and two photos of Edna, my DNA-proven half sister, beneath. What do you think? You can see photos Ilo’s son Lee, here, but Lee had no children so there is no way to prove that he is my father’s child.

Dad Edna me Violet

In spite of what I think is a resemblance, Violet’s conception date, based on her birth date if she was a full term child suggests that Violet might have been conceived when my father’s whereabouts were conclusively known, meaning in jail having to do with that bad check – and not anyplace close to Bessie. There is about a 5 week discrepancy.

DNA testing would solve that mystery once and for all, but Violet, who married Elmer Bruce Golladay (originally Golliday) and then Orville Blevins, died in 2004. Yes, Violet had at least three children while married to Mr. Golliday, and yes, I would love to DNA test one of Violet’s descendants.

Truthfully, I keep hoping that one of them will test on their own and just show up on my DNA match list someplace. I’d have my answer without having to explain any of….well….this. If they match me, they get to own my father’s soap-operaesque tale too. If not, then they have a different mystery to solve.


When I think about trying to contact them, and yes, I have found at least two of Violet’s family members on Facebook, I struggle with how I would ever go about explaining this situation. Plus, an intrusion of this type may not be welcome news.

Merry Christmas, grandpa got run over by a court martial. Imagine if they are a veteran or lost a family member in service. Ummm…no.

They get to become aware of a very “colorful” character not far in their past, or conversely, one of their family members may not be who they think they are/were and either scenario may be unwelcome news they didn’t ask for. If they don’t seek answers by reaching out or DNA testing on their own, I’m very hesitant to intrude with what could well amount to distressful information.

Of course, if they have already tested and don’t match me, I’ll never know. So here’s hoping that maybe one day someone in Violet’s family will become interested in genealogy and google Violet’s name.

Hopefully, after they get over the same shock that I felt, they will contact me and we, together, can solve one more mystery in my father’s life.

If they are worried that the apple didn’t fall far from the parental tree – ironically – no. My father may have made boneheaded decisions about his own life, but the women who raised his children did an awesome job! He apparently had great taste in wives because their descendants are amazing people.

Sooo, maybe Santa will bring at least one of Violet’s children or grandchildren a DNA test for Christmas and they’ll just test!

Santa, can I arrange for a delivery?


Epilogue: As you might imagine, this article was very difficult to process and write. I debated for weeks about whether it should be published or not, and I published it with no small amount of reservation.

After publication, my German friend and faithful blog reader offered the following slightly edited commentary, which I found very comforting as well as enlightening. Thank you so much Chris.

Though I do not know much about your father, only your articles, I am quite confident of this conclusion: No brain damage required to explain his running away, no bad decision making. I rather fear that running away may have been the only decision he was possibly able to take at all. He had no other choice!

He ran away to military to escape his personal life, he ran away from military service, he ran away from wives and the responsibility for his babies. He ran away to alcohol to forget about himself for a while. He tried to run away from himself by changing his identity. And, as I remember from your other article, it seems that his final choice was to run away from his life.

Importantly, this does not imply that he did not at the same time truly love these women and children, including you! It was not them whom he was running away from, it was himself whom he tried to flee from.

Please feel hugged! Thank you for your openness to share these stories with us all! And let us all try to give other souls on this earth a place to stay and find peace, not to leave.


Lydia Brown’s 3 Daughters: Or Were They? Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA to the Rescue – 52 Ancestors #218

There has long been speculation about what happened to Lydia Brown, the wife of William Crumley III, and when.

It doesn’t help a bit that William Crumley, her husband, was actually William Crumley the third, being named for both his father and grandfather.

William Crumley the second was born in 1767 or 1768 in Frederick County, Virginia. He married, but his wife’s name is unknown. We do, however, know that her mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is H2a1. Without any other moniker, H2a1 has in effect become her name, because I have nothing else to call her that identifies her individually.

We don’t know much about H2a1, only that she was having children by about 1786 and had her last child, Catherine Crumley was born in 1805, suggesting that H2a1 herself was born about 1766.

It was Catherine Crumley’s descendant who took the mitochondrial DNA test that provided us with H2a1. Ironic that we have her mitochondrial DNA and know her haplogroup, but not her name. Of course, we are presuming that indeed, she was William II’s only wife, meaning that her haplogroup applied to her eldest child, Susannah Crumley born about 1786 and the other 8 children born between Susannah and Catherine.

H2a1’s son, William Crumley III was born between 1785 and 1789. William would have inherited his mother’s mitochondrial DNA, H2a1, but he would not have passed it on to his children. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by females. William’s children would have inherited their mitochondrial DNA from his wife, their mother.

William III married Lydia Brown on October 1, 1807 in Greene County, Tennessee, where the family had moved by 1793. Lydia was the daughter of Jotham Brown and his wife Phoebe, whose surname is unknown, neighbors who lived close by.

As couples do, William III and Lydia set about starting a family right away, having their first child, the Reverend John Crumley in 1808 or 1809. John was followed by William Crumley the fourth in 1811 and Jotham Crumley in 1813. Sarah may have been a twin to Jotham, born in 1813 or she may have been born in 1815. Of course, there were no birth or death certificates back then.

In 1817, daughter Clarissa was born on April 10th.

That’s where the confusion starts.

Enter Elizabeth Johnson

Enter Elizabeth, known as Betsey, Johnson who married William Crumley in Greene County, TN on October 20, 1817.

Which William Crumley, you ask? Well, so have we, for years. In fact, it’s discussed at length, here.

Given Elizabeth’s age of approximately 17 years when she married (assuming she is who we think she is,) and the fact she was remembered as the cousin of Lydia Brown, we presumed that she married William Crumley III. William III at approximately age 35-40 was closer to her age than William II at approximate age 55 – and Lydia Brown was the wife of William III so it stood to reason that they family would know her cousins.

Seems logical, right?

Except, the next child born to William III and his wife, Lydia or Elizabeth, my ancestor, Phoebe Crumley was born on March 24th, 1818, not even 50 weeks after her sister, Clarissa had been born. Furthermore, Phoebe had been born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, near the border with Lee County, Virginia, not in Greene County where earlier children were born. Also of note, Lydia’s mother, Jotham Brown’s wife was named Phoebe.

It’s certainly possible that William Crumley III’s first wife, Lydia Brown had died and he had remarried quickly to Elizabeth Johnson, then moved to Claiborne County. Except, the dates don’t work well.

We know that Lydia Brown Crumley was alive on April 10, 1817 when Clarissa was born.

Phoebe’s mother, whoever she was, got pregnant in June of 1817, 4 months before Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley.

Pregnancy as a motivator for marriage happens, but it seemed odd that a 34 year old man with a 2 month old child, whose wife had just died was impregnating a 17 year old girl.

I discussed all the pros and cons of the situation in the articles about Lydia Brown and Phoebe Crumley, but the only other alternative is that Elizabeth Johnson had married the elder William Crumley II. It seems even odder that a man of 50+ would be marrying a girl of 17. But that too happened. Or, maybe Elizabeth was actually older than we thought.

Furthermore, William Crumley II had no additional children after 1817, at least none that we know of, but William III did. Yes, it looked quite probable that Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley III. Young wives tended to have children, regardless of the age of their husband – so the preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointed to Elizabeth marrying William Crumley III, or Jr. as he was called in Greene County. William Crumley II was referred to as William Sr.

This seemed like the most reasonable (at least tentative) conclusion, based on the evidence at hand.

The problem is that it was wrong.

DNA Upsets the Apple Cart

One of my cousins who descends from Clarissa (born in April 1817) through all females kindly tested her mitochondrial DNA years ago. My line, through Phoebe, the younger sister of Clarissa had tested too, and they matched exactly at the full sequence level. Furthermore, both of those women also matched a descendant of a daughter of Jotham Brown, confirming that those three women had a common ancestor.

This tells us that very likely Clarissa and Phoebe are full siblings. However, dates weren’t always recorded correctly and people simply forgot. Were those two girls’ births recorded in the correct order with the correct years?

I really wanted to test a descendant of the daughter, Melinda, born April 1, 1820. That child was unquestionably born after the 1817 marriage to the second wife, if she was a second wife.

Not long ago, as a result of the article about Lydia, a descendant of Melinda came forth and volunteered to test.

Believe me, those weeks spent waiting for DNA results seemed like an eternity.

Finally, the results were ready, and sure enough, Melinda’s descendant matches Clarissa’s descendant and Phoebe’s descendant at the full sequence level, exactly.

The proof doesn’t get any better than this.


One Final Hitch

I’d feel a lot better if there wasn’t one last rumor to contend with. The rumor that Elizabeth Johnson was Lydia Brown’s cousin.

Elizabeth Johnson had to be either the daughter of Zopher Johnson, or the daughter of Moses Johnson, both of Greene County, TN. Moses was either the brother or the son of Zopher Johnson. Those are the only candidate fathers for Elizabeth.

Let’s look at the various possible relationships.

Possibility #1 – Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, is Zopher Johnson’s Daughter as is Elizabeth Johnson

I already discussed the possibility that Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, was Zopher Johnson’s daughter, here.

In the scenario above, Elizabeth and Lydia would not have been cousins, but aunt/niece. Their mitochondrial DNA would have matched, but in the article about Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe, we dismissed the possibility that she was Zopher Johnson’s daughter, so Possibility #1 isn’t possible after all.

Possibility #2 – Jotham Brown’s Wife, Phoebe, is the Daughter of Zopher Johnson and Elizabeth is Zopher’s Granddaughter Through Son Moses

In the above scenario, if Moses was the son of Zopher, these women would be first cousins, but the mitochondrial DNA lineage would be broken at Moses, so their mitochondrial DNA wouldn’t match.

Additionally, we dismissed the possibility that Phoebe is Zopher’s daughter, so Possibility #2 is not, for 2 different reasons. It’s possible that we’re wrong about Phoebe being Zopher’s daughter, but it’s NOT possible that we’re wrong about the mitochondrial DNA not matching in this scenario.

Furthermore Moses is believed to be the brother of Zopher, not his son.

Possibility #3 – Phoebe is Zopher’s Daughter, Moses is Zopher’s Brother and Elizabeth is Moses’s Daughter

The possibilities really aren’t endless, they just seem that way! 😊

In this third scenario where Moses and Zopher are brothers, not father and son, Elizabeth and Lydia would be 1st cousins once removed, but they would not share mitochondrial DNA unless Zopher and Moses had married sisters or women who also shared the same exact mitochondrial DNA.

The only scenario in which the mitochondrial DNA would be shared with cousins, assuming that Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown were indeed cousins, is Possibility 1 where Jotham’s wife is Zopher’s daughter.

The evidence suggests that Phoebe Brown is not the daughter of Zopher Johnson, eliminating Possibility 3 as well.

Possibility #4 – Zopher Johnson’s Wife and Jotham Brown’s Wife Were Sisters

I’m going to presume here that the individual who recorded that Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown were cousins meant first cousins, although it’s possible that cousin means further back and possibly not in the direct matrilineal line.

For Elizabeth Johnson’s mitochondrial DNA to match that of Lydia Brown’s exactly, they must both descend from the same common female ancestor in the direct matrilineal line.

How might that work, assuming Jotham’s wife is not Zopher’s daughter?

If the child of both Elizabeth Johnson and Lydia Brown had matching mitochondrial DNA, then the cousin lineage had to be through their mother’s matrilineal side.

This means that the wives of Zopher Johnson and Jotham Brown would have been sisters, or possible matrilineal cousins with no interweaving male generations.

Zopher Johnson and Jotham Brown were both found in Frederick Co., VA by 1782 where the tax list tells us that Zopher had 2 people in his household, indicating that he had not been married long.

Jotham Brown and Phebe, his wife are having children by 1761 in Virginia according to the 1850 census record of their oldest child.

These couples are probably at least 20 years different in age.

Unfortunately, we know very little about where Jotham originated. We know that Zopher’s parents were living in Northampton Co., PA in 1761 about the time he was born.

In order for Jotham’s wife, Phoebe to be the sibling of Zopher Johnson’s wife, they would have had to be living in the same location in roughly 1780, which was probably Frederick Co., VA.

Is it possible that the reason that Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda’s mitochondrial DNA matches is because they actually do have two separate mothers who were cousins? Yes, it is.

Is there any evidence of that? No, not today.

However, this is the only alternate possibility that works at all.

Of course, the most reasonable scenario is that Lydia Brown didn’t die, and Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda are all 3 her daughters. This evidence is strengthened of course by the fact that Phoebe is named after Lydia Brown’s mother.

What Other Tools are Available?

Unfortunately, Jotham Brown is 6 generations back from me. If Phoebe’s mother was Elizabeth Johnson instead of Lydia Brown, Zopher Johnson would be the same number of generations back in my tree as Jotham Brown.

The absence of Johnson autosomal matches in and of itself at that distance wouldn’t be remarkable for any particular individual, but with as many people from this line who have tested, it’s increasingly unlikely that I would match no one from the Johnson line.

At Ancestry, I added Zopher Johnson in my tree, as Jotham Brown’s wife, Phoebe’s father, creating a “honey-pot” of sorts for matches. I have no one that shares Zopher except for people who also have Phoebe listed as Phoebe Johnson. In other words, no one who descends from Zopher through any other line.

I have 27 people who I match through Jotham Brown through his other children, which I wouldn’t have as matches unless Jotham Brown was my ancestor as well.

At MyHeritage, I also added Zopher Johnson, but I have not had SmartMatches there either. Like at Ancestry, I do have Jotham Brown matches.

Several people match at Ancestry who has no chromosome browser. I have a Jotham Brown Circle at Ancestry with 45 members, of which I match 16.

Not all my matches are from Ancestry. Other matches are found at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch which allow me to paint their segments on my DNAPainter profile, triangulating with others.


We have multiple pieces of evidence including three matching mitochondrial DNA tests for the sisters, children of William Crumley III, on the following timeline:

Crumley birth timeline

  • We’ve proven that Clarissa, Phebe and Melinda all share the exact same mitochondrial DNA. These births occurred both before and after the marriage of Elizabeth Johnson to one of the William Crumleys in 1817.
  • I have more than 30 matches to several of Jotham Brown’s descendants through multiple children other than through Lydia Brown, the wife of William Crumley III.
  • I don’t have any matches to Zopher Johnson through anyone except people who list Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe, as the daughter of Zopher Johnson in their trees.
  • Jotham Brown’s wife’s name was Phebe, a rather unusual name, certainly suggesting that Lydia Brown was the mother of Phebe Crumley born in 1818.

I believe the combination of these factors confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that the mother of Phoebe Crumley born in 1818, as well as the younger children born to William Crumley III and his wife were all born to Lydia Brown, the first and only known wife of William Crumley III.

I believe that Elizabeth Johnson married William Crumley II, not William Crumley III based on this as well as new research evidence to be discussed in a future article.

Based on the cumulative evidence, Elizabeth Johnson did not marry William Crumley III and Lydia Brown, William Crumley III’s first wife did not die before the birth of either Phebe or Melinda Crumley.

Based on the fact that I have no autosomal DNA matches to Zopher Johnson’s descendants, I believe we’ve removed the possibility that Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe is the daughter of Zopher, or the child of Zopher’s brother, Moses. In other words, there is no hint of a biological connection between the Johnson and Brown families upstream of Jotham Brown and his wife, Phoebe whose surname remains unknown.

As far as I’m concerned, we can put this question to bed, forever.


Thank you to the descendants of Clarissa, Phoebe and Melinda Crumley for mitochondrial DNA testing. We could never have solved this without you.

Thank you for descendants of Jotham Brown and Zopher Johnson for autosomal DNA testing.

