Simply a riddle

We all have those ancestors –  you know, the ones who are your continual brick wall.  August and Theresa Yess are my brick walls or I should say, ‘were’ my brick walls.  My 2nd great grandparents were from what is now Germany, but I couldn’t figure out where exactly or when. Every time I’d start down the path to discover their nativity, they would quickly frustrate me. Then I approached this riddle with a late 19th-century mind and I broke through the wall.

My mom had never heard the names of her great-grandparents before.  Her grandfather had died a tragic death overcome by gasses digging a well when her father was 11 months old.  No family stories were passed down from him, obviously.  Mom found this picture of her great-grandparents after her parents’ death in their attic.  It had only their names on the back.

Theresa Hanlach Yess and August Yess

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess (1829-1905)

How do you solve a riddle like this?  We didn’t know any of my grandfather’s cousins very well.  Mom had never thought to ask them the family stories.  So, for over 30 years I simply knew Theresa Hanlach Yess was from Bavaria and August Yess from Prussia.  I had checked census records, city directories, probate records, marriage records, death records, obituaries, illustrated histories of Peoria County, Illinois, and other anecdotal information that was available.  No more clues than Bavaria and Prussia were available.  Yess is a relatively unique last name, much like my married name, Terstriep.  I had searched the United States census records and found some in Milwaukee, WI,. but believed my grandparents had come straight from what would become Germany to the Peoria county.

After feeling I had exhausted nearly every clue I had, I spent a vacation day at the local county clerk’s office hoping to find more information.  No luck.  I finally asked where the local genealogical society was and it was just a few blocks from the courthouse.  One quick lunch later, I went into the library and genealogical area to visit with a lady who worked there.  She helped me search several sources for more information: funeral home records, church records, cemetery records, etc.  No luck.

Then I began thinking like a Prussian and Bavarian immigrant from the 1850s.  “Who would care if I died?” I asked myself.  I thought about it and decided to check to see if there were any German-language newspapers in Peoria at the time of their deaths.  There were at least two – one wasn’t published at the time of their death.  The other newspaper, “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, was.  The lady helping me in the library said she didn’t read German and couldn’t be of much help.  I, fortunately, had taken a year of German and could stumble my way through it.  German Fraktur font, which most everything was printed in, is not easy to read.  Over time I had become a little more comfortable deciphering it while volunteering to transcribe old papers for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the National Archives and Records Administration.

She politely helped me load the microfilm and carefully explained how to advance on the film.  She shared what little knowledge she had of the set up of the paper.  As we visited,  I forwarded the microfilm to the day after my 2nd great-grandfather’s death and (I know you’re not going to believe this but, ) as if a light shone on it, I saw his name!

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Enlarged copy of August Yess’ obituary in the Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, a German-language newspaper of Peoria, IL.

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In the orange higlighted box is the original-sized obituary of August Yess.  You’ll note the German Fraktur makes the name look like “Auguft Deb” rather than August Yess.

I was so excited I couldn’t believe it! Did it tell where he was born and any other information?  I quickly snapped a photo of it, submitted it to the Facebook group I belong where group members translate all languages, and by the time I had made my 1 1/2 hour drive home, I had the answer.

Here is the translation: “August Yeß. 
August Yeß, who died in his flat/house, 203 Fischerstraße, yesterday morning, was born in the area of Stettin, Prussia, and came to America in 1852, where he settled at first in Milwaukee.  1855 he came to this area and earned a lot of wealth through a farm. He has been living in Peoria for 15 years. For a short period of time he was ill and his rapid death was very unexpected for his friends and family. He was appreciated in general and was an admired man. He leaves behind a widow and five children. The burial is on Sunday afternoon half 2 o’clock at the house and the Evangelical Trinity church. May he rest in peace!”

Stettin, Prussia?  A quick Google Map search told me Stettin, Prussia was today Szczecin, Poland!  POLAND!  Szczecin is very near the German border.  I hadn’t even considered this thought.  Today I would be considered part Polish because country’s borders changed so often.

