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matthewkmiller on Family Tree Circles

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What to work on when hitting brick walls

With new clues very elusive, my attention has been divided among the various branches of my tree, hoping for some big discovery that could really grab my attention and get me excited to discover new information. When I focus on one area too long with no new information, it gets very discouraging. That's when I "give up" and move to another part of my tree until the same thing happens there.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from someone whose family is from the Ulm/Stadelhofen area (where my Panther family is from). He saw one name that matched one on his tree and said that the marriage information he had for this person didn't match mine. It ends up we were talking about two different people with the same name, from the same area and the same timeframe. His family did touch mine in other areas though and they were from the area whose church records I have a copy of. I got some names and dates from him and decided to see what I could find. For a couple of branches, the records died out early. Apparently the family moved there from another location whose records I don't have. For at least one of the branches however, we appear to have hit the motherlode of information. It also happens to be on his direct male ancestor line so we're researching his father's father's father's father etc etc etc.

While this isn't a line that is directly related to me, it is still exciting to find new information for someone. To be reading the old Latin church books and finding pertinent information regarding someone's direct ancestors is very satisfying. If I could make a living doing this, I think I could enjoy it. However, seeing how time consuming it is, I don't see how professional genealogists can make a living. To charge an hourly rate that could support me and my wife full-time seems like it would be astronomically expensive to the person receiving the resulting information.

Because of this, I do it for fun and leisure. The way I describe it is that everyone has a hobby. Some people enjoy crossword puzzles in their spare time. I enjoy family history research. The biggest difference is that I'm actually accomplishing something that means something to someone. In the meantime, I expect that eventually I'll have most of the families in these villages all mapped out so anyone whose family is from the area would have an easy time of finding all their family just with one quick query. Yes, that will take a long time but it's something to look forward to.

1 comment(s), latest 5 years, 8 months ago

Families in Lee County, Iowa

I knew the families in Lee County, Iowa, formed a tight-knit community with members of the various families marrying members of the other families at many different points. This meant that seeing a Menke, Groene, Fedler or one of a few other surnames meant you knew they were related, at worst, within a marriage or two to my line. I found some new information on Find-A-Grave, (which, I know, is a clue and not a source but in my experience, tends to be pretty accurate), that shows that they are more closely related than we thought.

It ends up that Maria Adelheide Menke, who was the daughter of the sister of my great-great-grandfather, Johan Diederich Menke, married Kasper Herm Groene, who was born in the same small town in Germany that she was, Schwagstorf. They then moved to West Point, Iowa. They are the parents of most if not all the Groenes in the area. In addition, their daughter married a Fedler and they are the parents of most if not all of the Fedlers in the area. So, these Fedlers and Groenes my mother knew when she was a child, even though she didn't know it, were related to her. I also saw a couple of Menkes marrying Fedlers and Groenes from these lines so it appears there are some "kissing cousins" in the mix, although they are pretty distantly related.

Note about this post: For those who are observant, you see that Maria Adelheide is the daughter of the SISTER of my g-g-grandfather, so why does she have the last name of Menke? The Menkes were one of the richer families and estate owners. When Gerd Herm Tobe, of Schwagstorf, married Maria Adelheide's mother, Margaretha Maria Adelheid Menke, he took her last name so the Menke name was passed down to their children.

Another Headstone

I was just at the St. James Cemetery in St. Paul, Lee County, Iowa a couple of weeks ago and got a photo of my great-great-grandmother's headstone. I was quite happy. This morning I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't do more research before going. I have discovered that there is only one ancestor that died in the United States whose headstone I don't have a photo of. That is Johann Heinrich Kempker, AKA John H. Kempker, born 1797, died 1872 in St. Paul, Lee County, Iowa. This is my great-great-great-grandfather, he's buried in St. Paul, he's the last ancestor's headstone I don't have that I could expect to get a photo of easily, I was there a couple of weeks ago and didn't get a photo.