Thank you to Stevie Hughes for her extensive research on the Zopher Johnson line.

If You Want to Test

If you want to test your mitochondrial DNA, click here and order the mtFull test.

If you want to test your autosomal DNA, click here and order the Family Finder test, or click here and order the MyHeritage test.

You can also order a Family Finder test and then transfer free to MyHeritage.


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This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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Jacob Lentz’s Signatures: Cursive and Genetic – 52 Ancestors #216

What is a signature anyway?

A signature is defined as a mark or something that personally identifies an individual. A form of undeniable self-identification.

Of course, that’s exactly why I seek my ancestors’ signatures, both their handwriting and their genetic signature.

Jacob Lentz was born in Germany in 1783 and died in 1870 in Ohio.

Most documents of that timeframe contained only facsimiles of actual signatures. Original deeds indicate that the document was signed, but when recorded in deed books at the courthouse, the clerk only transcribed the signature. The person recorded the physical deed that they had in their hand, and then took it home with them. Therefore, the deed book doesn’t hold the original signature – the original deed does. I was crestfallen years ago when I discovered that fact. ☹

Hence, the actual physical signature of an ancestor is rare indeed.

Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to find not one, but two actual signatures of Jacob Lentz – plus part of his genetic signature as well.

Jacob’s Handwritten Signatures

When Jacob Lenz, later Lentz in the US, petitioned to leave Germany in 1817, he signed the petition document.

The original document is in the “Weinstadt City Archive”, which kindly gave permission for the reproduction and was graciously retrieved by my distant cousin, Niclas Witt. Thank you very much to both!

Here’s Jacob’s actual signature.

The story of Jacob’s life and immigration, and what a story it is, is recorded here, here, here and here.

Jacob’s life has a missing decade or so, after he completed his indentured servitude about 1820 or 1821 in Pennsylvania and before he arrived in Montgomery County, Ohio about 1830. In Ohio, he purchased land and began creating records. That’s where I found him initially.

Jacob’s youngest child, Mary Lentz, was born in May or June of 1829, before leaving Pennsylvania. She married in Montgomery County, Ohio on December 19, 1848 to Henry Overlease. That marriage document contains the signature of her father, Jacob Lentz.

This signature is slightly different than the German one from 31 years earlier, but it’s still clearly our Jacob, as the document states that the parents have signed. It looks like he’s also incorporated the “t” into the name now as well.

Jacob Lentz’s Genetic Signatures

As I was celebrating the discovery of not one, but two versions of Jacob’s written signature, I realized that I carry part of Jacob’s genetic signature too, as do others of his descendants. I just never thought of it quite like that before.

His genetic signature is every bit as personal, and even better because it’s in me, not lost to time.

There are three types of DNA that can provide genetic signatures of our ancestors; mitochondrial, Y DNA and autosomal.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all genders of their children, but only their daughters pass it on. Therefore, it’s primarily unchanged, generation to generation.

Being a male, Jacob couldn’t pass his mitochondrial DNA on to his descendants, so we have to discover Jacob’s mitochondrial DNA by testing someone else who descends from his mother’s direct matrilineal line through all females but can be a male in the current generation.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to discover Jacob’s mitochondrial DNA that he inherited from his matrilineal line, meaning his mother’s mother’s mother’s line.

However, we only identified his parents a few months ago. Most of Jacob’s family didn’t immigrate, so perhaps eventually the right person will test who descends from his mother, or her matrilineal line, through all women to the current generation.

Jacob’s matrilineal line is as follows, beginning with his mother:

  • Jacob’s mother – Maria Margaretha Gribler born May 4, 1749 and died July 5, 1823 in Beutelsbach, married Jakob Lenz November 3, 1772.
  • Her mother, Katharina Nopp born April 23, 1707 and died November 27, 1764 in Beutelsbach, married Johann Georg Gribler on October 26, 1745.
  • Agnes Back/Beck born November 26, 1673 in Aichelberg, Germany, died February 10, 1752 in Beutelsbach and married Johann Georg Nopp from Beutelsbach.
  • Margaretha, surname unknown, from Magstadt who married Dionysus Beck who lived in Aichelberg, Germany.

If you descend from any of these women, or their female siblings through all females to the current generation, I have a DNA testing scholarship for mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA for you! I’ll throw an autosomal Family Finder test in too!

If you’d like a read a quick article about how mitochondrial, Y DNA and autosomal DNA work and are inherited, click here.


On the other hand, Jacob did contribute his Y DNA to his sons. Lentz male descendants, presuming no adoptions, carry Jacob’s Y DNA signature as their own.

We are very fortunate to have Jacob Lentz’s Y DNA signature, thanks to two male Lentz cousins. I wrote about how unique the Lentz Y DNA is, and that we’ve determined that our Lentz line descends from the Yamnaya culture in Russia some 3500 years ago. How did we do that? We match one of the ancient burials. Jacob’s haplogroup is R-BY39280 which is a shorthand way of telling us about his clan.

On the Big Y Tree, at Family Tree DNA, we can see that on our BY39280 branch, we have people whose distant ancestors were found in two locations, France and Germany. On the next upstream branch, KMS67, the parent of BY39280, we find people with that haplogroup in Switzerland and Greece.

Our ancestors are amazingly interesting.

Autosomal DNA

Jacob shares his Y and mitochondrial DNA, probably exactly, with other relatives, since both Y and mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from generation to generation, except for an occasional mutation.

However, Jacob’s autosomal DNA was the result of a precise combination of half of his mother’s and half of his father’s autosomal DNA. No one on this earth had the exact combination of DNA as Jacob. Therefore, Jacob’s autosomal DNA identifies him uniquely.

Unfortunately, Jacob isn’t alive to test, and no, I’m not digging him up – so we are left to piece together Jacob’s genetic signature from the pieces distributed among his descendants.

I realized that by utilizing DNAPainter, which allows me to track my own segments by ancestor, I have reconstructed a small portion of Jacob’s autosomal DNA.

Now, there’s a hitch, of course.

Given that there are no testers that descend from the ancestors of either Jacob or his wife, Fredericka Ruhle, at least not that I know of, I can’t sort out which of these segments are actually Jacob’s and which are Fredericka’s.

In the chart above, the tester and my mother match each other on the same segments, but without testers who descend from the parents of Jacob and Fredericka, through other children and also match on that same segment, we can’t tell which of those common segments came from Jacob and which from Fredericka. If my mother and the tester matched a tester from Jacob’s siblings, then we would know that their common segment descended through Jacob’s line, for example.

Painting Jacob’s Genetic Signature

The segments in pink below show DNA that I inherited from either Jacob or Fredericka. I match 8 other cousins who descend from Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle on some portion of my DNA – and in many cases, three or more descendants of Jacob/Fredericka match on the same exact segment, meaning they are triangulated.

As you can see, I inherited a significant portion of my maternal chromosome 3 from Jacob or Fredericka, as did my cousins. I also inherited portions of chromosomes 7, 9, 18 and 22 from Jacob or Fredericka as well. While I was initially surprised to see such a big piece of chromosome three descending from Jacob/Fredericka, Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle aren’t really that distantly removed – being my great-great-great-grandparents, or 5 generations back in time.

Based on the DNAPainter calculations, these segments represent about 2.4% of my DNA segments on my maternal side. The expected amount, if the DNA actually was passed in exactly half (which seldom happens,) would be approximately 3.125% for each Jacob and Fredericka, or 6.25% combined. That means I probably carry more of Jacob/Fredericka’s DNA that can eventually be identified by new cousin matches!

Of course, my cousins may well share segments of Jacob’s DNA with each other that I don’t, so those segments won’t be shown on my DNAPainter graph.

However, if we were to create a DNAPainter chart for Jacob/Fredericka themseves, and their descendants were to map their shared segments to that chart, we could eventually recreate a significant amount of Jacob’s genetic signature through the combined efforts of his descendants – like reassembling a big puzzle where we all possess different pieces of the puzzle.

Portions of Jacob’s genetic signature are in each of his descendants, at least for several generations! Reassembling Jacob would be he ultimate scavenger hunt.

What fun!


You can order Y and mitochondrial DNA tests from Family Tree DNA here, the only company offering these tests.

You can order autosomal tests from either Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage by clicking on those names in this sentence. You’ll need segment information that isn’t available at Ancestry, so I recommend testing with one of these two companies.

23andMe and Gedmatch also provide segment information. Some people who test at both 23andMe and Ancestry upload to GedMatch, so be sure to check there as well.

You can transfer your autosomal DNA files from one company to the other, with instructions for Family Tree DNA here and MyHeritage here, including how to transfer from Ancestry here.

You can learn how to use DNA Painter here, here and here.

Whose genetic signatures can you identify?


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

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Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755-?), Despair in the Abyss of the High Sea – 52 Ancestors #215

In 1816, most German women who were 61 years old would have been playing with grandchildren in the sunshine. Not Dorothea.

Of course, nothing had ever been “normal” in Dorothea’s life, not the entire time she had lived in Beutelsbach, on the banks of the Rems river, in the vineyard region of Wuerttemberg, Germany.

As a child, her father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin had been “taken away” for 15 years to serve in the military. Her mother, Dorothea Heubach, worked in the vineyards to support Dorothea while waiting those long years for her father’s return. They married the year he returned and Dorothea’s only sibling was born two years later, in 1772, dying the next year.

Dorothea married Johann Friedrich Breuning in 1780 and after they had three children, he died in 1786, the youngest of their 3 children being just 5 days shy of her first birthday. That baby would perish in 1790, just a few months before Dorothea’s mother’s death. Another of Dorothea’s 3 children had died in 1783.

In 1787, Dorothea remarried to Johann Adam Ruhle, the man she would spend the rest of her life with, at least as far as we know.

It seemed like Dorothea’s life calmed down and was settling into the familiar rhythmic pattern of village life after her marriage to Adam, and for a while, it did.

Between 1788 and 1800, Dorothea and Adam had 6 children. Three lived past childhood, 3 did not. As sad as that is, it was also normal in that time and place.

Although Dorothea’s father had been absent during her entire childhood, not of his own choosing, mind you, he also lived 15 years longer than Dorothea’s mother. Not that those early years could ever be replaced, but one had to make the best of things and it was surely a comfort to Dorothy having her father’s presence in her life as she, and he, aged.

Dorothea would celebrate her 60th birthday 10 days after her father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin passed away on July 31st, 1805. Probably not a terribly joyful birthday.

It was very unusual for someone to have no siblings in a German village, but that was Dorothea’s situation. With no siblings and no parents, Dorothea might have felt a bit like she didn’t fit in.

Dorothea was different, and perhaps it was because of that very fact that in another 11 years, in 1816, Dorothea was willing to take the risk of her life.

Dorothea wasn’t afraid of challenges, that’s for sure.


The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia would render devastating consequences around the world in 1816 as the smoke and ash blocked the warming rays of the sun. However, at that time, no one in Germany knew about a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have associated cause and effect.

By 1816, known as “the year without a summer,” Dorothea was 61 years old. Her daughter, Fredericka had married Jakob Lenz in 1808 and had blessed Dorothea with 5 grandchildren, of which one had died in 1814.

The rest of Dorothea Catharina’s children lived with her and husband, Johann Adam Ruhle, a vinedresser. 1816 was brutal – and the 4th year in a row that the vineyards hadn’t produced. But 1816 was the worst by far. The grapes didn’t ripen and neither did the rest of the crops. Food was in short supply and rioting broke out in many parts of Germany for basic foods, such as wheat and flour.

No one was interested in waiting for a repeat performance in 1817, so many families prepared to leave over the winter months.

In February, Dorothea Catharina’s husband, Adam, and her son-in-law, Jacob Lenz petitioned for permission to emigrate.

If someone wanted to emigrate, they needed official permission from the Kingdom of Württemberg, insuring that all debts had been paid to creditors. Therefore, the applicant either had to wait a certain amount of time so debtors could report a bill, or the applicant had to find a guarantor.

Permission to emigrate was published in the years 1816 to 1820 in the “Royal Württemberg State and Government Gazette.” If the person wishing to emigrate could not provide a guarantor, the “Government Gazette” contained up to three calls to potential creditors to file their claims. Otherwise, the creditor could turn to the guarantor.

Permission was obtained for Johann Adam Ruhle to immigrate and in February, the family sold their possessions, paid off any outstanding debt, and departed.

Only one of Dorothea’s children remained behind – Johann Ludwig Ruhle. A single man, for whatever reason, he chose to stay in Beutelsbach. He would have waved goodbye to his entire family; parents, three siblings and four nieces and nephews as the wagon pulled away from the vineyards. Why he stayed and where he lived between then and his marriage in 1830 is unknown.

Immigration – Why and Why Now?

German’s were emigrating by the thousands, and not just to the United States.

A man named Friedrich List was commissioned by the Württemberg government to ask citizens on the docks in Heilbronn about the reasons for their emigration. He recorded his interview with Johann Adam Rühle on April 30, 1817.

Adam provided the following commentary about the reason for his decision: “Just look at the tax papers and you will find our own complaints.”

Other men from Beutelsbach who were also interviewed mentioned governmental corruption and deprivation as motivations as well.

Other reasons for immigration are set forth in a letter from Frederick Rapp (who had immigrated to the US and set up a German colony of religious Rappites) to Joseph Leobold explaining why a German might want to immigrate. Frederick said, “Much less would they have to worry that their sons would be taken away as soldiers, the laws of the land here are exactly the opposite of a monarchy.” This would have rung true for Dorothea whose own father was forcibly absent for the first 15 years of her life – and she had sons.

Furthermore, the ban on immigration that had been in effect in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg since 1807 was lifted in 1816.

It appears that a combination of crop failure and high taxes combined with the allure of available land in America and opportunity for all was the shiny object that lured the Lenz (Lentz) and Ruhle (Reuhl) family down the rivers through Germany to Amsterdam, and onto a ship sailing for the promised land.

Except, that wasn’t what actually happened at all.

The Rhine to Amsterdam

In an obscure article by Dr. W. Weintraud titled “Schicksale wurttembergischer Auswanderer im Jahre 1817″ (“Fates of Wurttemberg Emigrants in 1817”) about the Zee Ploeg shipwreck survivors, he tells us on page 16 that:

The emigrants from Wurttemberg boarded rafts in the town of Heilbronn in Germany and traveled on those on the rivers Neckar and Rhine to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, they spent weeks to find a shipping company willing to take them onboard to the United States.

Heilbronn isn’t far from Beutelsbach, but I wonder why they didn’t board boats or barges on the Neckar at either Remseck or Bad Cannstatt, both of which were closer.

The family group traveled up the rivers to intersect with the Rhine at Mannheim and down the Rhine to Rotterdam, through bucolic castle country of the middle Rhine Valley.

By Alice F.A. Mutton Karl A. Sinnhuber (Enc. Britannica) – Rhine River History and Maps Rhine river, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49873

The immigrants must have enjoyed the beautiful German countryside, places they had never seen before and would never see again. They were sailing in May, and spring would have been unfurling green leaves like tendrilled fingers and colorful spring flowers.

For the Germans, the Rhine was a one way ticket out.

The trip would have been chilly in the spring time, but beautiful nonetheless and their hearts would have been joyful and filled with hope.

The Middle Rhine is chocked full of castles on vistas overlooking the river and vineyards perched on hillsides which would have made them feel right at home.

They were leaving Germany, so this float trip through some of the most beautiful country in the world was somehow a fitting goodbye that would leave them with memories of the best that Germany had to offer.

In 2017, I traced the route that Dorothea and family would have taken. I wondered what they thought as they passed the castles representing thousands of years of German history. Had they even heard of these locations and did they have an appreciation for the beauty, or were their sights so firmly planted on their distant destination that they didn’t notice their surroundings as they floated towards the ocean?