You see, when I thought about it, I considered if  I was a Prussian immigrant, most people in the United States wouldn’t really understand the difference between Stettin, Prussia and Berlin, Germany.   It wouldn’t make much difference to them what town I was born in, it would make a difference whether or not I was an American or a German.  My great-grandfather did become an American before he died, but to his countrymen, they would understand and know the difference.  They would care to know exactly what town he was born in.  Looking for his obituary in the German-language paper opened that door.  Unfortunately,  “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat” was not published when my  2nd great-grandmother died.  What part of Bavaria she was from is still to be solved.

52 Ancestors Challenge – 32

The theme this week refers to the number of the current week of the year…32 out of 52.  Difficult to believe more than one-half of the year has passed us by and I feel I still have many stories to share.  This theme was vague and left me to ponder many ideas.

I considered looking up important events that happened during different ancestors’ 32 year of life.  Fortunately Ancestry.com makes this an option with their timeline feature.  Most of the female ancestors I looked up had given birth in their 32nd year.  Quite surprising when you consider 32 years old seems older than we usually think about for childbirth these days.

My other thought was to find important events ancestors had lived through in the “32 years” – 1632, 1732, 1832, 1932 and so forth.  Unfortunately, this was much more difficult than I imagined and I’m ready to send Ancestry a suggestion for another feature they can add!

I settled on 32 questions I would like to ask an ancestor.  Specifically, I chose 32 different ancestors and have one question for them to answer.  If somehow from the great beyond they are able to send me the answers, please do so-preferably in a typeset page and signed by you or a letter written in your best penmanship, sealed with your personal seal in red wax.  Asking too much?

Without further ado, here is my list of “32 Questions I Wish To Know The Answers To”