1 comment(s), latest 5 years, 10 months ago

Cemetery Visit

While in the area for my uncle's funeral, I was able to stop in at St. James Cemetery, St. Paul, Lee County, Iowa. I found my great-great-grandmother's grave!

It is understandable that it flew under the radar of non-genealogists in the family, if they were even interested in finding it! She was born as Maria Elizabeth Geers, later her married name was Maria Elizabeth Menke. After Johan Diederich Menke died, she married a Schutte. I was looking for Maria Schutte or Maria Elizabeth Schutte. She was buried as "Elizabeth Schutte". Regardless, I found her grave and got some good photos of it to add to my database. I also wandered through the cemetery for an hour taking photos of graves that had familiar names and took some photos to fulfill photo requests for fellow Find-A-Grave users. I ended up taking about 80 photos there. I'm still working on going through them, cropping them, putting them in my database and submitting to

In the meantime, Rest In Peace, Uncle Urban. I'm sure you were greeted at the Pearly Gates with "Well done, my son."

Death of Urban Panther

I am sad to report the death of my Uncle Urban Panther. He was born May 6, 1917 in St. Paul, Lee County, Iowa to Benedict Panther and Elizabeth Menke Panther and died December 7, 2012 in West Point, Lee County, Iowa at the age of 95. "Slug", as he was known, married Bertha Pulskamp on Jun 21, 1949 in Hillsboro, Traill County, North Dakota. He was the father of 11 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood. He worked the family farm on highway 218 in Lee County Iowa that his father farmed before him. He passed it along to his son John Anthony Panther, who preceded him in death in 2006.

I remember going to southeast Iowa to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins, typically at least once per year growing up back in the 1970s. Many years, Mom and Dad would drop me off at the farm where I'd stay with Urban's family for most of the entire vacation.

Urban was a great man. Hard working and honest. My mom told me about his nickname, Slug. She always thought that they called him that because he was tough and he could really slug a baseball. She said she was heartbroken when she learned that he got the nickname because he didn't move very fast. Slow as a slug. It's funny, at the Panther reunion 4 years ago, I remember talking to my cousin, Urban's son, Greg. I said, "Your dad's still getting around pretty good for 91 years old. Not very fast but he's getting around." Greg replied something along the lines of, "He's never been very fast."

Mom is heading to my house this morning and we'll hit the road to pay our respects to her brother Urban and his family.

Update on Bixenman Books

After emailing the long list of people expected to be interested in the republishing of the Bixenman Family History Book, Volume 1, I received an email from a distant cousin. She said, "I wish I had known you were looking for Sister Catherine's books. She gave me her copies of the Bixenmann family books and I have two copies of Book 2 and would love to send it to you as you are the first one to express interest."

So, my republishing wasn't "necessary" in order for me to obtain a copy. That's okay though. I'm happy to have it available to others who are interested given the short supply that is out there. I've decided to do the same thing with volume 2. I'm actually considering putting the two volumes together into one. I believe it would be within the page limits of the on-demand self-publishing site. If so, I think I'll make them available individually, in case someone needs just one volume. In addition, I'll see if I can put them into a single volume. I think this could be the next major project, to start from scratch to publish the entire Bixenman Family Tree book, including George Bixenman's branch, since I've since received that also.

However I proceed, I'll definitely work with Paula to be sure the best possible book is published.

Update on Cemetery Search

I finished making my way through the Find-A-Grave site for the St. James Cemetery in St. Paul, Lee County, Iowa. It ends up I don't have 75%+ of the people buried there in my database. I "only" have about 43%. I'm confident that several more of them are actually connected given their surnames but I can't confirm a connection. Regardless, this expedition allowed me to add dozens of headstone photos to people in my extended family tree.