By Alexander Hoernigk – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47815374

As the group of immigrants floated closer to the sea, the land flattened out and became low and floodprone.

The Rhine intersected the Ijssel where the barge would turn towards Amsterdam. On the horizon, windmills became visible to manage waterflow and drainage canals appeared in the distance.

As they sailed further into the spring time, tulips and daffodils began to bloom in the flat Dutch countryside, beside the canals. This land was dramatically different from Germany and would have looked like an entirely different world. Vistas of beauty opened before their eyes on every horizon.

On they traveled.

As spring burst into full bloom in April and May, it must have seemed like Mother Nature herself was blessing their journey.

After arriving on the coast of the Netherlands, probably in May, the trip was delayed week to week and then month to month, until at last, in July, the group found a ship in Amsterdam on which to book their passage and prepared to leave port.


Amsterdam was a hub of maritime activity, even though sailing from Amsterdam meant sailing around barrier islands in the sea. Why didn’t they sail out of Rotterdam, a closer and more accessible port? That answer is forever lost to time.

Today, Amsterdam houses the museum of the East India Trading Company with a reconstructed ship that would have been similar to the ship that Dorothea Catharina and her family boarded to set sail for Philadelphia.

I visited Amsterdam, knowing that my ancestor Govert Van Oy (Vannoy) along with his wife and children set sail from here in 1664 for New Netherlands. However in the summer of 2017, I didn’t yet know that Dorothea Catharina’s family, consisting of 4 of my ancestors set sail from this very same location exactly 200 years ago. In fact, they were in Amsterdam, probably on this very quay, waiting to sail 200 years and 2 days before I stood there, in complete ignorance, in 2017.

Sometimes synchronicity is simply amazing. I like to think Dorothea might have had a hand in this!

The Zee Ploeg

The ship on which they booked passage was named the Zee Ploeg, also spelled Zee Ploug and was 136 feet long, 32 feet wide and 16 feet high. Of course, that 16 feet was without masts. The masts were a LOT taller.

This drawing is of a similar ship. No actual drawing of the Zee Ploeg exists today.

Touring the reproduction ship at the Amsterdam West India Company Headquarters Museum was quite interesting.

I looked up!

Nope, I could never be a sailor.

This reproduction ship was 157 feet long, so 21 feet longer than the Zee Ploeg, and those masts are 183 feet tall. Reaching the crow’s nest was accomplished by climbing the rope ladders. Nope. Just no.

Let’s go inside.

I had never really thought about bathroom facilities. This lid opens directly over the ocean. There was one “toilet” per side of the ship. The captain and officers had their own.

Crates and barrels with food and water were stored below deck, along with the passengers.

Wealthy passengers had boxes that resembled small bunk beds, but our family, according to Jacob Lentz’s later letter, in essence had the cheap seats. Cheap seats weren’t beds at all, but hammocks where you simply pulled the side fabric over you for a blanket. I wonder how many people slept in each hammock.

Here, my friend Yvette Hoitink, Dutch genealogist extraordinaire, and I are practicing. Getting in and out of the hammock required far more grace than I possess. All I can say is that it’s a good thing there isn’t movie evidence, because it would be a comedy, trust me!

Setting Sail

On July the 7th, 1817, finally, the Zee Ploeg set sail from Amsterdam.

Four days later, they were skirting the island of Texel, where the ship had to pass in a channel between Texel and either the island to the south or Vlieland to the north in order to enter the Atlantic ocean.

From Amsterdam to the southern point of Texel is about 65 miles, but the nautical route wasn’t as direct. In this wonderful article, the author visited the Jutters Museum and provides photos of dioramas as well as several old maps that show the location of the West India docks in Amsterdam and the water “roadway,” as they were called at the time, to Texel where the ships would resupply, taking on their last fresh water for the voyage.


When the emigrants arrived in Texel, foul weather ensued and continued until August 5th, nearly a month. They spent the month riding out the bad weather on the ship at Texel, waiting for the storms and wind to abate.

You can see Amsterdam in orange and the island of Texel near the top on the old maritime map below. This map was actually created with north to right, but I’ve rotated it to reflect the actual geography.

In this contemporary satellite view, you can see the treacherous waterways between the island and the mainland (in green) that require a highly qualified pilot or Captain, in the terms of 1817, to navigate.

All of the green area between the island and the mainland are shallows that used to be land not long ago.

I stood on the island of Vlieland looking at Texel to the south, exactly 200 years later, to the day, that they were anchored in this very location. Of course, I had no idea the significance at the time. What I did know is that another ancestor of mine, Govert Van Oy had died en route to New Netherlands in 1664 at age 39 and was buried on the island of Texel.

Texel is the island in the distance. The weather was much better the day I stood on these sands staring across the channel.

However, the grim reaper reached out for me there too. I was felled by a cobblestone, broke my femur, messed up my knee in such a way that I have a permanent souvenir, and suffered from blood clots in my leg. I think those islands have it in for my family – although the Island of Vlieland possesses a sorceresses’ hypnotic, alluring charm – beckoning one to return.

Ironically, the letters in the sand created by specially cast tires for the tour bus are poetry that translates roughly as:

What makes the deepest impression
Will be touched by the water
Let no man disturb
The sea will have the last word

Each year a tire poetry contest is held, but the 2017 winning poem seemed particularly prescient for Dorothea 200 years earlier.

The Most Difficult Ancestor

This is the point where I have to tell you how difficult this article was to write. Where I get to explain that I have nightmares about what Dorothea endured. Where I confess that I almost couldn’t write this one. That I feel compelled to provide you with a PTSD trigger warning. No movie could be more dramatic. You may forget to breathe. You may wish you hadn’t read this when you’re done.

You’ve been warned.

I also get to reveal that I think Dorothea survived, but I’m not positive. What I am positive of is that not everyone in the family did.

This is the wrench-your-heart-right-out-of-your-chest-through-your-throat ancestor story. A Halloween nightmare come true.

As if Dorothea’s life hadn’t already been difficult enough before leaving Beutelsbach; the worst, by an immeasurable degree was yet to come. The indescribable terror of what lay ahead made Beutelsbach with all the death, burials and challenges look like an ice cream social on a balmy sun-kissed Sunday afternoon.

The storm clouds were gathering, figuratively and literally, and they would unleash in an unimaginable, eternal, hell-fire torrent of terror.

But first, let’s take a look at what we know already.

Jacob’s Letter

Dorothea’s daughter, Frederika Ruhle/Reuhl had married Jacob Lenz (spelled Lentz in America.) They, of course, were passengers on this ship as well. Jacob Lentz and Frederika’s grandchildren documented the story that Jacob told them about the journey.

Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz, born in 1867 in Indiana recorded what his father, Johann Adam Lentz, reportedly born in 1819 in Shippensburg, PA, told him about his parent’s trip.

George William reportedly wrote the story for his son, Roscoe, born in 1891. By process of elimination, we know that this story, styled as a tribute to Jacob Lentz, was recorded for posterity sometime between 1891 and 1946 when George William died. Thank goodness it was! There was also a slightly different second documented story. Each story provided a few details that the other didn’t.

In essence, Jacob said that he along with his wife, Frederica, 3 or 4 children (depending on which letter) and his wife’s sister immigrated.

One of Jacob and Fredericka’s daughters, Elizabeth Lentz, died during the passage. We know she left with the family, because the children’s citizenship rights were preserved in the immigration document where they were specifically named.

According to William George’s letter, the entire family became shipwrecked on the western coast of Norway where they were “brought to a disappointment in life that they were never able to find words to express. Six months later, they found a captain that would transport them to America, stipulating that they would sell themselves as indentured servants upon their arrival to pay for their passage.” The only caveat was that the family would not be separated.

The rest of the tribute letter deals with Jacob’s later life after arrival.

Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz was clearly recording what his father had told him. Johann Adam Lentz, named after his grandfather Johann Adam Ruhle, was born seven months after Jacob and Frederica arrived, apparently while they were indentured, and died in 1906. Finding Johann Adam Lentz’s baptism record would shed light on a more precise location where they were indentured.

In 1867, when Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz was born in New Paris, Indiana, Frederica Ruhle Lentz had already passed away and Jacob Lentz was an old man of 84 years, living peacefully in Montgomery County, Ohio, on a farm a few miles outside of Dayton. Jacob died in 1870, three years later.

I expect that Jacob never met grandson, George William, and if he did, George William would never have remembered, because he was 3 years old when Jacob died in another state 190 miles distant over dirt roads that would have been traversed in a wagon, if at all. That’s a nontrivial trip of between 9 and 20 days, depending on how difficult the travel. In other words, George William certainly didn’t personally remember Jacob telling stories about his journey to America.

What George William wrote is what Jacob Lentz had told William George’s father Adam, and what Adam conveyed to him.

Given what I’ve recently discovered, it’s entirely possible that Jacob Lentz couldn’t bring himself to even think about 1817 and 1818, let alone talk about those events.

However, there was one piece of information not recorded in the tribute document that surfaced from another cousin, descended from another child of Jacob Lentz, and that was the place name of Bergen. Bergen is a city in Norway, on the coast, but far north of where they were supposed to be. Bergen is just about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. What would the Zee Ploeg have been doing up there?

But more important, who could make up something that specific? An out-of-the-way off-the-beaten-path place name that I’d never heard of before, tucked in a Norwegian fjord? Was there perhaps some grain of truth in the shipwreck story after all?

Nah, couldn’t be.


My friend and cousin, Tom made the discovery that broke through this brick wall. Not only did he discover that Fredericka’s surname was Ruhle, he then used that information to unravel the location where they lived in Germany. Then, as the icing on the cake, he found documentation of their shipwreck in, you guessed it, Bergen, Norway.

It was Tom that found the ship’s name, the Zee Ploeg, translated as the Sea Plow.

This experience as it was unfolding was intensely surreal. Bergen, Norway, a shipwreck, a list of survivors and deaths of people in a hospital. Was this Jacob’s ship? Was he really shipwrecked? Was that story actually true?

The Lawsuit

The dates fit and we found mention of a Jacob Lentz filing a lawsuit in Bergen against the captain. Jacob and another passenger filed to request that the Captain, who was accused of negligence and attempted murder refund the price of their passage to the immigrants so that they could purchase tickets on to America.

Apparently, there was indeed a lawsuit, although the outcome is questionable. The Jacob Lentz tribute says that the Captain was hung.

According to this information from the Norwegian archives website, and auto-translated, it looks like the Captain may have been in jail and the suit may have been dismissed. However, look who filed the suit.

Carl O Gram Gjesdal mention proceedings against Zee Plogs captain in jail in the new year 1818. The occasion will, according to Gjesdal, have been that two passengers, Jacob Lentz and John Fiedler, had appealed to the authorities and received a licence to ‘ on ustemplet paper for the person in question under the law that let make the cases that they find themselves occasioned that grow toward the bemeldte captain, kapt. Poul Jan Manzelmann‘.  Do you know where this thing is located? It should have been accusations of drunkenness, poor seamanship, embezzlement, brutality, abuse, and murderer tampering attempts. He was also of some of the responsibility for that small children died during the crossing due to malnutrition. It was difficult with the evidence, and DOM’s formulation, according to have been Gjesdal,: ‘ the captain should replace them to citanterne for erholdt forlite provisions after unwilling men’s discretion … By the way he should as far as compensation is concerned, is considered to be free.  Iøvrig rejected the case. ‘ Mvh Arnfrid

From a publication by Dr. Karl J. R. Arndt titled “George Rapp’s Harmonists and the Beginnings of Norwegian Migration to America,” we discover a letter from one passenger to his brother describing the shipwreck.

“On September 5th, we lost all masts, also we were very badly treated by our disloyal captain. He did not give us the food which he was obligated to give us according to contract. This bought about great sickness so that over 200 souls died.”

In other words, the Captain intentionally starved his passengers…slowly…to death.

After reading that, my stomached tightened into a knot and I had to take a walk to deal with the intense overwashing emotions as the horrific ugly truth sunk in.




My ancestors.

No Justice

The suit filed in Bergen asked that the Captain be required to refund the immigrants’ money so that they could book other passage, but Captain Manzelman maintained that refunds were the responsibility of the shipping company. Under cover of darkness, he stowed away on a ship and left Norway for the Netherlands to escape being held accountable for his actions.

Jacob Lentz’s story indicates that the Captain was put to death, but that didn’t happen. Perhaps that’s what Manzelman deserved and what Jacob wanted. After all, Jacob’s own daughter, Elizabeth, was one of those that died. Elizabeth was Dorothea Catharina’s granddaughter. The entire family, along with the other passengers, probably despised the Captain. He was lucky that they didn’t simply take matters into their own hands and dispense their own brand of high seas justice. Who could have blamed them!

We already knew that Jacob and Fredericka’s daughter, Elizabeth, had died, but the fact that the rest of the family had survived belied the severity and terror of what actually happened.

Furthermore, from Jacob’s letter, we didn’t know how many family members were included in that journey. There were several more than were initially recorded.

Why did Jacob say nothing about them?

Who Was Traveling?

In the Ruhle/Lenz family group from Beutelsbach, we have the following documented immediate family members.

Name Birth Death Comment
Johann Adam Ruhle – Fredericka’s father January 30, 1764, Schnait After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Dorothea Katharina Wolflin (Ruhle) – Fredericka’s mother August 10, 1755, Beutelsbach Either January 14, 1818 or after October 7, 1818 Survived to Bergen, not in Bergen church death records, may have drown on January 14th or may have left Bergen in October 1818
Jacob Christian Breuning – Fredericka’s half-brother June 8,1783, Beutelsbach After August 1818 Left Bergen August 1818
Johann Georg Ruhle – Fredericka’s full brother April 25, 1794, Beutelsbach After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Katharina Koch – Johann Georg Ruhle’s fiancé/wife February 27, 1793 After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Friederika Ruhle (Lenz/Lentz) – Dorothea and Adam’s daughter March 3, 1788, Beutelsbach March 22, 1863, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America
Jacob Lenz (Lentz) – Fredericka’s husband May 15, 1783, Beutelsbach April 10, 1870, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America
Jacob Franklin Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s son November 28, 1806, Beutelsbach March 23, 1887, Dayton, Ohio Survived to America, married Sophia Schweitzer
Fredericka “Fanny” Lentz (Brusman) – Fredericka and Jacob’s daugther July 3, 1809, Beutelsbach October 9, 1897, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America, married Daniel Brusman
Elizabeth Katharina Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s daughter March 28, 1813, Beutelsbach Between September 5 and October 17, 1817 Died at sea on way to Bergen
Maria Barbara Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s daughter August 22, 1816, Beutelsbach November 9, 1899, Elkhart Co., Indiana Survived to America, married Henry Yost

The Zee Ploeg

This beautiful model of the Zee Ploeg was lovingly crafted by model builder Knut Hanselmann. The model can be admired in the church at Herdla. Photo by Håkon Andersen / Askøy Church Joint Council. My gratitude to both men as well as the church and Christian Rieber who commissioned the model. You can read more here.

Bergen City Archives

The Bergen City archives tells us that the ship, Zee Ploeg, carried approximately 560 German immigrants who were sailing for Philadelphia when they became stranded in Norway after their ship lost a mast and floundered in the North Sea.

How, in Heaven’s name, did they ever fit 560 people in a ship that was 126 feet long by 32 feet wide at the widest point – in addition to supplies, food and their possessions? How did the passengers even lay down, at all?

