Saturday, July 12, 2014

Release the Records!

The release of "old" Catholic sacramental records has become a very personal and emotional issue for me.  I think that most people can understand how important these records are for family researchers.  Most people.

I have tried to approach this entry a number of ways, and I've deleted all of them.  Start from scratch again.  And again.  I get very caught up in the emotion of of it all.  This has become my passion.  I almost feel (actually, I think I know) that this is the mission God has given me.  See?  Very emotional.

We MUST be allowed to search through old Catholic sacramental records.  Every diocese and archdiocese has their own ways of "dealing" with requests for these records.  Some are much more accessible and friendly than others.  Understatement of the year.

Why is it so important that we can personally look through the digitized records and/or microfilm?  It's not just to find out names of godparents, places of birth, etc. (although that's incredibly important).  It's because there are "lost" children in these records.  Children who were never included in census records.  Children who died and were buried before cemeteries had a reliable way to record the information.  Back in the 1800s (and earlier), Catholic Church records were the only written proof of a child's existence.  These babies (as a mother, this is very close to my heart) DESERVE to be included in their family trees.  The sanctity of their lives demand it!

My first experience with finding a child who was "lost" was when Dr. Reinhard Cloppenburg searched through Haselünne Catholic Church records for me. I emailed him and told him the details that I knew about my family.  He quickly responded to tell me that he'd search, and search he did!  In my Kerkhoff family, it was assumed that my great grandfather was the oldest, but we discovered that he wasn't.  He shared a birthday with his older sister (by 2 years), Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff.  She died at 3 am when she was just 14 1/2 years old.  All of her details were included in the Catholic sacramental records of her baptism and death.

When I found out the dates of her birth and death, I had a fuller picture of my great great grandparents and my great grandpa.  I realized that Lisette, my great great grandmother, was not only "just" pregnant with my grandpa when Haselünne burned down in August, 1849, but she also had a toddler to save.  It gave me a deeper understanding of the panic my great great grandparents must've gone through in those moments.  It allowed me a window into who they were, and I fell more deeply in love with them because of it.

When I visited that small German town a few years ago and went to mass at St. Vincent's, a church that many generations of my ancestors went to, I was surprised that I couldn't stop thinking about this 14 year old's funeral.  Did my great grandfather, Anthony Kerkhoff, try to be brave?  He was only 12, and his sister was dead.  A sister who shared his birthday.  Or did Anthony sob throughout the mass?  I can't even imagine the pain my great great grandparents, Casper and Lisette (Golz) Kerkhoff, went through as they sat through the funeral mass for their only daughter and eldest child.

If Dr. Cloppenburg hadn't looked through the records for me, my family would never have known about this darling girl.  If this German diocese had the same policy as a few other dioceses and archdioceses do (which require you to request SPECIFIC records--they will not look through a parish's records for you if you don't know the exact person you're looking for), my family would be poorer for not knowing about this child.

I have other examples discovering things about my ancestors as I look through Catholic sacramental records (things I never would've found if I couldn't have personally gone through the microfilm).

There Are Times I Think I'm Pretty Good At This

But the most recent discovery I've made because I had the freedom to look through old Catholic sacramental records was that my great great grandmother had a baby in 1874, a baby no one in the family had ever heard of.

I was at the Kenton Co. library researching an entirely different branch of my tree and hitting a brick wall that seemed to be reinforced with concrete and was/is 10 miles thick.  I wasn't having any luck at all and started looking for anything that would give me a clue.  So I pulled out the index for baptisms at St. Al's church in Covington and saw that some Brand family members were listed.  I had no idea if they were "my" Brands, but I had nothing to lose.  The index gave the page number, so I got the microfilm onto the machine and started scrolling.  I stopped close to the page I needed and then started counting.  I should've stopped on the page that listed the Brand child who was baptized.  At the top of the page, I started going through the names.  For some reason, I wasn't looking at the childs' names but was instead looking at the parents' names.  And then I saw it--Mary S. Geisen.  WHAT??!!!!  That was my great great grandmother, and my great great grandfather had died 4 years before that.  And I knew for a fact that she had always kept the Geisen name.  She was listed on the US Census record as Geisen.  The Covington City Directory had her name as Geisen until she died in 1892.  Her prayer card has her name as Geisen.  Her gravestone has her name as Geisen.




