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His name was Valentine, and he was the younger brother of my great-great grandmother Eliza. Well, happy Valentines day to me because his death solved one of the weirdest mysteries in our family tree and ultimately found a missing loved one. Ok, so it took me 2 years to figure it out, but my gut knew it all along, I was just slow in following thru.
Lets back up. My gg grandfather Henry was born in the small town of Grombach, Baden, Germany in 1841. I am fascinated by Henry. He immigrated with his entire family and has been fairly easy to trace. I have a picture of him and will say he looks like a cocky, I mean confident, gg grandpa. I guess you had to be confident when you are the type of person that would travel by wagon to the state of Nebraska in 1875, without a home, set up camp in a cave, and eventually become a wealthy farmer with hundreds of land acres at the time of his death in 1919.
But Henry had 2 wives. It wasnt until I uncovered a tattered letter from 1942, packed away in a box at my mothers house, that I discovered my gg grandmother Eliza was actually Henrys first wife who died at the young age of 24 in 1872. My line wasnt 2nd wife Margaret after all. First wife Eliza was the mother of my great grandfather Fred. In the letter, it told us where she was buried, along with a baby daughter that nobody knew about. I reached out to the cemetery caretaker and he helped me locate the headstone, which my sister visited and photographed last year.
It turns out the cemetery is in this dinkly little Illinois town of maybe 400 people today, so probably 20 people 142 years ago. Mystery solved, sort of. I had Eliza down, now I began work on her mother Martha. Crap, instant brick wall.
For almost 2 years, I searched for GGG Grandma Martha. She was born in Missouri and lived most of her life there until I found her living as a widow with Eliza and Henry in the 1870 census, near the town of Elizas burial location in Illinois. But I never found Martha again - ever. I searched the 1880 census so many times it was almost ridiculous. No death record on file at the archives dept for the state of Illinois. I assumed she went back to the state of Missouri and where her 2 sons were living, but nothing. So I started chasing everything I could think of including her son Valentine and another son George. I also searched for their children, their childrens children, etc. I chased what I think (but Im not sure) are a few brothers, a probable father, and a couple sisters, but no luck. I even called the caretaker of the Illinois cemetery back to ask if he had a record of Marthas burial. Nope.
Eventually, I obtained the death certificate for Marthas youngest son Valentine in 1918. Heres where it gets weird. Valentine died 47 years later in the same dinky little Illinois town that his sister is buried at, even though he lived all of his life in Missouri. His death certificate said he had only been in town for 3 days, a coroners inquest was performed, and they could not determine cause of death.
Whats that about? I will secretly admit I feared maybe he suffered from dementia, went to the grave of his sister and took his life. But I desperately hoped that maybe his mother Martha was actually buried there after all, and he was there to pay his respects.
Heres another fun fact - Valentine died on my birthday. Maybe the universe was sending me a sign? Keep digging, Ellen.
It finally dawned on me that even though Valentine wasnt from this dinky town where he died, the suspicious nature of his death might lead to a newspaper article about the circumstances.
Ding Ding. His death made 2 newspapers in the area. It turns out he really was visiting his mothers grave. While trying to fix her broken headstone, he had what was most likely a stroke and fell over onto a pile of rocks. His body wasnt found for 24 hours.
Im sorry Uncle Valentine, but I will be forever grateful to your stroke. Hallelujah, GGG Grandma Martha has been found. Now if I could only figure out where Marthas parents are. The hunt truly never ends.
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Dont be afraid of the cemetery..
Have you ever just walked around a cemetery? If not, you should! And, no, we are not ghost busters, devil worshipers or into being scared silly.
Heres the thing; it will be what you make it. For us, its almost always a peaceful, thought-provoking, spiritual, educational and beautiful place to wander about.
Every year around my birthday, I go visit a friend who passed away shortly before his 40th birthday. Im now well over 40. Cemeteries also provide perspective..lots and lots of perspective! Suddenly, things like your slow internet connection or having a bad hair day dont really seem like such a big deal.
The real estate for almost every cemetery we have been to, is usually the best in town, with the best views to boot. Your relatives final resting place may have expansive ocean views and sweeping mountain views, or even 360 city views.