In Bergen, a committee consisting of the magistrate’s president, a councilor, the police chief, the city physicist and three citizen representatives was appointed to carry out the onerous task of looking after the refugees. Most were housed on the ship Noah Ark which was tethered to the Zee Ploeg in a harbor north of Bergen as they waited. There was no housing to accommodate that many people. The committee received supplies, housing and medical assistance from local people as well as from the Norwegian royalty. Keep in mind that Norway too had suffered from the crop failures associated with 1816, plus a recent war in which they were defeated and given to Sweden, as a spoil of war.

In the summer of 1818, about 80 stranded Germans who could obtain or had funds remaining departed, but the remainder of the 250-270 poor people were sent to America on the ship, Prima, departing on October 7th.

The Bergen City Archives possesses the negotiation protocol that the committee utilized in an unbound booklet of 107 pages. It contains a summary of the committee’s many meetings and discussions. There are also two lists of emigrants, namely those who went on with “Captain Fischer’s Ship” (probably Susanna Catharina) and secondly the Prima on October 7, 1818. It is possible that this protocol has not yet been used in the research around this event, as Professor Semmingen never mentions this document.

I am not yet in receipt of a translated (or untranslated) copy of this second list from the October sailing. That list will, I hope, resolve the question of whether Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Reuhle survived.

The Letter

I have been extremely fortunate to have the assistance of my German friend, Chris, who has been able to unearth several research sources due to the fact that German is his Native language and he has at least a rudimentary understanding of Norwegian.

I am ever so grateful.

Chris found a letter, written by a German survivor in Bergen to his family back home.

The next part of this story about the actual voyage itself is best told in the author’s own words, translated from German which I’ve included as a footnote for reference.

Chris was unsure of some words (in italics) in modern language. Chris’s comments to the original in [italics].

English Letter Translation

Unfortunate ride of the Dutch frigate d`Zeeploeg

Bergen in Norway, February 23, 1818.

I made a promise to you in Amsterdam last year to give you some report from North America both on the country’s customs, as well as on the life and destinies of the German expatriates, and about my sea voyage. But I cannot fulfill this promise, because the Lord has decided to cross my plans to come to America. I want to describe to you as much as possible our misfortune, but I do not know exactly where to start, and from where to take the colors to faithfully design our misfortune and the misery of the passengers. For the unfortunate accident which came over us on this journey by the loss of our masts was terrible in every case. For 28 days we were in mortal fear, no rescue seemed possible, death and destruction threatened us on all sides, and despair had almost seized the emigrants on the high seas, if religion and hope had not been the support, on which our self-preservation would have been founded.

After 2 months of rest, I left the port of Amsterdam on the evening of July 7, 1817 at 7 o’clock with several families from Wurttemberg, Mr Heinrich Diezel, merchant from Lahr in the Breisgau, and equipped with the best recommendation letters from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, with the plan to board the frigate d’Zeeploeg in Texel, and to start the voyage to America. However, the tide prevented us from leaving the road, and so it took until 12 o`clock until we were able to make our way. On July 11 in the evening at half past ten we happily arrived there. I was greeted by the ship`s captain H. E. Manzelmann with all humanity and hospitality.

Our ship personnel consisted of the captain, the main steersman, the subordinate steersman, the ship surgeon, 3 passengers in the cabin, 30 seamen, and many passengers, men and women, all from the state of Wurttemberg.

The wind was always unfavorable to us, although the anchors were hoisted several times. But as soon as the sails unfolded, storms and adverse winds overtook us and the anchors had to fall again. The sky always seemed unfavorable to us, and so it lasted until the 5th August, when we left the dockyard in Texel in the afternoon at 4 o’clock, with the favor of a good wind from North-East. We arrived at the water mouth at 5 o’clock, when our ship was brought in instant danger through a crooked direction. The residents of Den Helder already started to bring their small boats from the shore to the water to help us, when we were suddenly rescued and brought to anchor by a clever turn of our ship. But we did not stay long in this embarrassing situation, for at six o’clock we happily sailed around the dangerous places, which filled us with horror, and with full sails we passed through the night, happily facing our destinies.

We were already in view of the English coast on 9 August, and no obstacle seemed to be in our way anymore to reach the channel. But the wind from South-West, which soon became stormy, forced us to retreat on the 10th at 1 o’clock in the morning. And so we maneuvered through the Northern Sea to the left and to the right, fighting with the elements. The result of our 17-day voyage was, therefore, that we had to anchor on the evening of the 16th in the North Sea, at the mouth of the Texel and on the 17th at 6 o’clock in the morning we anchored at the dockyard in Texel, and did not know, when we would be able to leave the dock again, since we first had to fill our food supplies. However, on 24 August, at 3 o’clock in the morning, the anchors were again hoisted to leave the dock, after we were provided with provisions at 9 o’clock in the evening of the 23rd by two ships. A favorable north-east wind filled our sails, and at 6:30 we had already passed the most dangerous places of the estuary. A heavenly sky had a beneficial effect on the minds of the emigrants, everyone was in a happy mood and seemed revived, and with a calm heart we confidently faced towards a better future. But alas, only too soon we were interrupted again in our course, because on the morning of the 26th at 11 o’clock the wind turned south again, so that we could not enter the canal, but rather had to sail around the whole of England. On the morning of the 27th at 8 o`clock we saw the coast of Norway, and on the 29th the coast of Scotland. The Arcadian Islands offered us a beautiful sight. Until then we still had good weather.

On 31 August we sailed with a favorable wind into the ocean, but it lasted scarcely 24 hours, when we were attacked by contrary winds and heavy storms, continuously raging until 4 September, when the storm turned into a terrible hurricane. It is impossible to describe how our heavy ship was thrown high into the air by the waves, and thrown back into the abyss of the sea. People fell overboard from the all-too-strong movement, and drowned. But the horror was still ahead of us: On the evening of 5 September at 5:30 pm the “Kleverbaum” mast broke. With great difficulty the sailors barely had it fixed again when, at 6 o’clock, the great mast with the pram masts went overboard. Caused by strong winds and the high sea flooding the ship. We all tried as hard as we could to cut the ropes to get rid of the broken ship masts. Now we were glad to have kept at least one mast, but at 6:30 pm the foremast broke and at 7 o’clock the bowsprit. So we found ourselves in the absence of anything that otherwise would have provided the ship with its stability. The sea broke the cabin windows from the back, so that the water came streaming in, but the damage was soon repaired.

Now we drifted without masts in the high sea, on all sides over 300 miles from the firm land. At 2 o’clock in the night, boats and sloops (which were mounted on the roof) broke loose and we were forced to throw them overboard, along with the barrels of water, bacon and meat. The cannons, having been loosened by the vigorous movements of the ship, also rolled across the deck and destroyed the hatchways, so that now the water also flew down to the passengers. The water stood three to four feet high in the emigrants` beds. We all believed that this would be our last night, and it was a misery to watch one sailor carried the other on his back into the cabin to lay him down and then go back to work, because almost all the sailors were blessed. One had broken his arm, the other one a leg, and the third one had crushed his feet by a water barrel rolling over it. Only five sailors remained able to work, which is why we had to jump in to work as well. I was just on the deck, when the high sea struck the ship, and we all lay in the water. I am only still alive today, because I was holding fast to a rope, otherwise the sea would have washed me away. Two sailors and six passengers lost their lives, so we always had death occurring in front of our eyes. The captain and the helmsmen, who were also blessing, and the sailors all gave up their hope. On the 10th we put up a piece of wood, which had to serve us as a mast to at least have a sail and to steer with it, God willing, to the solid land.

On 13 September we made the first emergency shot, but no one on the high seas came to our aid; drearily we had to continue steering. By 11:15 pm we got to see the island of Ferro [Faroe Islands?]. We made several shots early in the morning, but in vain. With no pilots on board we were not allowed to sail ashore. We also could not row towards the shore, because we did not have any small boats left. We had lost everything, everything. Here we finally hoped to enter the harbor. No, no! A new storm from the southwest hurled us back into a cliff-top sea, and so we drifted along for another 14 days, until the 29th of September, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when we got to view the northernmost coast of Norway. The wind was favorable to us to sail along the coast. We kept firing our canons, but nobody came to help us. A cup of water was on sale on our ships for 4-5 Dutch Stbr. [some kind of currency], the emigrants received two pounds of bread for an entire week since we had lost the masts until, thank God, on 4 October, we were seen by a fisherman, who came towards us, and piloted us in between the Norwegian mountains. In the evening, at 9 o’clock, we came to anchor between mighty high mountains at Seillanger, 10 miles from Bergen in Norway. Here we had to hold quarantine for 8 days, because the Norwegian government was afraid we could bring an infectious disease into the country. But on the 8th day we were freed from quarantine and we headed towards the city, where we anchored on 13 October in the night at half past eleven, in Sandviken, fifteen minutes from Bergen. The ship’s staff was sick, both sailors and passengers. I had to endure a serious illness as well, and probably would have been robbed away by death, if not the upright German family of Captain Christian Petersen, native of Hamburg, had accepted and fed me. I had to stay in bed for two months, but now I am pretty well again. Truly, Germany has good people! I am staying happily with this family now. They offer with German cordiality everything they can contribute to make my stay pleasant.

Because I do not know how to describe our misfortune faithfully and dreadfully enough, I note only the following points, which were most terrible.

1) The unfortunate coincidence of our ship losing its masts was in any case terrible.

2) To hear the terrible shouting, while the poles were being cut off, in the cabin of the wounded sailors, on the roof of captain and helmsmen. Below the deck, screams of anguish of the poor passengers, to whom the water had already penetrated 3-4 feet high into the ship, and terrible was the whizzing of the high seas, which towered up high above us.

3) The starvation of the poor passengers, which killed many small children (because you were not able to get any food from the storage room because of the huge storm. For four to five days we received nothing to eat or drink.

4) Upon our arrival in Bergen, the passengers were transferred to another boat without masts, which was tied to the frigate Zeeploeg. A dreadful storm from the northwest raged on January 14, forcing the boat off the frigate, driving the unfortunate passengers towards the sea. I was just on the “Aark Noa” (the small boat) to visit the new rooms of the emigrants, when the boat started to drift away. Big boats and sloops were sent to us, but too late to save us all. The ship came to a cliff, whereupon it failed; I jumped for life or death 8-10 feet across towards a small boat approaching us, which was already half full of water, approaching us, and succeeded with this dreadful leap. Of the 200 passengers on board, 75 drowned. Eight days later, 20 more died of terror; the rest were all sick.

On the journey from Amsterdam to Bergen died: 150 passengers.

Washed away with the high seas aboard: 6 passengers and 2 sailors

Injured on the “Aark Noa” in Bergen: 95 passengers

                                                                  In total: 251 passengers

Just take a minute and breathe.

Zee Ploeg Timeline

I have constructed a timeline based on the above letter as well as other sources such as the Rappite letter.

  • February 12, 1817 – permission to emigrate granted
  • March 30, 1817 – scheduled boarding
  • April 30, 1817 – Heilbron, Germany, barge being loaded at the inn, the Krane
  • May 7, 1817 – approximate arrival in Amsterdam based on the letter referring to departing “after 2 months of rest”
  • May 25th – left Amsterdam (per the Rapp letter,) where Johannes Hasert died and was buried on the island of Holder (probably Den Helder, across the channel from Texel)

  • July 7th – left Amsterdam, per the above survivor letter
  • July 11th – Texel, boarded the Zee Ploeg, waited for good winds and no storms
  • August 5th – left Texel, nearly capsized
  • August 9th – saw the English coast
  • August 16th – back in Texel again due to storm
  • August 17th – at the docks in Texel to replenish food supplies
  • August 24th – food supplies replenished, left Texel again
  • August 26th – high winds forced ship to sail around England
  • August 27th – saw coast of Norway
  • August 29th – saw coast of Scotland, Orkadian Islands

  • August 31st – favorable winds for 24 hours
  • September 1-4 – heavy storms, continuously raging
  • September 4 – hurricane
  • September 5 – 5:30 PM – “Kleverbaum” mast broke

                        6 PM – great mast with pram masts went overboard

                        6:30 PM – foremast broke

                        7 PM – bowsprit broke, now adrift 300 miles out to sea

  • September 6 – 2 AM – boats, sloops and barrels broke loose, had to be thrown overboard, 2 sailors and 6 passengers dead, cannons rolled across deck and crashed through the hatchway
  • September 10 – raised piece of wood for mast.
  • September 13 – emergency shots fired, saw Ferro Island (Faroe Islands?)

  • September 27 – had been adrift for 14 days (letter above)
  • September 29 – saw the coast of Norway
  • October 4 – Seillanger (Skjellanger, on the north of Holsnoy near Herdla) – 10 miles from Bergen, fisherman piloting us, quarantine for 8 days (note, Zee Ploeg Norwegian wiki page says this was on September 25th)

  • October 10, 1817 – list of survivors created after docking in Bergen
  • October 13 – freed from quarantine after 8 days to be towed into Bergen, anchoring in Sandviken 15 minutes from Bergen

Note – wiki page says the ship was anchored as Elsesro. Elsesro is in the same bay and very near Sandviken.

  • November 13 – Bergen records indicate they were quarantined for another 30 days after arriving in Elsesro

  • January 14th – Noah Ark was tethered to ship Zea Ploeg when a storm forced the small ship off of the Zee Ploeg into the sea. Of 200 passengers on board, 75 drown.
  • January 22 – 20 more passengers died from terror and the rest were ill

Take a Break

I feel like I just need to take some time here to gather myself and recover a bit before even trying to evaluate this letter and what it tells us.

I can’t even begin to imagine the raw terror, day and night, for a month, drifting at sea. Knowing every minute that it might very well be your last. Watching your loved ones suffer terribly.

And die.

And die.

And die.

The fact that you survived the last minute, the last hour or the last day had no bearing on the probability that you would survive the next minute, hour or day – or at all. Most ships in this predicament didn’t. This scenario played out hundreds if not thousands of times with ships full of passengers that DIDN’T survive. This is what they endured as their ships were ripped apart, board by board, by an angry, malevolent sea.

It took me days to mentally ”process” this letter, knowing that FOUR of my ancestors were on this ship. Not one, not two, not three, but four.

The information varies somewhat with various sources, both in terms of total number of passengers as well as the total number of deaths.

How many people were involved?


Totals from the passenger letter:

  • Amsterdam to Bergen – 150 died
  • Washed away at sea – 6 passengers, 2 sailors
  • January 14, Ark Noah – 75 drown
  • January 24, Died of terror – 20
  • Total Dead – 251 passengers, 2 sailors
  • If you add 80 people who left Bergen in August of 1818 and 270 that left in October 1818, the total number of passengers is 601 plus any that went back to Germany and several orphans who were adopted and stayed in Bergen. Twelve surnames are reported among the Germans who remained permanently in Bergen, although those may have been children who were not included in the original passenger count. Bergen sources indicate that as many as 100 Germans returned to Germany, although I don’t know how that number was arrived at. It could have been an assumption to account for a discrepancy in the number of passengers who left Bergen, the number known dead from church records, and reports of very few who died on the ship before shipwrecking.

Total number of passengers and death totals from other sources vary:

From the Rapp letter:

  • 500 passengers out of Amsterdam
  • 200 deaths on way to Bergen
  • 100 went back to Germany
  • Several stayed in Bergen (orphans were placed in homes and adopted)
  • All 30 infants born at sea died
  • Passengers on Susanna Constant Bergen to Philadelphia in August 1818 – Rapp letter says 80 wealthy passengers paid their way, but also that 107 arrived in Philadelphia.
  • These combined equal about 758 passengers total, if you add the 270 passengers who also left on the ship Prima in October and the people buried in Bergen.