Her obituary is under Maria Susanna Geisen.  But here I find her as the mother of a little boy named Philip Moxel.  The father's name was Anton Moxel.  Thinking that perhaps there was someone else with that name in Covington at the time (even though I knew there wasn't), I looked at the names of the godparents.  Her sister, Catherine Schmitz, was the godmother so I knew that this little baby was my uncle.

When I looked at the page number, I realized I was one page off.  I shouldn't have been.  I counted.  But somehow, I found this child.  A child who deserves to be included in our tree (and who now is).  With further research, I found out that my great great grandmother married this guy when she was 6 1/2 months pregnant and never took his name.  The baby is not with her on the 1880 census and neither is the husband.  I'm in the midst of trying to find out what on earth happened to my grandma and her baby (my great grandfather's baby brother).  I haven't found much else yet, but at least he's now in our tree.  As he should be.

My sister Karen writes a blog about her journey of grief since my nephew Brandon died.  And something she wrote in one of her entries really stuck with me.  "He (Brandon) is moving farther away in people's minds."

A Sorrowfull Mother

Isn't that what every mother worries about?  Doesn't every mother want her baby to be remembered, loved and honored by his/her family members?  Don't we owe it to them to try and find each one of them?  I would assume that the Catholic Church would be at the forefront of understanding this.

If you're looking for Catholic records and the diocese or archdiocese doesn't allow it, please email the Chancellor to ask/request/demand access to the records.  Our family members have a right to be found!

Old Catholic Sacramental Records are Priceless!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--Catholic Church archivists are some of my favorite people. For the most part, they are incredibly helpful and fully understand how important sacramental records are regarding each Catholic family's history.  Each diocese and archdiocese has its own way of making these records available (or not available, as the case may be), and it's very important that the family researcher find these records.  Here are some links and tips that might be helpful to you.

The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Toledo have their "old" sacramental records online at FamilySearch.

Archdiocese of Chicago Sacramental Records

Diocese of Toledo Sacramental Records

I could weep looking through these beautiful old records.  This is a priceless resource for people searching for their family members, and they're beautiful to read and see.  I could also cry because none of my ancestors lived in Chicago or Toledo, so these records don't help me at all (at least not that I've found yet).

Many more Catholic records are found on FamilySearch (and also on microfilm at their library in Salt Lake City--microfilm can be ordered to be shipped to your local LDS library).  I've only listed a few, but if you google "Catholic Records FamilySearch" you'll find these listed and much more.

Italian Catholic Sacramental Records

Hungarian Catholic Sacramental Records

Ontario, Canada Catholic Sacramental Records

I found the Catholic baptismal records for 2 of my great great grandparents in this German collection.

German Births and Baptisms

And some release their records to Ancestry.

Irish Catholic Sacramental Records

Quebec Catholic Sacramental Records

And some others have their own website with digital images of their records.  Why, oh why, couldn't any of my Germans have been from the Diocese of Passau?  Because that would have been too easy for me, I think.

Diocese of Passau Sacramental Records

Other dioceses and archdioceses will send you the records you need and/or allow you to come into their archive office (or library) and search through them yourself.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Archdiocese of Boston

Archdiocese of Baltimore

Diocese of Sioux City (the "home" diocese of Archbishop Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati)

And still others, like Covington and St. Louis, release their sacramental records to the local library.

Diocese of Covington Sacramental Records at the Kenton Co. Library

I can personally tell you how incredible the Genealogy Dept is at the Kenton Co. library.  I spend many, many hours there.  The archivist for the Covington Diocese is also very helpful.  If you have Catholic ancestors who lived in the Covington, you're in luck.

Diocese of Covington Archive Office

Archdiocese of St. Louis

Still other dioceses (e.g. the Diocese of Duluth) and archdioceses require that you contact the individual parish concerning the records you need.

Archdiocese of New York

I also have to include a couple of wonderful German archivists.  The office in Meppen is incredibly helpful and very quick to respond to inquiries.  I've never had a language problem when I've asked a question or requested records (I don't speak German).

Catholic Archive Office in Meppen, Germany

And the archive office for the Münster diocese found my ancestors' sacramental records from Dinklage.

Münster Diocese Archive Office

Depending on where your Catholic ancestors lived, you may hit pay dirt and can't believe your good luck with all the details you learn about your family. Or you may become so frustrated with the lack of help from the archive office that you literally cry.  Been there, done that, and am still doing it.