You can wander about and see actual pictures of the deceased (thank goodness for modern conveniences, i.e. hair dryers, curling irons, lip waxing, etc.), very interesting names, entry gates with incredibly ornate detail, decades- old magnificent shade trees, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you may even learn a little something from a headstone. At one particular cemetery, we even saw a bullet hole shot straight into the face of the deceased, the picture of which was on the headstone. What the heck is the story behind that?!
If you havent visited your relatives final resting place, get going! Of course, its understandable if this is a hard thing emotionally for you to do, but it doesnt have to be a sad, morose place to visit. You can make your visit a happy and spiritual trip, believe it or not! Mother Nature is really the only thing that should keep you from visiting.
Where is the most beautiful cemetery you have ever visited? Share with us your stories.
We are going to Ireland in August and will visit the Nat'l Library in Dublin for Catholic Church Records. Let us know if you want our help
We are going to Ireland in August and will be visiting the National Library in Dublin to search Catholic Church Records. If you would like our help in getting church records in the 1800's, then please visit our website for more information. We will need the exact parish, dates, names, parents, etc. If you cannot provide this, and want us to search for families, we can help as well.
Please contact us at the following website
I am looking for information on Joseph Slansky and his wife Anna Honomichel from Bohemia. They had 5 children from 1860 - 1880 (Anna, Joseph, Frank, Anton and Frances). Almost all of the 5 kids ended up in Chicago, Illinois. Various records say they are from the Serlove region of the Czech Republic.
Please feel free to add to this list.
Your mother was adopted. What? Thats what my grandfather told his 7 children on the night of their mothers passing. This kind, wonderful woman grew up too ashamed to tell anyone her big secret, not even her children. Its heartbreaking and I cant imagine what was running thru my fathers head at that exact moment when his dad drops the bomb. Here he is, dealing with the death of his mother Helen at the age of 74 from Breast Cancer, and now he has to process the fact that her parents were not her parents. Or were they?
Fast forward 30+ years later, and Ive decided its time to find out exactly where I came from. It started out as a simple concept. Lets do a little family research on my ancestors and see what I can find, maybe even understand who I was named after. Someone named Ellen. Thats it, thats all I wanted to do. But one day into my initial search, I was hooked. My great grandfather worked at the Cracker Jack factory in Chicago. Very cool. I had ancestors that came over on the Mayflower. I was related to Liza Minelli. Wow. My great-great grandmother had 16 children. Forget it.
At this point, my search was spiraling out of control and I couldnt stop. My sister and her husband called my office the war room. But I wasnt touching the adoption situation, at least not yet. That was too daunting a task and I was convinced I wouldnt find out anything. So I let it sit at the bottom of the pile, at the bottom of my list of things to do.
About a month later, I decided it was time to peek into the file and see what I could find out about my grandmothers adoption and birth parents. Basically, all I remember hearing over the last many years was a story about how her father really wasnt her father, and the birth mother was a servant named Fanny. But then there was this little whisper in my family that maybe her adopted Bohemian father Frank really was her birth father after all. Yet the birth certificate said the father was a German man named Fred. Where that rumor originated from is still unclear to me, but hopefully one day I could get to the bottom of that issue.
Fanny, Fred and Frank. Seriously, could you have given me at least one name that didnt start with an F?
To begin, I had 2 documents to help me in my search. One of my dads siblings actually petitioned Cook County and got Helens adoption transcript. In the transcript, it names the birth mother, which led to Helens birth certificate. Thats all I had.
Oh, did I mention that the birth mother lied about her name and address on the birth certificate? She used a fake name of Kate on the birth record, but was quoted in the adoption record as Fanny. What I will eventually uncover is that this is one of many lies that I would come across in my search. She obviously had something to hide and thats what I needed to understand. So what else was she lying about? The birth father listed on the certificate? Probably.
I initially felt lucky because my grandmother was born in Feb of 1900, and the once-every-10-year census came out in June of 1900. I thought it would be fairly easy to find a 4-month old baby Helen in the census records of Chicago, but I was wrong. So where was Helen in the census, and where was she for her first year? According to the adoption transcript, Frank says that he took Helen home around the age of 1, and eventually adopted her at the age of 11. I was convinced the birth mother took her home in an attempt to raise her, although it was possible she could be at an orphanage (Frank gave money to a Bohemian Catholic Orphanage in his will).