From the Bergen city site:

  • 24 people were buried at the new graveyard, Fredens Bolig, which was built on Stølen. The last of these tombs was removed in 1968 and the graveyard later converted into a park. The area is located at Krohnengen School and is still called “Graven”.

  • 41 people died and were buried at St. Mary’s Church, according to parish records

  • 80 left on Susanna Catherina
  • 270 left in October on Prima
  • There is no mention of anyone returning to Germany, nor of the orphans who remained in Bergen.

From the Zee Ploeg Wiki site:

  • 560 immigrants, 21 man crew plus captain
  • 10 passengers died of food shortage before arriving in Bergen
  • 16 died after ship was towed to Bergen but before passengers allowed to leave ship
  • 24 additional died in the hospital in Bergen
  • 80 left on ship Susanna Catherina
  • 273 left on ship Prima
  • 100 returned to Germany
  • List of 41 dead and buried in St. Mary’s Church (unclear if the 24 or 16 above are included in this number, although 24+16=40)

Where is Our Family?

From scattered piecemeal documents, we discover that Johann Adam Ruhle survived, in part because there is a hospital record for him in 1818, after the treacherous January Noah Ark ship catastrophe. I have been unable to find him in America, although he isn’t listed in the burials in Bergen.

Adam Ruhle is listed as being in the hospital in August of 1818:

  • Adam Ruhle fra Do. til nu Han og Søn 2 Børn Except Spiise for 6 Uger Hele Tiden
  • Adam Ruhle from Do. until now he and son
  • 2 Children Except Spiise for 6 Weeks all the time

The archive document states that Adam Rühle and his two sons had been in the Bergen hospital. This old document presented challenges to translate, and not just the words, but the meaning.

My Norwegian friend translated this passage as meaning that Adam and his two children received support from October 1817 until “now” meaning August of 1818. It appeared that Adam and one son had been at the hospital the whole time period and they received food except for 6 weeks. That means he would not have been on the Noah’s Ark. In other words, being in the hospital probably saved his life.

The original hospital building is gone but was located where the yellow building stands today.

In a second entry, Johan Georg Ruhle with wife both began receiving support from December 14th. Johann until May 24th, but his wife until now, “August.” Both had been at the hospital for two months, sometime between December 14th and May 24th, 1818.

There is no mention of Adam’s wife! So, either Dorothea isn’t ill, or she isn’t there. Perhaps the reason that they didn’t receive food at the hospital for a 5-week period is because Dorothea was bringing food to them. But how and from where?

We know that Dorothea’s son, Johann George Ruhle survived at least until May 24th, as did his wife, because they bury their baby May 27th, 1818. They apparently left, because they aren’t listed in the burials. Presumably, they both survived the crossing in the fall of 1818, although I have been unable to find them in America.

We know that Jacob, Fredericka and three of their 4 children survived, because they lived to tell about it in America, and I was able to identify those family members in Ohio after 1830. We know that daughter, Elizabeth, perished during the journey to Bergen because the list of survivors compiled in October shows only 3 children with Jacob Lenz and we know that 4 left Germany. Furthermore, Jacob’s own account tells us that daughter Elizabeth died “on the sea.”

That must have broken his heart.

Where is Dorothea?

Everyone is accounted for one way or another except Dorothea Katharina.

Where is Dorothea?

What happened to her?

One possible hint is found in the article by Weintraud where he provides information, as follows:

This list was compiled on 10-13 October 1817 of 424 passengers (including women and children), who started the voyage on the Zee Ploeg. The label “F” stands for “wife” and the number behind that for the number of children.

From Chris:

In case you wonder about the number “424 passengers”: It is stated earlier, on book page 17, that this list does not include the ship passengers who died before 10 October 1817. Furthermore, the list does not include orphan children of parents who had died before. Hence, in summary this is not a complete list of all Zee Ploeg passengers, but only the ones, who were adults and survived until 10 October 1817.

Hence, for example Adam “Rijle”/Rühle boarded with his wife and three children (“F, 3”).

That little one letter, “F” means that Dorothea survived, at least until October 10-13. This also tells us that the three “children” that were with them, meaning adult children, survived as well. Her son Jacob Christian Breuning, her son Johann George Ruhle and daughter Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, the sister of Fredericka referred to in Jacob’s letter. If Johanna Margaretha had died, Jacob would surely have said so, given that he mentioned that Elizabeth died and stated that Fredericka’s sister accompanied them.

Dorothea isn’t on the list of burials at St. Mary’s Church during the time that the immigrants were in Bergen, so her funeral wasn’t in the German church in Bergen, and she wasn’t buried in the cemetery.

What we don’t know is whether Dorothea drown on January 14th, her body being swept out to sea. It’s possible because the hospital states “except spouse.” So, Dorothea arrived, but she is not hospitalized with Adam Ruhle. She is also not recorded as having died and being buried.

So, she either drown in the Noah’s Ark accident, or she wasn’t ill and left Bergen in October.

If she did survive the January 14th accident, we don’t know if Dorothea survived the next leg of the journey after leaving Bergen, because the family is not home free just yet!

One additional piece of information that may be relevant for Dorothea and Adam is a final note stating that 28 immigrants weren’t sold as indentured servants in America, because no one was interested in them. Dorothea was a traumatized woman approaching 64 years old, so she may have been considered not worth “purchasing” for any amount of money.

Maybe, just maybe, that is what finally saved her. Although she surely would have accompanied her indentured family. What else could she have done?

Dorothea’s Son, Jacob Christian Breuning

The letter tells us that:

Before the “Susanna Catharina” left on 13 August 1818, a thank-you letter was written and addressed to the King of Norway, the Norwegian government and the Norwegian nation, who all had supported the emigrants during their stay for more than a year This letter was signed by Joseph Viedler, Adam Kuhl, Johannes Noedlinger, Christopher Ehemann, Jacob Christian Breuning, Leonhard Boss and Christian Fritz Ilg.

I was quite surprised to find Dorothea’s son listed here, because this implies one of two things. Either he had money to pay his own way, and was willing to leave his family behind, or he was a celebate Rappite. He was born in 1783, so 35 years old, and unmarried – which could mean that he had accumulated his own money, especially if he lived at home with his parents. The fact that he was unmarried could also mean he believed in the Rappite religion.

Regardless, he apparently left in August and presumably landed in Philadelphia with the rest of the passengers. From that point forward, his trail goes cold. Of course, if he was and remained Rappite, he has no descendants.

A Rappite Connection?

I have often wondered if there is a Rappite connection. In several letters written by members of Rapp’s colony, Harmonie, located in Indiana, 17 adults, by name, and a total of 29 people are mentioned as being part of the stranded Bergen passengers who were Rappite followers. A total of 60 people were reported to want to have their passage paid from Bergen to Philadelphia with the goal being to join the Rappites. I’m presuming that number is adults only, since children had no choice in the matter.

The letters mention one David Lenz, from Schnaith, who was already in Harmonie in 1816. Furthermore, although not referenced by name, 5 families from Schnaith are explicitly mentioned.

Furthermore, at least 15 of those adults were on the ship, Susanna Catharina that sailed in August from Bergen. In the Bergen records, the passengers on that ship were referred to as the wealthier passengers, but Rapp’s followers weren’t wealthy, they were simply going to be redeemed by Rapp when they arrived. However, Rapp’s funds became tied up in various ways, and either those passengers became stuck on the ship until they were ransomed by Rapp, or they were sold into indentured servitude. Rapp was able to redeem at least some of the passengers, which is why we know who they were.

At least 13 adult Rappite followers, plus children, sailed on the Susanna Catharina in August. There may have been more whose names aren’t included in the article, George Rapp’s Harmonists and the Beginnings of the Norwegian Migration to America by Karl Arndt.


Chris discovered a list of Separatists from both Beutelsbach and Schnait.

The list of Beutelsbach Separatists can be viewed here and Schnait here. Not all of the Separatists immigrated, only the ones noted in Germany by “Auswanderung.” By copying and pasting these links into the Chrome browser and translating, information is available in English.

The page indicates that from about 1680 to 1820, thousands of people separated from the church in Württemberg (until 1803 Duchy, then Electorate, since 1806 Kingdom) for religious reasons. Hence, they were called separatists. Since membership in the Lutheran church and regular attendance at the services and sacrament were compulsory, the separatists were interrogated and punished.

The names and biographical data of the Wurttemberg separatists and their co-thinkers in other dominions were collected from the files. The life data in brackets were determined by recalculation and should indicate the approximate age of the person.

Fundamental to the theme is the book by Eberhard Fritz: Radical Pietism in Württemberg. Religious ideals in conflict with social realities. Epfendorf 2003.

The source references refer to the following archives:

  • HStAS = Main State Archive Stuttgart
  • LB = State Archive Ludwigsburg
  • LKA = State Church Archive Stuttgart

I copied the Beutelsbach and Schnait families to an Excel spreadsheet, with the English translation, as follows:

I added color coding.

  • Yellow = immigrated in 1817. This may or may not have been on the Zee Ploeg, but 5 families were mentioned as being Rappites from Schnait, and there are 5 Separatist families listed as having left in 1817. Four are from Beutelsbach, but the two Lenz men could well have been born in Schnait. The villages are neighbors. Note that the Beutelsbach family page indicates that Ignaz Dobler immigrated to Russia.
  • Green = immigrated some other time. It’s worth noting that Jacob Hoffman and Margaretha Schillinger seem to be ringleaders, and both immigrated in 1818, along with Johann George Schwerdt, all going to Indiana. Both Jacob and Margaretha were on the Zee Ploeg and survived.
  • Red = Lentz or Lenz related family. Of these, two immigrated in 1817 from Beutelsbach, one went to Harmony, but we don’t know when and two went to Harmonie in 1804.

A more legible version of the above chart is available in the pdf file, Zee Ploeg Beutelsbach Schnait Families.

It’s evident from the number of red boxes that the Lenz family was heavily influenced by the Separatist movement. Even though Adam Ruhle and his wife weren’t listed as such, given that their daughter had married Jacob Lenz, and they lived in the same small village, the Ruhle family had clearly been exposed to this theology.

Who were these people?

  • Daniel Lenz born October 19, 1758 in Beutelsbach was the son of Daniel Lenz and Magdalena Kuhnle, the son of Daniel Lenz and Anna Katharina Lang, the son of Hans Lenz and Barbara Sing, an ancestor of the Jacob Lenz who married Dorothea Katharina’s daughter. Daniel Lenz Married Katharina Grotz born May 9, 1760 in Schnait and who is listed as having died in America. Translated, that means she left Schnait. Four of their children, Anna Maria born in 1788, Christina Magdalena born in 1791, Johannes born in 1794 and Daniel born in 1802 are also listed as having died in America. Therefore, if Daniel was on the Zee Ploeg, he would have departed with a wife and 4 children. There was a Daniel with 3 children who arrived. It’s certainly possible that one child died on the ship.
  • Johannes Lenz born in 1794 is likely the son of Daniel, above. There was a Johannes on the Zee Ploeg.
  • Gottfried Lenz, unmarried, was born September 4, 1782, the son of Adam Lenz born in 1740 in Beutelshach and Elizabetha Lenz born in 1736 in Schnait. Adam was the son of Johann Adam Lenz and Maria Katharina Bauer who was the son of Johann Georg Lenz and Sibilla Muller, who was an ancestor of Jacob Lenz who married Dorothea Katharina’s daughter. Elisabetha Lenz was the daughter of Hansjorg Lenz, of Schnait and Anna Barbara Kipler. Gottfried left for America in March of 1817, shortly after his last parent died, and nothing more of him is known. However his Lenz roots in both Beutelsbach and Schnait run deep. There is no Gottfried on the Zee Ploeg unless he is traveling as a member of another family.
  • Elisabetha Lenz born October 24, 1749 married Israel Stark in 1782. Their children were Johanna Margaretha born in 1788, Israel born in 1784 and immigrated in 1804 to Harmonie. Christian Stark, born in 1752 and who immigrated in 1804 to Harmonie was likely the brother of Israel and brother-in-law of Elizabetha. According to the Family Book, Elisabetha’s parents were Johann Jakob Lenz and Elisabetha Schmidin who married in 1756 in Beutelsbach. Johann Jakob’s parents were Hans Jakob Lenz and Anna Christina Jetzle, who was the son of Johann Georg Lenz and Anna Marit Vetterlin, the son of Georg Lenz who died in Beutelsbach and Barbara Kettler. There is a Johanna Stark listed on the Zee Ploeg.
  • I can’t tell who Johannes Lenz born in 1790 was. There is second Johannes Lenz on the Zee Ploeg.

The Separatists were not only Rappites, but anyone who separated from the traditional church. One has to wonder if people, both at home and onboard ship wondered if God indeed was punishing those who had left the church.

The Lenz family in Schnait seems to be full of rabble rousers, along with the Stark family perhaps. Given the circumstances, and their misbehaving ways, the rest of the community might well have been glad to see them depart. Dorothea Catharina Wolflin and her husband, Johann Adam Ruhle didn’t seem to be either Rappite or Separatist, nor was their daughter, Fredericka and her husband, Jacob Lenz, but they were, nonetheless, on that same ship.

Given the age of Dorothea’s two the adult sons, their unmarried state, and the fact that the Rappites were celibate, I wonder if the family was perhaps split in their beliefs. In America, after arriving in Ohio in 1829 or 1820, Jacob and Fredericka Lentz had become Brethren someplace along the way although not all of their children practiced the Brethren faith. Their eldest son, Jacob, did not and was Lutheran.

Dorothea’s son, Jacob Christian Breuning, born in 1783, so age 34, was single and left in August on the ship with the Rappites.

However, the Rappite theory doesn’t apply to Johann George Ruhle, born in 1794, who was age 23 and single. What do we know about Johann George Ruhle?

If he was a Rappite when he left Germany, he wasn’t by June.

Dorothea’s Son, Johann George Ruhle

We have multiple pieces of evidence that Johann George Ruhle survived, at least long enough to leave Bergen.

First, he’s listed as one of the children with Adam and Dorothea. Second, he is recorded as being in the hospital, by name.

Third, in a surprise twist of fate, a child by the name of Joseph Ruhle died on May the 27th and was buried the 31st.

That baby can’t belong to Dorothea and Adam, the only married Ruhle couple on the ship. Dorothea was 63 years old. The only other possibility is their son, Johann George Ruhle, but he isn’t married.

Or is he?

He wasn’t when he left Beutelsbach a year earlier.

We needed the baby’s baptism record.

Tom excavated the entry that states the child was baptized on February 27th, 1818.

Between Tom and Chris, the following information was pieced together.

“Son of Johann Georg Rühle og [and] Catharina Kochin, married in Bergen, Germans on the way to America.”

Adam Ruhle is one of godparents.

So, who was Catharina Kochin?

Sure enough, Tom found a marriage entry for Johann George Ruhle in Mariakirken parish as was the baptism.

The marriage took place on Feb. 8, 1818 and Johann George Ruhle is age 25.

“Johann Georg Rühle, vintner (vinedresser) from Wurttemberg. He plans to go to America. Catharina Kochin from Beutelsbach in Wurttemberg. [Witnesses] Gallus Stoll, butcher, Johann Melchior Fiedler [undecipherable], [married] in the church”

This Johann Melchior Fiedler could be identical or related to the “Johann Fidler,” who on January 8th filed suit together with Jacob Lentz against the ship’s captain.

Two things come to mind. They were married just two weeks after the terrible event of the Noah’s Ark breaking loose from the Zee Ploeg, drowning 75 people. Maybe they weren’t on that ship, or maybe that accident convinced them they should marry now and not wait until they arrived in America. Either way, they were both incredibly lucky to be alive.