  1. 2nd Great Grandfather – August Yess – Why did you leave Germany and who were your parents?  You’ve always been a difficult nut to crack and I seem to be willing to go to all ends of the earth to solve this one.  I’m learning German language this fall just to find clues!
  2. 2nd Great Grandmother – Permelia Jane Ellis Chenoweth – You had brothers and nephews and cousins who were involved in the Civil War. What kind of impact did it leave on you?
  3. 2nd Great Grandfather – Elias Birdine Chenoweth –  In your business papers, I have found many papers where you lent money to others and deeds where you purchased land.  What was your secret of business?
  4. 2nd Great Grandmother – Mary V. Peroni – You were born in France. Where, who were your parents and where did you meet your husband?  (That’s only one question even though there are several parts if you are keeping score.)
  5. 2nd Great Grandmother – Eleanor Senate Lawrence – What is the importance of your middle name?  I don’t seem to find any other connection to tell me why you have “Senate” as your middle name.
  6. 2nd Great Grandmother – Veronica Bootz (Schmitt) Smith – Was my 2nd great grandfather your second husband?  Some records seem to indicate that might be the case.
  7. 6th Great Grandfather – Hammond Harrison – You were born around 1715 in Yorkshire, England.  What was your occupation and what was your day-to-day life like?
  8. 7th Great Grandfather – John Chenoweth – You were born in St. Martin’s, Cornwall, England. In 1682 at age 23, you had immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland.   How difficult was the journey and why did our family choose Baltimore?
  9. 3rd Great Grandmother – Mariah Sherman – Are you related to General WilliamTecumseh Sherman?
  10. 3rd Great Uncle – Jonathan McBride Brown – You served in the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, but your son in law served for the Confederate Army.  Did you ever meet in battle?
  11. 4th Great Grandfather – Michael France – You were born in 1776 in Virginia.  What did your family share with you of that historic year?
  12. 2nd Great Grandfather – Daniel Medi – You and Mary had eight daughters and everyone of them had the first name of Mary.  (Mary Josephine, Mary Victoria, Mary Margaret, Mary Augusta, etc)  Beside the fact you apparently were a devout Catholic, what were you thinking?
  13. Great Grandfather – Thomas Edward France – You were sent West for your health and you went to the middle of Kansas.  Why did you pick Kansas?
  14. 3rd Great Grandmother – Eliza Jane Hulvey Sheets – During the Civil War, you went west to Illinois and during the trip, you and your children became ill with diptheria.  Who cared for you and when did you find out that four out of five of your children had died?
  15. Great Grandmother – Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake – You lived in Kansas on the prairie as a young woman. What was your life like helping to take care of your siblings in those days?
  16. 3rd Great Grandfather – Christian Swise – You were born in Hanover, Germany, but by age 26 you were in the United States and getting married.  Tell me what brought you here and about the journey.
  17. Great Grandfather – Thomas Edward France – Please tell me the story about you holding my grandmother, Vera, and your sister asking you what “brat” that was?  How did that make you feel?
  18. 2nd Great Grandmother – Teresa Hanlach Yess – You and my great grandfather, Augustus, came to Peoria, IL in the 1850’s and amassed quite an estate.  You outlived him and five of your six children.  How did you hold the estate together and who did you rely on?
  19. 2nd Great Aunt – Amanda Yess –  Documents show you were in a mental hospital in Bartonville.  What challenges were you facing that caused this?
  20. 2nd Great Aunt – Sarah Alice Salmans Abbott – You were the oldest of 10 children of Levi Franklin and Rosa Jane Brown Salmans. Your mother died when you were 22 and you remained at home until age 33 to take care of your siblings.  When you did marry at 33, tell me what your wedding day was like after caring for this large family?
  21. Grandfather John E. Yess – You lost your father before you were a year old.  When you were two, your mother remarried.  What was your relationship like with your step-father?
  22. Great Grandmother – Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine – You lost your father and mother within the same year.  One year later you gave birth to your second child, and within another nine months your husband passed away.  What did you do to survive?
  23. Great Grandmother – Amelia Jane Harrison Smith – You were born in 1868 and lived 83 years.  You came from a large family.  How close did you remain to your siblings throughout your life and what did you do to stay in touch?
  24. 2nd Great Grandfather – Johann B. Schmitt – John Smith – You were born in Bavaria in 1828 and immigrated to the United States.  What were your thoughts when you changed your name from a German version to an English version in 1856?
  25. 3rd Great Grandfather – Solomon Harrison Ellis – You were born in Georgia in 1805.  Why did you move to Illinois even though it appears the rest of your family remained in the South?
  26. 4th Great Grandfather – George Ellis – You were born in Mecklenburg County ,Virginia; by age 11, your family lived in Rowan County, North Carolina. You died in Copiah County, Mississippi. Tell me about the journeys of your life and why you moved so often?
  27. 6th Great Grandmother – Alida Lydia Pruyn Logan– (1707-1788) You lived in New York until you were 40 and then you and Andrew show up in South Carolina.  What was happening in South Carolina in the 1770’s and 1780’s during the Revolutionary War and how did it affect you?
  28. 5th Great Grandfather – (Major) Francis Logan – According to a descendant’s SAR application, you served as a Captain in the camp at Ninety Six, SC during the American Revolution.  What did you witness there and during your 93 years of life?
  29. Grandmother – Jessie Smith Yess  – I was fortunate to have you to ask questions of for much of my life, but what did you enjoy playing when you were a child?  I think you were a tomboy, is that correct?
  30. Grandmother – Vera France Chenoweth – Again, I was able to ask you many questions first hand, but you were very talented at crocheting, tatting, and sewing.  Who taught you these skills?
  31. Grandfather – Elzie Chenoweth – You answered many of my questions about family when I was a child, but was your mother a good cook and what was your favorite meal for someone to make for you?
  32. To all my ancestors – Did you ever feel you would be forgotten, because you haven’t.

I’ll let you know if I get any letters posted to me with red wax seals on them.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – CHALLENGING

This week’s topic is “Challenging” and it is challenging, so to speak.  I have certain ancestors I don’t know much about and haven’t had much luck in the research of them.  I haven’t delved deep enough, so to speak, into their past.  I’m certain there are most likely documents to help me should I be patient enough to take the time to research further.