My first serious search was to look thru all the Chicago orphanages in the 1900 census. It is a painstaking process to flip thru many pages trying to drill down to the exact location of each orphanage, but it had to be done. Yet I came up with nothing. So then I wrote to the Catholic Archdiocese and spoke to the woman in charge of the archives. She agreed to research the Bohemian orphanage run by the nuns in the year 1900. But after waiting 2 months for a response, all she came back with was that the records couldnt be found for that timeframe.
Then I went back to the census record, and searched for baby Helen and mother Fanny, or Helen and Kate. I did this search multiple times with no luck until I decided to do a generic search for 4-month old girls. Thats when I came across a very interesting entry = Baby Helen, born in Feb, living with mother Annie (no father with them). When I looked closer at the document, the mothers name was actually Fannie. It had been indexed wrong after having missed the first letter of her name. I was convinced this could be them. I also notice that they list the place of birth of baby Helens father as Hungary (not Germany, which is the nationality of Fred listed on the birth certificate). Very interesting indeed. The only hiccup was that it had more lies the last name of the mother was wrong, the age of the mother was off by 10 years, and she said she was from Hungary, not Bohemia. (You can look at the census record below and see for yourself lines 7 and 8).
Here is the interesting part on this census record. This woman Fannie lived next door to a policeman in the census. And why that gave me chills is because Frank (the adopted Bohemian father) was a cop. So now this story begins to form in my head. Adopted Father Frank is the real father, and has squirreled mother and daughter away with a co-worker so no one would find them. I was also convinced that Fred, listed as the father on the birth certificate, was another lie and they were never married. That is until I found Fannys marriage record to Fred 5 years before the birth of Helen. Ugh, I mean, yeah !!
So now I know that Fanny and Fred were actually husband and wife. But I never did find them living together in the 1900 census, much less with a baby. Of course, they got married by the Justice of the Peace in 1895, which means they didnt marry in the church, which means there isnt a church record to look at. When I searched the Chicago City Directory of Addresses for Fred, I found him listed during the 1st year of their marriage, and then I never found him living in Chicago again. I searched about 20 years of directories, and only found him twice in 1894 and 1895. Now I am back to my theory that he is not the father, and had left Chicago long before baby Helen was born in 1900.
Im now months into this search before I finally come across another hit Fanny living in Yellowstone Wyoming. She is living as a servant in the house of a military officer in the 1910 census. The entry does say that she is married and is the mother of 1 child, but she is not living with a husband or a daughter. At this point, I know that Helen is living with her adopted parents as a 10 year old. Nonetheless, I found Fanny again, and thats progress.
Yet Im running out of ideas and fear I will never figure this out. But I had one big idea left and that was to search for divorce records since I never did find Fanny and Fred living together in a census. Not knowing what this meant, I ventured down to the Cook County Archives and sat at the microfilm desk. (I knew Illinois was broke, but for Petes sake, could they get a machine that you didnt have to crank by hand? What year is this, 1912?) So I cranked away for an hour, and Im getting highly annoyed I might add. That is, until I hit the jackpot. Finally. I found a divorce index Fanny and Fred, March 1911.
To quote Harry Carey, HOLY COW. Now Im fired up and its all I can focus on. I also realized that the divorce date was 1 month before the official adoption papers were issued for Helen, and the lawyer on the adoption was the same lawyer for the divorce. That cannot be a coincidence. Frank, did you pay the bill? It took 2 weeks of patience, which is not a virtue I possess, but the day finally arrives for me to go back to the courthouse and view the record. Im giddy and bouncing in my shoes as I walk the 15+ blocks to the Loop. I cant imagine what it will tell me, but Im beyond excited. What I get is a document folded in 3 parts that hadnt been opened since 1911. The original rusty staple holding the pages together was still there.
The first word I saw was abandoned. According to Fannys testimony to the courts, husband Fred abandoned her in 1899 (Helen was born in 1900). In addition, there is a sister named Anna who testifies to the abandonment. And finally Frank, the adopted father, testifies that he knew Fanny for the past 10 years, she lived alone, and did laundry for a living. But the part that still breaks my heart is that Frank tells the court that Fanny would occasionally go to his house to visit her little girl. Remember when I said I was bouncing with excitement on my way to view the record; well, my walk back home was met with a somber tone, and a few tears.