Good luck finding your family.  Remember that Googling is your friend.  And don't hesitate to send emails asking for help, records, etc.  What's the worst that can happen?  Maybe the person will delete it.  But you might just luck out and get some incredible information.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"He is moving farther away in people's minds."

Every single one of my ancestors was someone's child.  Obvious, right?  But it's not an objective thought for me.  It's very, very personal.  And that thought is always with me and has been since I started this quest.  It's why I'm obsessed with including all of them in my tree.  Every child mattered.  Each one made an impact.  It doesn't matter how old or how young they were when they died.  They all changed the world, if just a little bit.  All of their loved ones changed because they knew them.

Each member of my tree should be known and remembered.  Every mother of each of those children would ask us to not forget her child.  After my cousin PJ died, my Aunt Janny said to me, "You should never have to bury your child.  It doesn't matter how old he is.  He's still your baby."

It is my responsibility to make sure that I remember and honor each one, and my sister Karen's most recent blog entry reminded me of this.

"I am also concerned that he (Brandon) is moving farther away in people's minds."

A Sorrowfull Mother

I can only pray that we don't allow any of our family members to move further away in our minds.



George Kerkhoff, Grandpa Joe's older brother



Edna Geisen, died at 3 1/2 years of age
Grandma Elsie's older sister



Ester Helen Elizabeth Meyer, died at 5 weeks of age
Grandma Ada's little sister
Buried in the Heger family plot



Infant (Boy) Geisen, Stillborn
Grandma Elsie's baby brother
Buried in the Geisen family plot



PJ Maurer
with Grandma Elsie



Al Meyer
with his sister, my Grandma Ada



Brandon Gromada
My darling nephew


Sarah Catherine Kerkhoff
23 July 1991

Edward Kerkhoff (twin brother of Inez Kerkhoff Perkins)
24 July 1891

Bernadina Antonetta Lisette Kerkhoff (older sister of Anthony Kerkhoff)
02 March 1848 - 11 October 1862

Lorraine Kerkhoff (older sister of Dad's)
05 March 1924 - 10 March 1924

Martha Amanda Purcell (Mom's aunt)
18 May 1889 - 29 July 1889


And many, many more.................................................







Sunday, September 15, 2013

These German American Lutherans Are Tough to Track Down

Quite often, I'm reminded how thrilled I am that most of my ancestors were Catholic.  I love my faith, and I fully appreciate that the practice and love of the Catholic faith has been handed down from generation to generation in my family.  But from a genealogy point of view, if your peeps were Catholic, you've probably hit pay dirt!

That's because all sacramental records are kept at the diocese level along with being kept at the actual parish.  And every diocese has an archive department.  I could tell quite a few tales about how much I love my Catholic church archivists.  These records hold priceless information--not only names of parents but also godparents.  Usually, godparents were family members (unless you're dealing with my Geisens, and then the godfather is someone who owns a brewery), and they can lead you in all different and fabulous directions.

I know how to get my Catholic records (even if I have to wait awhile because that archive office is closed for renovation and relocation).  It must be in my blood since my great uncle, Msgr. Gerhard "Gerry" Geisen was the Chancellor (head of the archive office) for the Covington diocese.



And then I run into my Protestants.  They're tough sometimes.  The Anglicans on my maternal grandpa's side have cooperated with me.  Great Britain has released quite a few of those records.  But the German American Lutherans..........

They haven't cooperated in my search quite so much.  Actually, not at all.  I can't find Pittsburgh/Allegheny Co. Lutheran records online.  I've found a few churches that have had their records microfilmed, so I'm hoping against hope that my German Meyers and Seips worshipped there.  Yeah, what are the odds of that?  I'll put it this way--I'm not going to hold my breath.

I finally did get one lead.  Someone posted on Ancestry about where some of the old records for western Pennsylvania Lutheran records are kept.  Do I see a road trip in my future?  Certainly a phone call.

Lutheran Church Records--Thiel College

My dad's maternal grandfather, Frederick Meyer, was born in Pittsburgh to a Lutheran family.  But my great grandmother, Amelia Heger, "encouraged" him to convert to Catholicism before she'd marry him.  But I need to find out if he was baptized in the Lutheran church (he was conditionally baptized in the Catholic faith when he converted).  I need to find his parents' marriage sacramental record.  I need to find his siblings' baptismal documents.  Because those things will give me new names to track down.  I already know where the Meyer clan lived in Pittsburgh (the Birmingham suburb on the south side), and there are quite a few other Meyer people and some Seips in that neighborhood.

