Sunday, August 5, 2012

I danced on their graves....

Is that wrong?

I have to admit that I kind of forgot about this blog after I got back from my northwestern German adventure.  I created it in order to keep my family and friends updated on my visit to the hometowns of my ancestors.  And what friend of mine wouldn't want to be bombarded with facts about people they have no connection to?

Since I haven't written in this blog for almost 11 months, I guess there's quite a bit to catch up on.  I did make a HUGE discovery a couple of days after I got back from Haselünne.  I had horrible jet lag, and I mean HORRIBLE!  I wanted to go to sleep around 6 pm and would be up and darling at 2 am.  Instead of sitting around watching Christie Brinkley try to sell me some workout machine, I decided to start looking for stuff on Ancestry.

Here's an important tip for anyone who starts down the road of genealogy obsession:  Do not ignore extended relatives in your family tree.  You never know where the next clue is going to come from.  Just because you can't imagine how the eldest sister of your great grandmother may help you, don't ignore her!  She may just have a trick up her sleeve.

And so it was with Eva Maria Pistner, my great grandma's eldest sister.  It's always the oldest sister, isn't it, who comes out of nowhere with something fabulous? :)

Anyway, during my jet lagged induced insomnia, I started looking through the Pistner family again.  My mom had asked me to start concentrating on her side of the tree since I had been obsessing on Dad's side for close to a year.  I figured that was a fair request, so I went out to tackle the mystery of Caroline "Lena" Charlotte Brand Pistner, my great great grandmother.  First of all, I had never heard this woman's name until I started my search.  Did Grandma Elsie ever, at any point, tell any of us (including her own children) about her grandma?  NO!  Did Grandma Elsie ever tell any of us why she chose to name her eldest son Brant?  NO!  Would I like to have a quick little word with Grandma and tell her what I think of her non existent communication skills?  YES!  But I have a feeling she'd just say, "Kid, you never asked." :)

Grandma Elsie being dramatic in her backyard on Holman St. in Covington.  She was perhaps 12 or 13 years old in this photo.

Grandma Elsie as I remember her.  I will guarantee you that her whiskey and water is sitting on a table near her. :)

One of the fabulous things about is that it shows you if someone else has your family member in their family tree, too.  I noticed that someone did have the Pistners in his tree, so I sent him a message.  And he told me that Charlotte was his grandmother, too!  He was descended from Charlotte and Adam Pistner's eldest son (and only surviving son), and I'm from one of their youngest daughters.

After exchanging a few messages, he told me the story that has been handed down in the family about Charlotte.  She was a Union Spy!!!!  Granted, none of this can be proven in a court of law, but the story is so fabulous that we're going with it.

The Pistner family moved from Cincinnati to the Covington area in the early 1860's.  The story is that the Pistners moved to Sandfordtown (it's kind of where Ft. Mitchell and 275 are today) and owned a house with a bit of land.  Confederate soldiers camped out on their land or right next to it, and Charlotte (being a sneaky German--LOL!) baked bread for these men and gave it to them.  But what she was also doing was listening to them talk.  I bet she only spoke German in their presence so they had no idea that this German mother spoke English.  And when she'd learn some information that was valuable, she'd get that info to Union commanders.  And apparently, the Confederates learned that there was a Union spy amongst them.  But they never suspected the German!  How fabulous is that??!!!  John, if I'm wrong on any of the details, will you correct me?

Back to Charlotte and Adam.  I knew when Adam died because he had a State of Kentucky death certificate.  But no one knew when Charlotte passed away.  She was on the 1880 census, and Adam was listed as a widower on his death certificate in 1888, so we knew she died sometime between then.  At some point, I went to the Kenton Co. (Covington) library and decided to try to find that woman.  May I take a moment and tell you how fabulous the diocese of Covington is in releasing all their archived sacramental records to the library?  I don't know who made that decision, but I'd like to buy him or her a beer.  Those resources are invaluable as you search for your Catholic people.

I went to the library and put my thinking cap on.  I don't use it often, so it takes me a while to get used to it.  There was no civil record of her death, but I knew there would be a church record.  I just had to actually locate it.  The first obvious question was which German Catholic church?  In order to logically find that, I needed to know where the family lived during the time she died.  Since I didn't know the year, I located the family's address (using the Covington city directory) for 1880.  It stayed the same for a few years, so I went with that.  I google mapped it and then located what would have been the 2 closest Catholic churches to them--St. Joseph and the cathedral.  I really didn't want to go through the cathedral records if I didn't have to (LOTS of them), so I started with St. Joe's.  I also knew that the youngest Pistner child was baptized at that church, and my great grandparents were married there.