Perhaps the baby wasn’t as fortunate. Born just 13 days later, the child could have been at least somewhat premature. He did live for 3 months, but weeks of his mother being starved and any other sort of health compromise could have contributed to or caused his death.

Dorothea’s son was married, and her grandchild was baptized in the Cross Church right around the corner from the hospital.

Little Joseph’s funeral was at St. Mary’s Church, a few blocks away.

The baby’s death was one more sadness and grief for our family on top of the rest.

For Dorothea, she didn’t just lose one grandchild, Elizabeth, who would have only been about three and a half and was buried at sea. A few weeks later, she lost her grandson by her son, born in Bergen – and that was AFTER managing to keep the baby’s pregnant mother alive and nourished for those miserable weeks on the sea.

I have to wonder if Dorothea gave some of her own food to her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Katharina, in order to save that baby. The baby who died anyway.

Who was Katharina Koch anyway?

Katharina Koch

The marriage record tells us that Katharina is from Beutelsbach, so she was clearly traveling with this group. An unmarried female would not have been traveling alone, even if she was 24 years old. She is not listed on the October survivor’s list by her own name, so she clearly was traveling with another family

Checking back with the Family Book, we discover a candidate to be Katharina.

This Katharina was born in 1793, so just a few months younger than Johann George Ruhle.

And look at who her mother is – one Anna Maria Ruhle, daughter of Michael Ruhle from Schnait and Anna Maria Vollmer. Michael would have been born no later than 1734, and possibly quite a bit earlier. We already know from Johann Adam Ruhle’s ancestry that a Michael Ruhle born in 1716 was born and died in Schnait and was married to Anna Barbara Lenz. These two families were quite intertwined.

Katherina Koch’s father had died in 1808, leaving her mother with children yet at home, including Katharina who would have been 15 when her father died.

Katharina’s mother died just three years after Katharina left for America.

As it turns out, Katharina Koch had an illegitimate child on January 16, 1815. The child died that same year. A second illegitimate child was born to her on September 22, 1816 and also died before year end. Katharina had certainly endured her fair share of heartbreak. In Bergen, her third child died.

A father was not listed in the birth record for either of her first two children. Tom indicates that a father would only be noted if he were present for the baptism and acknowledged that he was the father of the child.

Was Johann George Ruhle the father of her first two children? I’m guessing probably not, or he would have been present. Whatever the reason the father was absent, Katharina assuredly suffered from that humiliating situation, followed by the deaths of both children.

1816 was the year of drought, so it’s possible that her she was malnourished during that time, then starved at sea during her third pregnancy.

Regardless of the reason, by the time that her extended family was pondering leaving Beutelsbach, she had buried two babies in two years, had no husband and leaving for a new opportunity probably sounded like a fine idea to Katharina. We’ll never know if she left because she was romantically involved with Johann George Ruhle in Beutelsbach, or whether they became involved while traveling up the Rhine. If their son born in February was born full term, she would have gotten pregnant sometime between June 2nd and June 10th while the family was searching in Amsterdam for a ship to transport them to America.

Perhaps Johann George Ruhle and Katharina Koch had already decided to marry before leaving or in route. Perhaps by the time she discovered she was pregnant, the oceangoing portion of the trip was already underway and it was too late to marry. In fact, marriage was probably the last thing on her mind. Death would have been front and center – every single minute of every single day. Johann George was likely her only comfort and she was probably entirely convinced that both she and her unborn child would die in his arms. The fact that she actually managed to carry that baby to at least near-term is utterly amazing – considering what that young woman went through.

The Next Journey

Having said goodbye to their friends in Bergen, and certainly not without some amount of trepidation at boarding another ship, on October 7th, 1818, the 273 remaining German passengers climbed aboard the ship Prima, captained by Jacob Woxvold, and set sail for yet the fifth time for America.

The ship’s original goal was Philadelphia, but once again, Mother Nature got in the way, and they arrived in Baltimore on January 1, according to Jacob Lentz’s letter.

On May 4th, 1819, a few months after the Prima’s arrival earlier that year in January, another Harmonite letter tells of yet another near catastrophe. These ships carrying Jacob and Fredericka seem jinxed. I can only imagine their unrelenting, horrific fear as they were once again endangered on the sea, seemingly sure to perish.

This letter reports that the group passed through a violent hurricane that threatened to capsize their ship.

No, no, not again!

We find additional information about this journey in a paper written by Ingrid Semmingsen titled “Haugeans, Rappites and the Immigration of 1825,” published in “Norwegian-American Studies, Volume 29” in 1983. Semmingsen discussed the voyage of the Prima:

The Norwegian government had advanced 1,300 pounds toward their transportation which it hoped would be refunded when the ship reached an American port. The full cost of transportation ran to 2,200 pounds and the difference was arranged for by a naturalized German in Kristiana named Grunning.  More is known about this second crossing.

One of the crew of the Prima, presumably one of the officers if not the captain himself, wrote an account of the journey which was published in a Norwegian newspaper in 1826. He reported that there were 2 Catholic families among the passengers and the rest were Lutherans.

The people were described as religiously-minded, virtuous, and, considering their social class, well-bred. All of them had prayer books. Every morning and evening they prayed to God in a solemn and touching manner and sang hymns in clear, pure voices.

Before retiring they entertained themselves with song, dance, music, and games. On occasion they also passed the cup of friendship among themselves.

Skipper Woxland chose the southern route. This was undoubtedly wise considering the lateness of the season when he set sail. He took the Prima south to the coast of Portugal so as to utilize the trade winds, and it paid off. “With the never-failing dominance of this wind” they reached the West Indies, but there they ran into trouble. They had to fight a raging storm, the shipowner reported to the government, and they had to dock in Baltimore instead of in Philadelphia, which was their real destination.

But according to the report the ship, crew, and passengers were well received. A committee was appointed by the citizens, which consisted partly of fellow-countrymen of the newcomers. They brought food aboard the ship and also raised money to help defray travel expenses.

Furthermore, arrangements were made to secure employment or land for the emigrants. Everything was managed “in the best of order” to everyone’s satisfaction.

Only the leave-taking with the skipper and the crew was a sad experience for the emigrants. Many of them had learned to speak Norwegian during the long stay in Bergen, and they promised that they would never forget dear Norway or “the kindly disposed citizens of Bergen.”

Not all the passengers were as favorably impressed by their reception in America as this report would imply — at least not four persons who were bound for Harmony and who, a few months later, sent a letter from Philadelphia to “Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in God’s congregation in Bergen.”

To be sure, they praised the skipper and crew who, with God’s help, exerted themselves to the uttermost in order to save ship and passengers when a “terrible storm” almost caused the ship to capsize; but they were dissatisfied with Harmony, which had not “given orders to redeem us.” They also had encountered trouble with getting their passage paid for, and they were forced to seek release from paying the big bill “charged against us for the care we received in Bergen.” Clearly, the emigrants also had to work as indentured servants. “Then we were sold for the passage money: one down south, another up north; only four of us are here together, the others are scattered.”

However, they continue, “America is a good country. Poor people live better here than the wealthy ones in Bergen and Germany. Wages are good. While we are in service, we are given good food and clothing and we have many free periods. We hope that we will soon earn our freedom and then be gathered together as one congregation.”

This account is interesting, especially in light of the following article dated January 20, 1818 from the Brooklyn, New York, Long Island Star, page 3.

In retrospect, it‘s difficult to discern if this article is actually suggesting that the ship docked on Long Island in New York, the area near where the Hamptons are located today, or if it is actually reflecting the region still known as Hampton Roads which is in the North Carolina/Virginia region of the Chesapeake.

If the ship arrived on the 5th instant, that means the ship arrived on January 5th in that vicinity.

On the map below, Hampton Roads, or at least the area considered such today, is shown with the red pin.

The ship did not arrive at the original destination of Philadelphia, but instead docked in Baltimore. The article was reported in the Long Island paper, further north yet.

Given the commentary about their reception in Baltimore, and that “a committee was appointed by the citizens,” I wonder if there are any newspaper accounts or perhaps court notes in Baltimore that would provide additional information. I would surely love to find the indentured servant auction notes as they would provide us with the next chapter in Dorothea’s life – if she was still alive. And if not, her death would be confirmed and we could follow her family forward.

This view of Baltimore, painted just a few years before the family arrived probably looked quite similar to the landscape that greeted them – and terra firma had never looked better!

What Happened to Dorothea?

I sure wish I knew the answer to that question.

The last we truly know of Dorothea was on October 10th or 13th in Bergen where she, as Adam’s wife, was listed as present. She is absent on the hospital list, but not listed in the burial records.

The passenger letter indicates that several people drown on the Noah’s Ark, but Professor Simmingen in her paper states that all of the Germans were housed in the city before that time. However, it’s also speculated that Semmingen did not utilize the 107-page protocol from the Bergen City archives, as that document is never mentioned. It may have not yet been discovered at the time she wrote her article.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that the letter-writer would or could make up something as outrageous as the Noah’s Ark tragedy out of thin air. Perhaps both versions of the story are true, and the Germans had been removed temporarily in December into the city of Bergen while the Noah’s Ark was being tethered to the Zee Ploeg, with the accident happening in January as stated. The letter writer did state that he was “just on the Aark Noa to visit the new rooms of the immigrants” that had been created for the German families. It seems logical that the Zee Ploeg was uninhabitable by that point in time, given the extent of the damage incurred, and that in December of 1818, the ship was sold for scrap.

I am hopeful that one day, we’ll perhaps be able to locate Dorothea and maybe even Johann Adam Ruhle in the 1820 census. However, it’s likely that the entire family was indentured at that time, although if we could figure out who they were indentured to, our family is likely listed with them.

Barring indenture purchase records surfacing, or perhaps a baptism record of Johann Adam Lentz (Lenz), presumably someplace near Shippensburg, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania about August 30, 1819, it’s unlikely that we’ll reveal where the Ruhle and Lentz families spent the next decade – meaning of course that we won’t discover what happened to Dorothea.

Shippensburg spans the counties of Cumberland and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. As much as I hate to replow fields, I need to review the records in both counties for Reuhl/Ruhle/Ruhl as well as Breuning records on the off chance that Dorothea’s oldest son had second thoughts about Rappite life.

Additionally, Fredericka’s sister, Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, if she survived, would have been the right age to marry by 1820. If they were in Shippensburg at that time, a trace might be left, if not of Dorothea directly, then perhaps through her children.

Jacob Lentz and Fredericka had a child in Pennsylvania in 1829, and according to a newspaper article about their eldest son, moved to Montgomery County, Ohio in 1829. They are not found in the census in 1830 and could have been in transit or living with another family while they got established.

By 1830, Dorothea, if still living would have been 75 years old. Not impossible that she would be living, of course, but also not terribly likely either. If living, she would likely have been residing with a child.

Dorothea simply dissolves into the mists of time.

Regardless of how or where Dorothea died, she truly lived a remarkable life and survived an unprecedented tragedy. Actually, multiple tragedies.

I was blessed to trace Dorothea’s steps, in person, in Bergen, and narrated that journey from the perspective of Dorothea’s son-in-law, Jacob Lentz.

One thing is for certain, Dorothea was not the typical peasant girl from the tiny village of Beutelsbach. Forged, iron to steel, Dorothea survived against all odds.


Footnote of passenger letter transcription in German, courtesy of Chris:

Transcription of letter from a Zee Ploeg passenger in Bergen back to Germany (in: “Zeitung für die elegante Welt”, 15/16 May 1818, pp. 740-742 and 745-748):

Unglückliche Fahrt der holländischen Fregatte d`Zeeploeg

                                                                                 Bergen in Norwegen, den 23. Februar 1818.

Das Versprechen, welches ich Ihnen in Amsterdam v. J. [vorigen Jahres] gab, aus Nordamerika Ihnen einige Berichte sowohl über die dasige Landessitte, als auch von dem Leben und Schicksale der deutschen Auswand`rer, und über meine Seereise zu geben, kann ich nicht in Erfüllung bringen, denn dem Höchsten hat`s – gefallen, meinem Plane, nach Amerika zu kommen, entgegen zu seyn. Ich will Ihnen hiernach so viel als möglich unser Unglück beschreiben, nur weiß ich nicht recht, wo anfangen, und wo die Farben hernehmen, um unser Unglück und den Jammer des Passagiers treulich genug entwerfen zu können. Denn der unglückliche Zufall, welcher uns auf dieser Reise durch das Verlieren unserer Masten überfiel, war in jedem Falle schrecklich; 28 Tage lang schwebten wir in Todesangst umher, keine Rettung schien uns mehr möglich, Tod und Verderben drohte uns auf allen Seiten, und Verzweiflung hätte beinahe auf der hohen See die Auswand`rer ergriffen, wenn nicht Religion und Hoffnung die Stütze gewesen wären, worauf sich unsere Selbsterhaltung gegründet hätte.

            Nach 2 Monat langen Rasttagen verließ ich den 10. Juli 1817 Abends 7 Uhr mit einigen württembergischen Familien, Hrn. Heinrich Diezel, Kaufmann von Lahr im Breisgau, und mit den besten Zeugnissen von Amsterdam nach Philadelphia ausgerüstet, den Hafen von Amsterdam, um uns im Texel and Bord der Fregatte d`Zeeploeg zu begeben, und damit die Reise nach Amerika anzutreten, allein die Ebbe hinderte uns, die Rhede zu verlassen, und so konnten wir uns erst Nachts 12 Uhr flott machen. Den 11. Abends 10 ½ Uhr trafen wir auch glücklich da ein. Die Aufnahme, welche mir der Schiffskapitän H.E. Manzelmann wiederfahren ließ, war mit aller Humanität und Gastfreiheit verbunden.

            Unser Schiffspersonale bestand aus dem Kapitän, dem Obersteuermanne, dem Untersteuermanne, dem Schiffschirurgen, 3 Passagieren in der Kajütte, 30 Schiffsmatrosen, und vielen Passagieren, männlichen und weiblichen Geschlechts, alle aus dem Württembergischen.

            Der Wind war uns immer ungünstig, zwar wurden einigemal die Anker gelichtet, aber kaum hatten sich die Segel entfaltet, als uns Sturm und widrige Winde überfielen und die Anker wieder fallen mußten, der Himmel schien uns immer ungünstig, und so dauerte es bis den 5. August. Nachmittags 4 Uhr verließen wird unter Begünstigung eines guten Nordostwindes die Rhede im Texel, um 5 Uhr waren wir an der Mündung, wo unser Schiff durch eine schiefe Richtung in augenblickliche Gefahr zu stranden gerieth, die Bewohner des Helders waren schon beschäftigt, die am Ufer sich befindenden Kähne auf`s Wasser zu bringen, um uns damit zu Hülfe zu eilen, als wir plötzlich durch eine geschickte Wendung gerettet und vor Anker gebracht wurden; wir blieben jedoch nicht lange in dieser peinlichen Lage, denn um 6 Uhr passirten wir glücklich die gefährlichen Stellen, welche wirklich Grausen und Schrecken erregen, und mit gefüllten Segeln steuerten wir die Nacht durch, unserer Bestimmung glücklich entgegen.