Historic Maps of Pittsburgh

Are they mine?  I NEED TO KNOW!



Side note--Only if you're as obsessed as I am will you understand my perseverance.  If you're not into it, I fully understand you thinking to yourself "WTF?"

OK, thanks for listening to my vent and frustration.  Those of us who are ridiculously obsessed with our peeps know when we're "this close" to finding something.  And that's how I feel about this family.  I just need a few more pieces to my family puzzle.  And I need those Lutheran church records to start assembling it.  I also need to acknowledge that the research frustration is not all the Lutheran's fault.  It's also the responsibility of my Meyer family.  Try looking for "Johan Meyer" or "John Meyer."  Make sure that there's a brick wall close by that you can bang your head against.  He's become, for me, the poster boy for "Needle in a Haystack."


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Unknowns

How can I ever thank my Geisens for having family photos taken?  And how can I ever tell them how much it means to me, 120+ years laters, that these photos have survived?  Many photos that are housed in the Geisen family photo album (a gorgeous green velvet album--sounds tacky, but it's not) have the subject's name written on them.  Or I know who they are (Aunt Mayme had a distinctive look) because I distinctly remember them.

I saw the beautiful face of my Aunt Edna, my Grandma Elsie's older sister.  A sister Grandma never knew.  Edna died at 4 years of age from heat stroke, and Grandma was born the next year.


Edna Geisen (1887)


Edna in between her 2 older sisters--Aunt Dada (Charlotte) on the left and Aunt Mayme on the right (photo probably taken around 1889)

I've been to Edna's grave.  She's buried in the Geisen family plot at Mother of God cemetery in Covington.  She's with her mommy and daddy.  And as I've stood at her grave, looking at her name, I've thought of the unbelievable sorrow that her parents (my great grandparents), siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. went through during her illness, death, and the years after.

How can I express how much I love having a photo of her?  Of knowing what she looked like?  For whatever reason, I "feel" that I have a responsibility to these peeps of mine.  A responsibility to let others know who they were.  To not allow them to be forgotten.  I know it's not logical.  But it has become a sometimes overwhelming feeling.  I feel a responsibility to these family members to make sure that they live on.

That responsibility leads me to the fascination/obsession I have with my Geisen/Pistner family "Unknown" photos.  Many in the photo album have no identification.  Who are these people who my Geisens loved so much that they included them in the family album?  I'm trying to narrow some of it down.  Does a certain photo look like another photo of a "known" person?  We have a photo of Lizzie Geisen (my great grandfather's sister).  Does this other photo look like her?  As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself, "That's Lizzie." But maybe I'm mistaken.  They're obviously related, but is it the same person?  I don't know.  Will I ever know?  Perhaps not.  But I'll do my damndest to figure this out.


The "known" photo of Lizzie (Elizabeth) Geisen


Is this an earlier photo of Lizzie?


And who is this family? Where were they when this photo was taken?  The "matriarch" was wearing black.  Was she in mourning?  The men look like Geisens (like my great grandfather, but I don't think he's either one of them).


The men in this photo look like Geisen men.


Is this woman the same woman in the photo above it (center--in between the 2 guys)?

These are many of my "Unknowns."  But what is "known" about them is that they were loved by my family.  They were all so precious to my Geisens and Pistners that they were included in the album.  And that makes them very precious to me.
































Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not in the Zone

What's wrong with me?  I'm stuck in a genealogy rut.  And I can't seem to get out of it.  I knew it was bad when I went to Salt Lake City for the 3rd time in one month and didn't darken the doorstep of the genealogy library even once.  I just couldn't get motivated.  And I know from experience that it's not worth the effort to walk over there if I'm not "in the zone."

Family History Library

I thought that helping a couple of friends of mine start down "Obsession Road" would jumpstart me. Usually that sort of thing gets me back on track, and I at least work a cemetery run into my schedule. Nope.  Not this time.

I've tried finding new things on Ancestry.comFamily Search, and Fold3.  But until the Germans release more documents, I think I'm at a dead end (pardon the pun).