My whole perception of my great grandmother changed in an instant and I began to feel a connection that I cannot explain. Whether I am right or wrong, this is what I think went down. She came to the US in 1889 to live with her siblings in Chicago, and eventually got married in 1895. 1 year later, her husband left her and never returned. She was broke, lonely and she got pregnant out of wedlock. Fanny attempted to raise Helen by herself, but had no money, and lived the life of a servant in someone elses house, doing someone elses laundry of all things. Im sure bringing an infant into this situation was problematic with her employer. So she had to give up the baby to a better life, which Im confident broke her heart. I truly believe this just based on the fact that she often went to visit her as a child.
Fannys sister in the divorce record was my goldmine to their family. I found sister Anna and 2 other siblings living in Chicago, and I even confirmed their parents name and birth location in Bohemia. However, it was sister Annas obituary in 1935 that mentioned her sister Frances. But now Fanny has a new last name. Obviously, she remarried and it only took me a couple weeks to piece it all together. I found Fannys 2nd marriage record in Ohio, which took place 2 months after the divorce, and 1 month after the adoption. I found her in the 1920 census with her new husband Clyde and a 6 year old son living in Idaho. I immediately found her death record in 1942 and subsequently received her death certificate 2 weeks later.
And yes, there was more lying that I uncovered. On the marriage certificate to her 2nd husband Clyde, she used her first married last name as the name of her parents, instead of her real maiden name. Then she checked the box that said she had never been married before, which probably means she didnt tell her husband about her past. She also said she was born in Chicago, even though I have her immigration record and a picture of the boat she came over on from Bohemia. But who cares at this point. She lived in an era where shame was the devil, and god forbid you made a mistake. Yet that mistake led to a wonderful mother of 7 and grandmother of many, including me. That is not a mistake in my book. Fanny just stumbled into an unconventional path to motherhood that other people had a hard time accepting. The hardest thing for me to reconcile is how it affected my grandmother. I hope to god she isnt mad at me for uncovering everything. I wish she were alive today because I believe she would have felt more comfortable telling others.
So there it is. 9 months of brick walls, all to come tumbling down from a divorce record.
I want to meet Fanny in person, but that cant happen until I see her in Heaven. So for now, Id settle for a picture. I havent been able to come up with that yet. And I will definitely visit her grave in Twin Falls Idaho. Hopefully soon. Maybe one day I will get the guts to reach out to the children of her son who now live in Utah. But Im too chicken to do that. I fear they have no idea that grandma had another life.
One final note. I briefly mentioned that I thought Helens adopted father was really the birth father. I have yet to uncover one single hard fact to substantiate this claim. My theory is based on whispers, and gut. Frank knew the birth mother and let her into his house. I doubt that would happen if he picked up a baby at an orphanage. Also, Frank and his 2nd wife were 46 years old when he brought Helen into his home. I cant imagine he wanted to be changing diapers and chasing a toddler into his 50s. Dont forget another key fact - Fanny lived next to a cop in the 1900 census. Ok, that may be a stretch, but it doesnt shut the door, just helps to keep the theory alive.
There is one other factor in my gut speaking to Frank as the real father. In 1972, my father did a taped interview with his parents so he could document their family history. What a blessing this has been to my research. But it is haunting to listen to my grandmother speak, especially now that I know the full story. Keep in mind nobody knew she was adopted during this interview. So when my father began asking questions, she ran away from the microphone and told him she didnt want to do it and didnt know anything. He eventually coaxed her over, and we get to listen to her speak glowingly about her father Frank. Yet, when he asks about her mother, she said she doesnt know anything and changes the subject. Its definitive that something is not right, yet she speaks with such reverence to Frank. So now I ask you, why would she love her adopted father so much, yet avoid speaking about her adopted mother? See what I mean?
This past summer, I traced Franks roots to a distant cousin in Chicago. We met in person and are discussing a DNA test. While the test wont be conclusive, it will tell us if we cannot possibly be related. Im all for checking that box on my research skills, and adding to the story, even if its only in my head.