Den 9. Aug. waren wir schon im Angesichte der englischen Küste, und kein Hinderniß schien uns mehr im Wege zu seyn, den Kanal zu erreichen, allein der Südwestwind, welcher bald in Sturm ausartete, nöthigte uns den 10. Morgens 1 Uhr zum Rückzug, und so lavirten wir, mit den Elementen kämpfend, auf eine angstvolle Weise die Nordsee links und rechts durch. Die Resultate unserer 17tägigen Seereise waren also, daß wir den 16. Abends in der Nordsee, vor der Mündung des Texels, die Anker werfen mußten, und den 17. Morgens 6 Uhr wieder auf der Rhede vom Texel vor Anker lagen, und nicht voraussehen konnten, wenn [wann] wir die Station wiederverlassen könnten, indem wir uns frisch verproviantieren mußten. Jedoch am 24. Aug. Morgens 3 Uhr wurden die Anker neuerdings gelichtet, um die Rhede zu verlassen, nachdem wir den 23. Abends 9 Uhr durch 2 Lichterschiffe mit Proviant verstärkt wurden. Ein günstiger Nordost[wind] füllte unsere Segel, und um 6 ½ Uhr hatten wir schon die gefährlichsten Stellen der Mündung passirt, ein heit`rer Himmel wirkte wohlthätig auf die Gemüther der Emigranten, alles war froher Laune, ein jeder schien neu belebt, und mit ruhigem Herzen sahen wir getrost einer bessern Zukunft entgegen, allein nur zu bald wurden wir in unserm Laufe unterbrochen, denn am 26. Morgens 11 Uhr drehte sich der Wind wieder nach Süden hin, so daß wir in den Kanal nicht eingehen konnten, sondern um ganz England herum segeln mußten. Den 27. Morgens 8 Uhr bekamen wir die Küste von Norwegen zu Gesicht, und den 29. jene von Schottland. Die arkadischen Inseln boten uns einen schönen Anblick dar. Bis dahin hatten wir noch immer gutes Wetter.

                        [here end of first part]

Den 31. August segelten wir mit einem günstigen Winde in`s Weltmeer, aber dieser uns günstige Wind dauerte kaum 24 Stunden, als wir von conträrem Winde und schwerem Sturme überfallen wurden, wlecher bis den 4. Immer schrecklich wüthete, da artete der Sturm zu einem fürchterlichen Orkane aus; nicht zu beschreiben ist`s, wie unser schweres Schiff von den Wellen Thürme hoch in die Luft, und wieder bis in den Abgrund des Meeres geschleudert wurde; Leute fielen von der allzustarken Bewegung über Bord, und ertranken, aber welcher Schrecken stand uns noch bevor, den 5. August Abends halb 6 Uhr brach der Kleverbaum. Mit aller Mühe hatten die Matrosen diesen kaum fertig, als um 6 Uhr der große Mast mit dem Pram-Maste vom zu starken Winde und der hohen See, die überschlug, über Bord fielen. Ein jeder bemühte sich nun, so gut er konnte, mit dem Abhauen des Tauwerks, um glücklich die Masten vom Schiffe los zu werden. Nun waren wir noch froh, einen Mast behalten zu haben, aber halb 7 Uhr brach auch der Fockmast und um 7 Uhr der Bogspriet, und so fanden wir uns nun ohne alles, was dem Schiffe sonst seine Haltung gibt. Die See schlug von hinten die Kajütten-Fenster entzwei, so daß das Wasser stromweise bei uns einlief, welches jedoch bald wieder gestillt wurde.

Nun trieben wir ohne Masten in der hohen See, auf allen Seiten über 300 Meilen vom festen Lande entfernt. Um 2 Uhr in der Nacht brachen Bote und Schaluppen los, (die auf dem Verdecke angebracht waren) man sah` sich gezwungen, diese, nebst den Wasserfässern, Speck- und Fleischtonnen über Bord zu werfen. Die Kanonen von der allzuheftigen Bewegung des Schiffes los geworden, rollten nun auch über`s Verdeck, und schlugen die Lucken entzwei, so daß das Wasser nun auch zu den Passagiers herunterschoß. Drei bis vier Fuß hoch stand das Wasser in den Betten der Emigratnen, wir glaubten alle, daß diese unsere letzte Nacht seyn würde, und es war ein Elend anzusehen, wie ein Matrose den andern auf dem Rücken in die Kajütte trug, ihn niederlegt, und dann wieder zur Arbeit ging, denn beinahe alle Matrosen waren blessirt, einer hatte den Arm, der andere ein Bein gebrochen, dem hatte ein Wasserfaß, das über`s Verdeck rollte, die Füße gequetsche, nur noch 5 zur Arbeit taugliche Matrosen hatten wir, deswegen mußten wir mit arbeiten. Ich war gerade auf dem Verdecke, als die hohe See das Schiff niederschlug, und wir alle im Wasser lagen, nur weil ich mich gewaltig an einem Taue fest hielt, blieb ich noch am Leben, sonst hätte mich die See mit weggespült. Zwei Matrosen und sechs Passagiere verloren dabei das Leben, und so hatten wir immer den Tod vor Augen. Der Kapitän und die Steuerleute, welche auch blessirt waren, und die Matrosen gaben alle Hoffnung auf. Den 10. Setzten wir ein Stück Holz auf, welches uns zum Maste dienen mußte, um doch wenigstens ein Segel zu haben und langsam dem festen Lande, so Gott wollte, zuzusteuern.

            Den 13. Septbr. [September] thaten wir den ersten Nothschuß, aber Niemand auf der hohen See kam uns zu Hülfe; trostlos mußten wir weiter steuern. Bis Abends 11 ¾ Uhr bekamen wir die Insel von Ferro [Färöan Islands?] zu Gesicht. Wir thaten des andern Morgens früh mehrere Schüsse, aber vergebens. Ohne einen Lootsmann am Schiffe zu haben durften wir nicht einlaufen. An`s Land konnten wir nicht fahren, denn wir hatten keine kleinen Fahrzeuge mehr; alles, alles hatten wir verloren. Hier hofften wir endlich in den Hafen einzulaufen. Doch nein! Ein neuer Sturm von Südwest schleuderte uns zurück in ein klippenvolles Meer, und so trieben wir noch 14 Tage umher, bis wird den 29. Sept. Nachmittags 2 Uhr die nördlichste Küste von Norwegen erblickten. Der Wind war uns günstig, um längst der Küste vorbeizusegeln; wir thaten immer Schüsse, aber Niemand kam zu uns. Der Schoppen Wasser wurde auf unserm Schiffe für 4-5 Stbr. Holländisch [some kind of currency] verkauft, 2 Pfund Brot bekamen die Emigranten für die Woche, seitdem wir die Masten verloren hatten, bis wir, Gott Dank, den 4. October, einen Fischer erblickten, welcher auf uns zufuhr, und uns zwischen die Gebirge von Norwegen einlotsete, und des Abends 9 Uhr zwischen mächtig hohen Gebirgen an Seillanger, 10 Meilen von Bergen in Norwegen, vor Anker brachte. Hier mußten wir 8 Tage Quarantaine halten, weil die norwegische Regierung befürchtete, wir würden eine ansteckende Krankheit in`s Land bringen, jedoch den 8. Tag wurden wir von der Quarantaine befreit und bogsierten der Stadt zu, wo wir den 13. Oct. In der Nacht halb 12 Uhr in Sandwigen [probably Sandviken], 1 Viertelstunde von Bergen, die Anker warfen. Das Schiffspersonal ist krank, sowohl Matrosen als Passagiers, auch ich habe schon eine schwere Krankheit ausstehen müssen, und wäre wahrscheinlich ein Raub des Todes geworden, wenn nicht die rechtschaffene deutsche Familie des Kapitän Christ. Petersen, von Hamburg gebürtig, sich meiner angenommen und mich verpflegt hätte; 2 Monate mußte ich das Bett hüten, jedoch befinde ich mich jetzt ziemlich wohl. Wahrlich, Deutschland hat gute Menschen! Bei dieser Familie befinde ich mich jetzt glücklich. Sie bieten mit deutscher Herzlichkeit alles auf, was sie dazu beitragen können, um mir den Aufenthalt angenehm zu machen. Diese Familie muß man lieben, als ein echtes Bild biederherziger Vorältern.

            Weil ich nicht recht weiß, unser Unglück treulich und fürchterlich genug zu schildern, so bemerke ich blos nachstehende Punkte, welche am schrecklichsten waren.

            1) Der unglückliche Zufall unseres Mastenverlierens war in jedem Falle schrecklich.

            2) Hörte man das fürchterliche Geschrei während des Abhauens der Masten, in der Kajütte von den blessirten Matrosen, auf dem Verdecke von Kapitän und Steuerleuten. Unter dem Verdecke das Angstgeschrei der armen Passagiers, zu denen das Wasser schon 3-4 Fuß hoch in`s Schiff gedrungen war, und schrecklich war das Zischen der hohen See, welche Thürme hoch über uns her schlug.

            3) Das Hungern der armen Passagiers (weil man wegen des allzugroßen Sturmes keinen Proviant aus dem Raume holen konnte), woran sehr viele kleine Kinder starben. In 4-5 Tagen bekamen wir nichts zu essen noch zu trinken.

            4) Bei unserm Ankommen in Bergen wurden die Passagiers auf ein anderes Fahrzeug auch ohne Masten, welches an der Fregatte Zeeploeg festgebunden war, verlegt. Ein fürchterlicher Sturm wüthete den 14. Januar aus Nordwest, welcher das Fahrzeug von der Fregatte fortriß, und so die unglücklichen Passagiers nach der See zu hintrieb. Ich war gerade auf der „Aark Noa“ (so nannte man das kleine Fahrzeug), um das neue Quartier der Emigranten zu besuchen, als wir forttrieben. Große Bote und Schaluppen wurden uns nachgesandt, allein zu spät uns alle zu retten. Das Schiff kam auf eine Klippe, woran es scheiterte; ich selbst that einen Sprung auf Leben oder Tod nach einem kleinen Fahrzeuge schon halb voll Wasser, welches sich uns näherte, 8-10 Fuß weit in die See, um mich zu retten, und dieser gräßliche Sprung gelang mir. Von 200 Passagiers, die gerade am Bord waren, ertranken 75. Acht Tage nachher starben 20 vor Schrecken; die übrigen waren alle krank.

            Auf der Reise von Amsterdam bis Bergen starben: 150 Passagiers.

            Mit der hohen See von Bord weggespült: 6 Passagiers und 2 Matr. [Matrosen]

            Verunglückt mit der „Aark Noa“ in Bergen: 95 Passagiers_________________

                                                                                       251 Passagiers

Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755 – after 1817), Peasant Life in Beutelsbach – 52 Ancestors #214

Dorothea Catharina Wolflin’s life started out normal enough – just like any other baby in the German village of Beutelsbach, Germany in 1755.

The daughter of Johann Ludwig Wolfin or Wolflin and Dorothea Heubach, Dorothea Catharina was born on August 10th and baptized in the local church. According to the customs of the time, she was probably called by her middle name, Catharina, at least within the family.

This translation is courtesy of my friend and cousin, Tom. Note that the minister went back and noted years later on her birth entry that she emigrated.

August 1755

Child: Dorothea Catharina, emigrated

Mother: Dorothea Heubach(in), former citizen and vinedresser in Endersbach, surviving legitimate daughter of Jerg Heubach?

Joh. Ludwig Wolflin, son of the late Martin Wolflin, Chevallier?

Godparents: Jacob Rühle, farrier here; Anna Catharina, Georg Leonhard Rehmüller, citizen and butcher and Anna Maria, wife of Georg Friedrich ?, citizen and butcher.

Hmmm, that’s really odd to list an occupation for a female. Dorothea’s mother was a vinedresser, meaning that she worked in the vineyards. I don’t recall ever seeing that before.

In addition to the actual baptism records, the Beutelsbach church book maintained family pages.

Tom translated this page, as follows:

Family Page Beutelsbach

Page 599

Johann Adam Rühle, born in Schnait, the 30th of Jan 1764, Father is Michael Rühle, citizen and joiner (carpenter) in Schnait; Mother is Barbara nee Lenz(in). Has been trained and brought up in Schnait.  ? 4 years served in Schnait.

Married 5 June 1787 with

Dorothea Catharina, born 18 August 1755. Father Joh. Ludwig Wölfle, page 757. Mother Dorothea nee Heubach(in). See page 116.  Was previously married with Georg Friedrich Brauning, vinedresser and from this marriage, 3 children were born, with 2 now living:

Jacob Christian, born 8 June 1783

Johanna Dorothea, born 5 Nov 1785; Died 25 Jan 1790.

Liberi? 2nd Marriage (From Dorothea Catharina’s )

14 March 1788 Fridrica, had an illegitimate child Jacob Fried. Lenz, born 25 Nov 1806.

3 June 1790 Johann Ludwig

5 Mar 1793 Johanna Dorothea; died 8 Mar 1793

25 Apr 1794 Johann Georg

20 Mar 1797 Catarina Margareta +

20 Jan 1800 Johanna Margaretha

Ah, But There’s a Hitch

Vorehelich geboren. War vorher verheiratet mit Georg Friedrich Breuning, Weingärtner. Hat in dieser Ehe 3 Kinder geboren, davon noch 2 am Leben.
Wanderte 1817 nach Nordamerika aus

On the Beutelsbach Heritage page, Dorothea’s entry says that she was born before her parents were married.

Premarital born. Was married before with Georg Friedrich Breuning, vinedresser. Has born in this marriage 3 children, of it another to 2 still alive.

Emigrated in 1817 to North America

There’s More to That Story

Dorothea’s father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin was taken away as a soldier in 1755, and he served for 15 years. He returned in 1770 and the couple was married on May 4, 1770. Two years later, Dorothea’s only sibling, a brother, Johann George Wolflin was born and died the following year, in 1773.

Dorothea’s mother, Dorothea Heubach, would have raised her daughter, Dorothea, alone, although I do wonder how Dorothea’s mother managed to do that. Dorothea Heubach’s parents lived in Endersbach, so who was she living with in Beutelsbach while pregnant, when Dorothea was born and during the 15 years she was waiting on Dorothea’s father to return? Normally, I would have though Dorothea and her daughter would have lived with her parents, but if that were the case, then Dorothea would have been born and baptized in Endersbach and the reference to Dorothea Heubach would not have said “former citizen” of Endersbach, although Endersbach was only a mile or so away.

Dorothea couldn’t have lived with Adam’s parents, because they had already died. We know little about her parents, but she is listed as a former resident of Endersbach, so unlikely that she was living with them.

Of course, this situation explains Dorothea Heubach’s occupation noted as a vinedresser. She worked, but who cared for little Dorothea while her mother was in the fields and vineyards?

Dorothea Wolflin’s First Marriage

On September 19, 1780, Dorothea Catharina Wolflin married Georg Friedrich Breuning, born May 24, 1752.

The heritage page, through a German/English translator, says the following about Georg Friedrich: “He had been trained and raised here, but always remained with his parents for some time with the retired court clerk Reinhardtin.”

With George Friedrich Breuning, Dorothea Wolflin had three children:

  • Johanna Elisabetha Breuning born January 27, 1781 and died two years later, in 1783.
  • Jakob Christian Breuning born June 8, 1783. He would subsequently emigrate with his mother and step-father to America in 1817.
  • Johanna Dorothea Breuning born November 5, 1785 and died January 5, 1790.

Dorothea was having a tough time. Her husband, Georg Friedrich Breuning died on October 31, 1786.

In January 1790, Dorothea’s 4 year old daughter died in January and on September 1, 1790, her mother died.

By the end of 1790, Dorothea, then 35 years old had born 3 children, buried 2 children, her husband and her mother.

Deaths in 1783 and 1786 and two in 1790.

Dorothea was due for some good luck.

Remarriage – A Second Start

On June 5, 1787, eight months after her husband’s death, Dorothea remarried to Johann Adam Ruhle, a man 9 years her junior. Yes, her junior. She was 32 and he was 23.

The age difference is somewhat startling. It’s very unusual for the male to be that much younger than the female. I surely wonder at the motivation for both people. It could have been love, or it could have been pragmatic expedience. Or, maybe it was something else. Did Dorothea have money? Did he? An inheritance? Never fear – the Germans had methodologies developed to insure protection, fairness and equity.