Mariah Sherman Clanin was my 3rd great grandmother.  She was born in Ohio in 1813 to Thomas R. Sherman (1792-1847) and Lavinia Barr (1791-1817).  I have always been a great lover of history and especially the American Civil War.  Obviously, my mind first went to the fact General William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Ohio in 1820 and I’ve wondered ever since if we weren’t somehow related.  I’m still wondering and searching.  Mariah married Edwad Clanin while living in Ohio and they later moved to Fulton County, Illinois.

William Tecumseh Sherman was born in February of 1820 in Ohio to the Hon. Charles Robert Sherman (1788-1829) and Mary Hoyt (1787-1852).  “Cump” Sherman as he was affectionately known to family members had several siblings: Hon. Charles T. Sherman, Mary Elizabeth Reese, James Sherman, Amelia McComb, Julia Ann Willock, Lampson Parker Sherman, John “The Ohio Icicle” Sherman – U.S. Senator and U. S. Secretary of Treasury & State, Susan Denman Sherman, Hoyt Sherman and Frances Beecher Moulton.

My great grandmother also had many siblings and half-siblings: John C. Sherman, Sarah Sherman, Lavinia Sherman, Margaret N. Sherman, Amanda Sherman, Andrew Sherman, Nancy Sherman, and James Sherman.  None seem to match up with any of “Cump” Sherman’s.

Several of the given names are similar between families, but they also are not that unique to be a factor in connecting the two families.

Edw and Mariah Sherman Clanin

Edw and Mariah Sherman Clanin

Mariah died in 1890, four years prior to Edward’s death.  She was 77 years old at her death.  I believe this photo was probably taken not too long prior to 1890.  She seems to be holding spectacles in her right hand.  Edward is holding some sort of paper.  It is known that he served in the Army during some war with Indians as a family member has a buffalo coat he gained during that war.  Perhaps he had difficulties with his hands due to age.

Mariah is pretty challenging.  I intend to keep working on her to match her up, hopefully, with William Tecumseh Sherman, but if I don’t find a connection, it certainly won’t change my interest in General Sherman.  Who knows…if I got back far enough, I might find the connection!

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – INDEPENDENT

Emma Jane Harrison and George Edward Smith

Emma Jane Harrison Smith

As July 4th nears, I began thinking about the word “independent” and what definition I would use in this blog.  Obviously the Fourth reminds one of the independence of the American spirit as we became a new nation, but independent can also categorize people.  An individual can be less dependent on others.  They can carry an independent spirit or they can struggle to keep their independence as they age.  All these definitions can be used here.

Amelia (Emma) Jane Harrison was born March 21, 1868 to Robert William Harrison and Eleanor Senate Lawrence.  She married George Smith, who was five years her elder, in 1888 and during the next 23 years she gave birth to six children.  Her third child, Jessie Eleanor, was my grandmother making Emma Jane Smith my great grandmother.

Jessie Eleanor Smith Yess

Jessie Eleanor Smith Yess

Grandma Jessie always talked about her mother as a hard worker and the industrious type.  One could imagine how busy Emma Jane was running a household with six children.  Grandma’s father, Great Grandpa George Smith had a tendency for heading to town with her egg money at times to visit the tavern.  Keeping their head above water probably also made Emma Jane an independent woman.

Emma Jane’s father, Robert, died when she was only 22. She had given birth just a few months before to their first child, Blanche.  Emma’s mother, Eleanor Harrison, died when Emma was 54; her husband, George, died when she was 63 in 1931.  Emma lived until the ripe age of 85 and died November 20, 1953.  During her later years, she sometimes lived with my grandparents (John and Jessie Smith Yess).  She was used to doing something of worth every day and when her health and eyesight were no longer what they had been, she still felt the need to contribute to the daily housework at Jessie and John’s house.  Grandma Jessie would take newly-cut out tea towels and have her mother hem them each day.

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Sharon Yess Chenoweth

My mother, Sharon Yess, recalls watching her grandmother, Emma Jane, carefully hem the tea towels each day.  She also remembered watching her mother, at night after Emma had gone to bed, unhem the tea towels. The unhemmed towels were put back in a stack for stitching the following day.  In this way, Grandma Emma contributed to the housework in her mind and still felt some independence or worth.