If you haven't looked through microfilm since you were in the 7th grade, let me just say that it's as horrible as you remember it.  Tedious.  Headache inducing.  Boring.  You get the idea.  But every so often, you hit pay dirt.  And I did.  As I was scrolling through funeral records for St. Joe's and getting bleary eyed, I saw it.  Charlotta Pistner, died December 23, 1882, buried December 26, 1882.  And the tears flowed.  By this point, I had gotten used to crying over people I had never met or even knew existed until a year or two before, so I wasn't shocked by my reaction.  The people sitting on either side of me may have been, though.

When I put the dates together of my family's history, I get emotional.  Now knowing the date of Charlotte's death, I knew that my great grandmother had only been 20 years old and had just had her first baby, Aunt Mayme, when her mother died at Christmas time.  I can't imagine Grandma Maggie's sorrow.  Thinking about all the things that wouldn't be.  All the things she wouldn't be able to share with her mama.

This is an older photo of Maggie, Charlotte's daughter.

And I love this photo of my great grandparents.  Look at that freaking dress!

Aunt Mayme on her First Communion Day.

Back to my hunt.  I now had the date of Charlotte's death.  BTW, I did all of this research months before my trip to Haselünne.  However, I had no idea where this couple was buried.  Adam's death certificate stated that he was at St. Mary's.  That didn't make any sense.  St. Mary's in Ft. Mitchell is an Irish Catholic cemetery.  The German Catholic one is St. John's.  And back then, Germans and Irish really didn't mix, you know what I mean? :)  But I went out to St. Mary's anyway and checked their records.  No Pistners listed.  Then I thought that perhaps they were at St. Mary's up in St. Bernard (a German Catholic cemetery).  Nope, not there, either.  Maybe there was some little St. Mary's cemetery somewhere?  There was and is, but they weren't there either.  Now I was getting really frustrated and irritated.  WHERE WERE THEY??

I let that question go during the build up to my trip to Germany.  But now I was back, had insomnia, and had made a promise to Mom.  So I started looking through records for each of the Pistner children. I didn't expect to find anything new, but sometimes you find one detail that you missed before.  Somehow, I discovered that their eldest child remarried after her first husband died.  I can't tell you how I stumbled upon this information.  It's all blurry to me.  The jet lag issue and all.  But by finding this new information, I found her death certificate.  And that stated that she was also buried at St. Mary's!  Well, well, well.  You don't say.  I decided to play my hunch the next day.  I drove to St. Mary's and looked at the burial records for Eva Maria Puthoff (her 2nd husband's name) and found the section and plot she was buried in.  I found the marker and paid my respects to my Grandma Elsie's aunt.  But I was disappointed.  I didn't see a Pistner headstone.  There were some old headstones there, but nothing that jumped out at me.  And before you ask, yes, I always like it when "something" jumps out at me at a cemetery. :)

It was getting close to the time I had to leave to pick up my kids from school, so I started to walk back to my car and dig in my purse for my keys.  I walked to the left of Eva Maria's tombstone and stopped as I was trying to find my keys.  And then I looked down.  And I saw them.

There were my grandma's grandparents.  And I danced on their graves!  And I know my Germans would've and did understand my joy.  I like knowing where my people are.  I like knowing that I can go to this place where some of my ancestors stood.  I like being able to pay my respects.  I like knowing that I am a link in the chain that is my family.  I consider it my responsibility to go and say "Hi" to them every so often.  To let them know that I know that without them I wouldn't have the life I do.

I still have no idea why they're buried in this Irish Catholic cemetery.  I can only assume my Germans got a "2 for 1" deal or something. :)

And the next mystery to be solved for Charlotte Brand Pistner is finding the town in Germany she came from.  I think I'm getting close.  I've found 2 of her sisters, and I discovered that those sisters married men from the same Bavarian town (at least I'm almost positive they were from the same homeown--I need a few more bits of info to be absolutely sure).  And that town is very close to Sommerkahl, the town my great great grandpa, Adam Pistner, was from.  I'm thinking that the Bavarian town the Brand sisters were from is very close to the towns their husbands were from.  So I'm going to send a request to the archdiocese of Cincinnati for baptismal records for the children of Charlotte's 2 sisters.

A little detail for people searching for Catholic records.  Each diocese is different in how they deal with the release of these records.  For example, Covington has released all their records to the libraries and will also communicate with you through e-mail (if you can't get to a library).  Very informal.  The archdiocese of Cincinnati is the opposite.  They have not released any of their records to libraries, and they do not communicate via e-mail.  They also will not allow you to go to them and look through the records (under their supervision).  You must type out a form letter (which is on their website) and request the records.  You may request up to 10 records per form letter.  Cincinnati is by far the most formal of the dioceses I've dealt with (including the German ones).  However, I fully respect each diocese's decision regarding how they release their records.  You just have to figure out how to properly contact each of them.

I'm hoping that I can find other Brand family members in the baptismal records of the Brand sisters' children.  And by finding other names, maybe I can track the Brands to their Bavarian hometown.  And then add another stop on my itinerary for my next trip to Germany.

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