Second Marriages and Property Inventories

I learned a lot about second marriages in Germany in the late 1700s thanks to Dorothea and Adam. To begin with, I didn’t realize there was anything to learn. I know that sounds somehwhat ridiculous, but we don’t know what we don’t know. I thought they just went down to the church and got married. Not so fast!

From the paper, Household Debt in the Seventeenth-Century Wurttemberg: Evidence from Personal Inventories by Sheilagh Ogilvie, Markus Kupker and Janine Maegraith published in July 2011, I learned that the “peasant economy” of rural Wurttemberg was not as backwards or laissez-faire as one might think. This article examined death, marriage and remarriage inventories. I didn’t know there were marriage inventories.

The authors studied a small German village, Wildberg, who had about 1000 inhabitants in 1600. The population rose to about 1400 by the mid 1670s, but again reduced to 1200 by 1700. Residents in Wildberg paid taxes (of course) and owned land, which I didn’t think was possible for peasants. Land ownership, other than gardens, declined from about 70% to 50% in 1614 and 1629, but rose again to about 60% by 1700. Wildberg, about 40 miles distant, probably wasn’t too different from Beutelsbach.

In Wildberg, most inhabitants were somehow engaged in farming with about 40% of the residents also engaged in weaving after 1580, with spinning being the mainstay of the female inhabitants. Weaving, dyeing and exporting of hand-made worsted were controlled by regional rural-urban guilds which maintained entry barriers, fixed wages and prices, and excluded women, migrants, Jews, laborers and many others. The courts, councils and assemblies closely monitored and administered settlements, marriage, migration, inheritance, land transactions, prices, wages – that is to say pretty much all financial transactions.

While the Beutelsbach economy revolved around winegrowing, with residents working in the vineyards, everything else would have applied to Beutelsbach as well.

Given that women were excluded above, it’s surprising that Wurttemberg had a partible inheritance system in which spouses retained rights over property brought into a marriage and daughters inherited equally with sons. Death inventories were mandated from 1551. From 1610, widowhood, marriage and remarriage inventories were compulsory, as well as in other special circumstances such as crime, indebtedness, desertion, etc.

Inventories were created by specially appointed community officials to value estates, typically with actual recorded prices or values in that community. Properly drawn and executed documents were critical to avoiding inheritance conflicts. Many records indicate who originally paid for a specific item, especially in the case of a marriage or remarriage.

If there’s one thing German’s love, it’s orderliness and records. I love my German ancestors. I wish I had inherited that orderliness trait. I didn’t:(

According to Wurttemberg law, a person or couple was not legally obliged to be inventoried if they:

  • Left a will
  • Agreed to marital community of property
  • Obtained the district court’s approval
  • Drew up a private inventory
  • Had only one heir
  • Obtained agreement from all heirs

This group of exempted individuals included high status families such as royalty, bureaucrats and clergymen. Truly destitute people who had nothing more than the clothes they were wearing were also not inventoried. A fee had to be paid and not only could they not pay the inventory fee, there was no point, so they were simply administratively ignored.

Of course, administrative negligence or corruption at the time or loss of documents since can prevent us from obtaining those inventories today. Inventories were generally considered desirable because they served to protect the interest of the individuals involved, from each other and from future debtors that might attempt to retroactively establish a claim. However, never-married individuals were seldom inventoried at marriage and often if they had never been married, were not inventoried at death either.

These inventories, when available and legible are goldmines and apparently were relatively common. In the nearby village of Laichingen between 1766 and 1799, 94% of remarriages had inventories, 87% of the spouses of the one of remarrying individuals had inventories, 31% of the widowers had inventories and 57% of the widows.

The inventory document was structured into five sections.

The introduction includes the location, date and personal details of the individual or individuals involved, their offspring, any other heirs, parents and former spouses.

In the second section, real estate, including buildings, gardens, fields, pastures, woods and fishing waters was listed.

A third section included moveable goods, including those worth only one Heller, the smallest unit of currency, in specific categories such as cash, ornaments, jewelry, silver, men’s and women’s clothing, books, bedding, household linen, household vessels of different types, furniture, general household goods, farm and craft tools, animals, food, grain, business wares and anything else not falling into the above categories.

The fourth section included debts and financial assets. Debts were not allowed to be incurred without the prior approval of the village or town council as well as district-level bureaucrats. These individuals monitored the behavior of villagers to assure that they didn’t borrow excessively and controlled them by penalties. Repeat offenders could be declared “mundtot,” a now obsolete 17th century word meaning legally incapable, dead in the eyes of the law, or civilly dead. Basically, they were declared incompetent.

Furthermore, these community “courts” could veto any loan secured by property. Not only that, but fees had to be paid in order to apply for permission to obtain a loan. It’s no wonder that Germans wanted to emigrate.

Despite all of that bureaucratic red tape, roughly 25% of people with inventories had some type of debt, but one third had assets as well. The debt rate of widows was much higher.

The fifth and final section of the inventory balanced the debts against the assets, divided the proceeds among heirs (although did not necessarily distribute the assets) and recorded the signatures of the involved parties.

Inventory of Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Breuning and Johann Adam Ruhle

However, I knew none of this when my distant cousin, Niclas Witt, stumbled across the marital inventory of Dorothea and Adam in the archives of Weinstadt. Niclas has graciously allowed me to include the images. My thanks to Niclas for finding this document and copying it for me. Cousins are so cool!!!

Tom and Chris struggled mightily with translating these pages. They did successfully translate some words. Personally, I look at these crinkled pages, 231 years old, and revel in the thought that Dorothea and her beau joyfully listed their belongings in anticipation of their upcoming wedding – even if we can’t read many of the words today. They listed items, reviewed the lists after they were compiled, then they and their families signed those lists. I’m sure the young couple smiled at each other – one step closer to their wedding day. Maybe the entire group celebrated with a glass of wine.

Perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me today is the fact that there are signatures at the end of the document.

This document is very old and fragile, and the script is in many places undecipherable.

Johann Adam Ruhle’s inventory starts on the page above.

Next, on the above page, his land property (house and vineyards) is listed.

On the above pages, men’s clothes and so forth.

The list of Johann Adam Rühle`s property ends, above, on the left page.

Starting on the right page, Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Breuning`s property is listed, again with subheaders for different property classes.

On page 138, on the right side, we have a partial translation.

Tom and Chris translate documents by first attempting to decipher the letters individually. That text is shown at left, below. Then they attempt to figure out the actual German words. That text is shown at right, below. Then, I used a German to English translator to list the English equivalent in parenthesis. As you might imagine from these results, Chris and Tom were both very frustrated. (I felt really, really bad. They are such good guys.)

This was an extremely difficult document.

“Hierauf nun folgt des Weibs                       Hieraus (from this)
Leibeigen und bestehet in                         Beibringen (teach)
Häußern und [gebau ?]                                  gebaud

die […] von einer                                              helstt in von Einen
Behaußung Scheunen
und Keller bei der […]                                    Eigel
[…][…] 11 ½ […]                                                 rüthen
garttens vorbei, neben
dem […][…]                                                         Weng, und
[…] [zinnßt?] […]                                              lenschler zümstt
… 600 […]                                                           Stistts Pflug (plow)

Acker [?]
[Jelly Eiselfeld“ ?!]                                           Zelly Lizelfeld
[…][…][…]                                                            27 rüthen eine
[…] neben                                                           Ereschdobel neben (next)
Johannes […] und                                             Johannes Schuh in und
Bernhard Schwegler […]   150 […]
vor die blum                         4 […] 30 […]“

Page 139, left side

„acker                                                                   Acken

[…] hinter […]                                                     Zelly Ginter verhneb
[…][…] einen                                                      3 rüthen einen
[…], zwischen adam                                     döbelen zwischen Adam (? between Adam)
Haffner und alt Ludwig
[Schwaden?] [zinnßt?] […] 125…              Schmaden zümsst
vor die blum                   9…30

[…] hinter […][…][…] neben                         Zelly hinter den (? behind the)
[…][…]                                                                   ½ luth? und Schlut. neben
wittib und den […]                                           Joseph Hüebschneider
zinnßten                             15 […]             wittib und den …zümstt… (widow and the…)

Viertel […][…]                                                    14 & ½ rüthen
[…] neben                                                           schlath neben
Jacob […]                                                             Jacob Vollmer
und Johannes Eckert
eigen                               45 […]
194 […] 30 […]“

Page 139, right side


1 viertel […] in                                   23 rüthen
der Wein[…] zwischen
Hannß Jerg Haffner                         Häffner
und Jacob Hellerich
eigen                       50 […]

[…] ½ […] in                                         ?rüthen 5 & ½ rüthen in

Der Wein[…] neben
Daniel Lenzen und dem
[…][…]                            160 […]


1 Viertel im […]                                 Stemeng…r
neben Hannß Jerg […]
und Michael […]
zinnßten                     140 […]

Die […][…][…]
15 […][…][…]             350 […]“      15 & ½ rüthen in Saug….

Page 140, left side


Zwischen mathes […]                      friderich
[…] und
Jacob […]                         100 […]   Vollmer

Die […] von 1 Viertel                       helsttin
17 ½ […] in Bartenbach                    rüthen
neben Jacob Randern                 (next Jacob Randern)

und […][…]                                             Hanss Jerg Bretung (Breuning?)
gibt […]                                                    derkelleri verkelleri.
[…]                             60 […]               bodenrin.

Chris provided some general guidance, below.


und das Ihrige […] rubriquen […] […]
[…], und zwar

= men`s clothes
weibskleider  = women`s clothes
bettgewand = sleeping clothes
Leinwand = linnen
[…]geschirr  = some sort of tableware/dishes
Eißernes = “iron things”

[right side]

Blechgeschirr = tin dishes
Goltennes = golden [?]
Schneidwerck = cutlery
[…] und […]geschirr
Gemeiner […]       – “gemeiner” here in the meaning of “normal/usual”
Führ und Bauerngeschirr  = In this case, “Geschirr” is most likely the other meaning in German for this word: harness for horses, cattle etc.
Vieh  = Cattle
[..] […]

allerlei Vorrath = all kinds of storage/stock

On the right hand side of this page, at the bottom, below a statement indicating something in the sense of “this list is complete and nothing is missing,- 13 Febr 1788”, there are several signatures:

The married couple
Adam Rühle
Dorothea Rühlerin
der Kinde Pfleger (guardian of the child)
Bernhard Breuning (probably Dorothea’s deceased husband’s brother Jacob Bernhard Breuning, guardian of the surviving children)

Father of the woman/wife
Johann Ludwig Wolflin (Dorothea’s father)

I’m so grateful to have found this inventory and for Chris and Tom struggling to translate the old script. We may not have every word, but I can savor the essence. It looks like they had harnesses and bedding and the normal things one would expect to find. And Dorothea had a plow. What woman wouldn’t want a plow:) And what man wouldn’t want to marry a woman with a plow!

The fact that this document exists also begs the question of what other documents might exist as well. Hmmm…..

Beginning a New Family

Johann Adam Ruhle, called Adam, became an instant father given that when they married, two of Dorothea’s children were living. At the age of 23, Adam became the father of a 5 year old and a 3 year old.

It didn’t take long for the young couple to begin a family of their own, with my ancestor, daughter Fredericka arriving in March of 1788.

  • Johanna Frederika Ruhle was born March 14, 1788 and died in 1866 near Dayton in Montgomery County, Ohio.
  • Johann Ludwig Ruhle was born June 3, 1790 and died April 17, 1847 in Beutelsbach. He was a vine tender in the vineyards and died of a stroke. His first wife was Sabine Mayerle with whom he had no children. His second wife was Maria Magdalena Vollner with whom he had one child, Johann Ludwig Ruhle, born in 1846 in Beutelsbach and died in 1893 in Stuttgart.
  • Johanna Dorothea Ruhle was born March 5, 1793 and died three days later.
  • Johann Georg Ruhle was born April 25, 1794 and died sometime after emigrating to America.
  • Catharina Margaretha Ruhle was born March 20, 1797 and died October 23, 1797, just 3 days past 7 months of age.
  • Johanna Margareta Ruhle was born January 20, 1800 and died sometime after emigrating to America.

Winds of Change

In 1800, when Dorothea was having her last child, she was 45 years old and her first child, born in 1781, would have been 19 years old and could have already blessed her with grandchildren, had that daughter lived.

Dorothea had buried 5 of her 9 children, 4 remained living.

Her eldest living child was Jakob Christian Breuning, age 17 and still living at home. He would have been learning a trade, probably something related to the vineyards that grew on the hillsides surrounding the village.

Dorothea’s next oldest, Fredericka, not quite 12 years old probably helped a lot with her new baby sister. Fredericka would already have been quite experienced because the new baby, Johanna Margaretha, made 5 younger siblings for Fredericka, although Fredericka had stood by the graveside as two were buried in the churchyard.

By 1800, Dorothea and Adam were the quintessential German village couple, working the vineyards, going to church on Sunday, welcoming babies and burying about half that they welcomed. They went about their lives simply; plowing the earth, growing food, harvesting grapes, tending to family and village affairs.

Dorothea, at 45, by any measure had already achieved a good age. Many, especially women, weren’t fortunate enough to live that long. Dorothea would have hoped to survive long enough to see her children marry and begin families of their own, but 45 is late to have a final child.

Dorothea’s life would have revolved around the never-ending cycle of the sun, the seasons and the grapes in the vineyard. Life was centered around their livelihood, family and the church, of course, which was as important socially as it was religiously. Church attendance was mandated by the government, so it’s not likely they would have missed services often.

Dorothea’s father, who had been absent the first 15 years of her life serving as a conscripted soldier was still living. Dorothea’s mother had died in 1790, but in 1800, Johann Ludwig Wolflin was a ripe old age of 68. He surely doted on Dorothea, his only living child, and her children. His only other child, Dorothea’s brother, Johann Georg Wolflin, born in 1772, died at 16 months of age, a few days after Christmas in 1773. Dorothea and her family were all he had left, and vice versa.

Photo provided by Martin Goll

On July 31, 1805, perhaps on a hot summer day, Dorothea walked outside the church that overlooked the hillside vineyards and stood in the little cemetery as her father was lowered into his final resting place, probably beside her mother and her brother. She may also have wandered over to visit the 4 small graves of her own children, and maybe her grandparents as well, although her father’s parents had both died before she was born. Her father had joined them now. Perhaps she whispered softly, asking the grandparents she had never met to welcome their son.

Now, Dorothea was alone in a village full of people.

Dorothea’s last close family ties, other than her husband and children, were gone, buried in the churchyard. Now, she couldn’t talk to them anymore in person, but she would pass by their graves in silent greeting every Sunday morning. Was that comforting to Dorothea, or painful?

Births, deaths, christenings, sermons, field work, trimming vines, picking grapes, pressing wine, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime, then birthing more babies. The rhythmic cycle of birth, life and death in the bucolic village of Beutelsbach.

As Dorothea turned to walk the few steps to her home, after saying goodbye to her father one last time, she perhaps lifted her face to the sun and asked the Lord what was in store. She herself was 50. How long would it be before her children stepped through the doorway of that same church and stood by her graveside?

The answer was, “never.” They would never stand by her grave in this cemetery.

Dorothea couldn’t possibly have anticipated on that midsummer day in 1805 what the future held – that the most adventurous chapter of her life wouldn’t begin for another 11 years.

Change may have been coming, but it was only a scant scent on the distant winds that melancholy July day in our sun-kissed vineyard hamlet.

A foreshadowing of events yet to come.