Sharon Yess Chenoweth

Sharon Yess Chenoweth

I come from a long line of independent women.  I’m pretty sure our family motto was “Do It Yourself Because No One Else Will Do It”.  DIY is what we’re all about. I believe independent spirit can be handed down or bequeathed through DNA and I believe I have a double dose of independent spirit from both sides of my family.

Julie Chenoweth Terstriep

Julie Chenoweth Terstriep

.  Obviously our facial characteristics can be inherited too. As I loaded pictures of myself, my mom, my grandmother and my great grandmother, I was struck by the fact we all look quite a bit alike.  That must be what “Independent Spirit” looks like.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Military

Memorial Day is a genealogist’s Christmas, truly.  It’s a time when we honor our ancestors by decorating their graves and also a very important time to recognize our military.  The day was established after the Civil War to honor the dead.  I struggled with this weekly theme.  Both of my uncles (my mom’s brother and my dad’s brother) served in the United States Army. My own dad served in the National Guard, but my grandparents, Elzie and Vera Chenoweth, made a great sacrifice in the name of military also.  They served in a unique way.

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

In 1981 I convinced my Grandma Vera Chenoweth to dictate the story to me of their farm and what happened when a military camp came into the neighborhood.  Fortunately it was printed in a lovely book titled, “Tales of Two Rivers II”, published by the Two Rivers Arts Council and Western Illinois University’s College of Fine Arts Development.  Rather than write my interpretation of the events, I decided to go back to the primary source and let Grandma tell the story.  So I present to you, from my Grandmother Vera Viola France Chenoweth, the following story — “US Was Written on the Cars”

It started in the spring of 1941. We would see strange cars going up and down the road.  Some of our neighbors said they saw “US” written on the cars.  This went on all summer and we all passed anything we heard back and forth. The in the fall, we saw men surveying for the roads and the sewers that ran under the roads. But you couldn’t get anything out of those guys.  They wouldn’t tell you anything.  Then one day, Elzie (my grandfather, Elzie Chenoweth — pictured above) went to bale hay at the neighbors, and he told everyone that he’d heard we were going to get a camp because he’d seen them unloading cats.  Well, everybody thought he meant “Cat” tractors, bulldozers, but after they questioned him, he jokingly said it was “tomcats”. 

Next thing, those men came to our house and asked Elzie to walk the farm with them.  They’d asked different questions and every once in a while, they’d scribble something down, but they wouldn’t tell anything either.

By the Spring of 1942, we had rented a Macomb farm, afraid they’d build the camp and we wouldn’t have any place to go.  Then we saw water towers being built between Ipava and Table Grove.We’d get up to milk in the morning, and we’d see the lights over by the water towers where they were working.  Then they started building some long storage sheds, and by September, the government had purchased 8,500 acres of surrounding farmland.  By the 10th of September, before the corn had even matured, they brought in bulldozers and plowed up the fields, corn and all, and were getting it ready for building.

We got a notice on February 1, 1943, that we had to be off our farm by March 1, 1943 — a month from then. We didn’t now where we were going to be.  So we had a sale.  Our sale was on Friday, February 26th. Things sold well.  People came from everywhere, because all the neighbors had to sellout, too.  We had a rubber-tired truck, built for us by Cecil Wright for $65 early in the year, and it sold for $200.  Woven wire fences went for $1 a rod.  We had to get our hay and straw out of the barns, because they were going to tear them down.  On Saturday, the 27th of February, one day after our sale, we had read bad weather, a blizzard.  We had planned to move that day, but didn’t know what to do.  Our boys weren’t old enough to help a lot.  Our oldest son was only twelve.  But Elzie’s brother and Oliver Smith came and helped us move that day to Macomb.  On Sunday, the government workers were in, tearing down our barns and letting the boards fall on our horses and tractor that we didn’t have moved yet.  

