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  • Writer's pictureGail S. Blankenau

Looking back is what we do

Another busy day in the office doing genealogy research, punctuated by a cousin’s phone call to discuss getting another original record and tracking our common ancestor’s War of 1812 service. I love getting these phone calls from my ever-wider circle of “cousins.”

However, my main focus for the last few days was for a client’s German side of the family. I had already gathered a marriage record for an ancestral couple from the 1890s, both of whom were born in Germany. The husband’s information included both parents’ names while the wife’s information had only her father’s first name.

So, I used the option in to search within that specific marriage record set for anyone with the wife’s maiden name, hoping to pick up a possible sibling. Bingo! Found a man whose father had the same name. I then gathered information on him and his siblings, building out the tree. I gathered obituaries for the entire group. In the end, I still had a bit of a puzzle. One sister’s obituary named my client’s female ancestor as a half-sister, while none of the others mentioned her at all, even though she was still alive when they died.

She was related, but how?

Following the logic of the one obituary mentioning the half-sister coupled with the marriage record, I theorized the siblings had the same father and different mothers. But when I gleaned what I thought was the passenger list into the U. S., some of it fit and some of it didn’t. Moreover, there was a girl in the group the right age to match my client’s ancestor, but with a different first and last name. She was the same age as one of the other children, both of them in the middle of the family group.

I was able to locate a German baptismal record for one of the proposed siblings. I then searched within that specific record set and finally figured it all out. Notice that the technique here was to search only within the specific record set. My research demonstrated that my client’s ancestress was a step-sister, not a half-sister to the rest of the family group, a daughter of a second wife’s prior liaison.

Yes, I said “liaison,” because she was illegitimate. For those who have heard me lecture on German genealogy, illegitimacy was fairly common. Then the single mother married a widower with children and moved to the U. S., bringing her 13-year-old daughter with her in a blended family. The last time the girl used her birth name was on that ship’s list. Then she took her stepfather’s last name and never looked back.

Dortmund Germany

But for genealogists, looking back is what we do.

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