Genealogy Speaker - [52 Weeks]

I know this isn't what Scott is looking for as a Genealogy Speaker blog post but I still think it's close enough to the subject and something I think makes a good post. I don't have a favorite genealogy speaker. I've heard a few people speak about genealogy through online videos and streaming audio. I don't think I've come across anyone I don't like, so I'm taking this post in my own direction.

What genealogy speaker most inspired me? Me!

No, I'm not getting a big head. No, I'm not saying I'm that great a genealogist or speaker. I think I'm moderately "okay" in each.

The reason I say this is because of the reaction, feedback and education I receive from others. I spent a few years making at least weekly visits to my local Family History Library at the LDS Church. I had hit the motherlode of family history information and I was spending large amounts of time scanning microfilm, making new discoveries and discussing my finds and techniques with the staff and other regulars. Before long, I was asked for advice from the staff to help others. It didn't take a lot of my time or effort and besides, I enjoy talking about my hobby. Finally, after nearly three years, I self-published the family history book on my mother's father's father's ancestors. It was a huge accomplishment that I was proud of and happy to have completed.

Nearly a year after publishing, I received a call from the local family history center. I hadn't visited in a while because I had nothing to research. My name had come up in conversation and they asked me to speak at their next monthly staff meeting. I was happy to take on the challenge although I hadn't done this before.

I put together a PowerPoint presentation, starting with what we knew about my great-grandfather's family before the breakthrough occurred, explained how we found the nugget of information that led us to his ancestors in his hometown, a village with a current population of about 2000 people in southwestern Germany. I then went on to explain how I researched, documented and published the family tree information.

What I presented and what I learned from that presentation is that presenting your information to others will help you in future presentations and, more importantly, help you in your research. We had an old photograph that was passed down through the family. On the margin was scribbled "Panthers in Germany". Panther is the family name. No one knew who was in the photograph or where it was taken. Because I had exchanged emails with others who had attempted research on this branch of the family, a second cousin, who takes trips to this area of Germany every few years just because he enjoys the area, heard about my research. He called me and said he going to the area in a couple of weeks and wanted information so he would know what to look at and see if he could do any more research. I got him a copy of the photograph and gave him names of the family from the area. While there, he met the city manager, who is a distant cousin and found the actual house in the "Panthers in Germany" photograph and found out how the house and the house next door had passed down in the family until recent times. I used a lot of this information in the book.

Then nearly a year after publishing, I recieved an email from another distant cousin. She has had letters written in 1913 in old German script in her possession from her grandmother's papers. She didn't know who they were from, to, or what they said. She asked if I could translate them. She sent them to me because I was researching the family. If I had not shared my research, I would never have known these letters existed. I could make out a few words but wasn't making much progress so I asked my wife's aunt, who grew up in Germany to see if she could figure them out. It ends up the letters were from my great-grandfather's half-brother, still in the village. The heading of the letter even had the name of the village! Had we known about these letters sooner, we might have found the village sooner. The letter went on to discuss the family photo that was enclosed. The letter explained exactly who was in the "Panthers in Germany" postcard. It also gave us a snapshot of what was happening in the village in 1913.

Then, during the presentation, the photo of the boat my great-grandfather came to America on came on the screen. I had put this photo in at the last minute because I thought it would be a good example of how to track down ship information. A lady in the audience spoke up, "When did your great-grandfather come to America?" I explained that it was in 1872. She said, "That's not the boat." Not only was it not the boat, it wasn't even from the same era as my great-grandfather's voyage. To say I was embarrassed is an understatement. However, this allowed me to establish a discussion with this lady who happened to be a ship expert. Over the following few months, we met up and found a more accurate sketch of my great-grandfather's ship, along with an advertisement for the passenger ship line from the era of my great-grandfather's voyage. It made for a great update to put out a second edition of the book.

The moral of the story is share! Exchange emails with distant cousins. Speak to other genealogists. Make a presentation at a family reunion, your local family history center or local genealogy society. Show people what you've discovered and how you found it. You just never know what they might provide you in return.