I think the only thing that's going to get me out of this funk is the reopening of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  It's the keeper of all the documents I need to hopefully crack the case of my Bavarian Brand family.  And it's been closed for almost a year!  Since my Brand/Pistner family couldn't make it easy for me by having their children baptized at Old St. Mary's (married in 1845) where they're able to look up sacramental records for you, I have to wait to write to the Cincinnati archivist.  If you haven't already gathered this about me, I'm not a very patient person.

Fr. Gerry Geisen, where are you when I need you?  You were the Chancellor of the Covington diocese and the keeper of that diocese's archive's keys.  I would have loved to have begged you to call the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to let me in there to look through some microfilm.  And I've already worked it out in my mind how I would've tried to persuade you to do this favor for me by reminding you that I'm looking for your grandma's family's info.

OK, I admit it.  I've lost it.  But I can't help but think about those who could've helped me but are gone. So, since I don't have them, I have to wait in line for the reopening.  In the meantime, I'm going to try and drive up to Dayton for a cemetery run.  Who knows, maybe the tombstone for the sister of my great, great grandmother will have the name of the Bavarian town her family emigrated from.  Yeah, right.  Because the family has cooperated with me so beautifully up to this point.

Dayton's Calvary Cemetery

Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati

"The Archives of the Chancery is currently closed due to inventory and relocation.
The archives office collects, preserves and administers church records of permanent historical value.  The archives’ services are available to all archdiocesan administrative offices, pastors and parishes and to qualified researchers doing scholarly research."

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Different Type of Post for Me

Since this is a genealogy blog, it should be assumed that I would only post things dealing with my never ending hunt.  And in a way this one is.  But only in a way.  I'll call it a "detoured" genealogy blog entry.

As some of you may know, my nephew Brandon Gromada died a little over 11 months ago.  He was diagnosed in 2010 with head and neck cancer and was unrelenting in his fight against this f'ing disease. After his death, his mother and father (my eldest sister and brother-in-law) started a foundation in his name to continue Brandon's fight.

Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation

The foundation is always in fundraising mode, as is every foundation.  Every penny counts.  A friend of Brandon's has included his foundation in a fundraiser he does during the month of May.  So, I've accepted his "challenge" and have added his website to my "BlogRoll."  I'm going to admit right now that I didn't even know what a "BlogRoll" was and had to google it and how to add it.  And I'm blogging about the challenge here and including the link.

Beartoons 2013 Challenge

Beartoons 2012 Challenge

If you're a blogger or know anyone who writes a blog, will you please pass this challenge along to them?  The one year "anniversary" (what a horrible word for this "marker") of his death will be here in just a few weeks.  Please help the foundation kick this cancer's a$$!

I wrote an entry about Brandon in August.  If you haven't read it and would like to know a little bit about him, here it is.

Brandon's Amazing Strength

And my sister, Brandon's mom, also writes a blog about her grief.  Get a box of Kleenex ready if you choose to read this.  She's very open about what she's going through.

A Sorrowfull Mother

And this photo of Brandon and me was taken at my niece's wedding reception after he performed his infamous "Worm" dance move for me.  I had never seen him do it and had begged him to do it for me (ok, it didn't take a lot of begging--LOL!), and he didn't warn me ahead of time that he was going to perform it.  So being the good aunt I was, I insisted he do it again so I could see it.  This was the result.  I know I shouldn't be laughing in the photo, but his joy was infectious.  If Brandon was smiling and laughing, you couldn't help but do that, too.



And this is what Brandon's mama wrote the day after his death:

"Just want all to know that Brandon did not lose his battle with cancer - not even a tie. Yes, it claimed my beautiful boy's body but he totally beat it emotionally. Another 'spot' somewhere, he'd take a few days to regroup and then it was 'Chemo? Radiation? Uncomfortable tests or procedures? Bring 'em on and let's get 'er done!' He quietly dealt with side effects that affected what and how this gourmet cook and foodie could eat, but he adapted with comment but no complaint. It robbed him of energy, which affected this athlete's ability to run, kayak, rock climb, camp, etc but he adapted - kept doing as much as he could until with on/off low-grade fevers he just couldn't. He showed cancer it could take his body, but it couldn't take his spirit. He showed this f'n disease that it could NOT have his dignity, his humor, his vitality - it NEVER beat the authentic Brandon. And I do NOT want him to rest in peace - he's too active for 'peace' - but I do want him to move forward in Love..."