While it was going on, lots of newspaper men came in to do stories on the new camp. People in Macomb thought it was great. I was going to improve business for them.  Everyone around us told us to fight it, but we went to Illiopolis, and talked to them and decided it wouldn’t do any good; just one man fighting the government. 

When we were moving, it was every neighbor for himself.  Normally neighbors would hep each other, but all of us were moving.  Some folks closed up farming; some went to farm somewhere else.

On July 4, 1943, they had an open house at Camp Ellis.  They said there were 8,000 soldiers at the camp … on land that used to belong to us and our neighbors.

There are a few notes I need to add to Grandma’s writing. 

  1. First, my Grandpa Elzie was a big joker, so it was not surprising to hear he had tricked the neighbors with his cat joke.
  2. Cities mentioned in this article are all in Illinois . Macomb is in McDonough County.  Table Grove and Ipava are in Fulton County.  Illiopolis is near Springfield, IL.
  3. When Grandma mentions the neighbors, she is really talking about her extended family.  The Chenoweth and France family had lived and owned farm land in this neighborhood since the 1850’s. My father was the 5th generation to live in the house on the farm. The house was torn down when the camp came in.
  4. “Elzie’s brother” refers to Harry Chenoweth.  Oliver Smith was a cousin to Elzie on his mother’s side. Oliver Smith’s wife was Mazie Swise Smith. Grandpa Elzie’s mother was Dolly Swise Chenoweth.  Mazie and Dollie were sisters, however, Oliver was the same age as Grandpa Elzie — Dollie’s son.
  5. My grandparents purchased a farm near Macomb using the good word of the Table Grove, IL bank and the promise of the federal government to later pay them for the land.  In 1968, Grandpa and Grandma retired and moved into the city of Macomb to live — some 25 years after having to leave the original farm.

The most important part of this story was one I lived – it was the example my grandparents gave us.  Grandpa Elzie died at the age of 88; Grandma died at 93.  In all the years I had shared with them (25 with Grandpa and 34 with Grandma), I never once heard them speak with anger or bitterness over having lost the farm to the government.  This was war time — World War II.  Their cousins and neighbors were losing sons.  They would lose their hired man in France several days after D Day.  I distinctly remember Grandma saying they felt it was their duty to help in the war effort by giving up the land. Through their example of patriotism and sacrifice, I consider this the way my grandparents served in the military.  On this Memorial Day Weekend, please remember those who have served our country whether it be in uniform or in support of those in uniform.  God Bless America.

The Patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s Tree.  Thomas Campbell.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – There’s a Way

Veronica “Faroneka” Sophronia Bootz  – if that really was the correct spelling of her name, was my 2nd great grandmother.  She has always been an enigma.  German-born with a German last name, although again I suspect it is incorrectly spelled on documents in the United States, she insisted my 2nd great grandfather Johann Bernard Schmitt Anglicize his name before she would marry him.  He became John Bernard Smith.  It was 1856 in Peoria County, Illinois when they married.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

She is one of those story puzzles you work on in 3rd grade where several words are missing from sentences and you have to guess what will complete the story.  At this point, I don’t have the missing words to fill in much.  What I do know was she found a way  –  a way to leave Hesse-Darmstedt, Germany with one of her brothers, Peter,  and sister, Elizabeth, to avoid a physically abusive relationship with their father.

Family records are usually homogenized. If the victors of war write the histories, then the most politically-correct Casper Milquetoast individual must be the writer of family stories.  They are usually sugar-coated and boring. “George Edward was born in 1801, the third of five children….”  The truly interesting and rich family histories are those that reveal what life was really like –  REALLY like.

Fortunately some of those stories remain in the form of family letters written to an uncle in Peoria, IL.  For many years they were unreadable to my uni-lingual family.  We understand English and a few smattering of words from high school French and Spanish.  These letters were written in Old German- I don’t recall if it was Low German or High German.  A German professor at the nearby university translated them for my mother back in the late 1970s.  When we read the translation, we were stunned with the revelations disclosed to the uncle by Peter.  He blatantly states he and his sisters desire to come to the United States and live with their uncle as their father regularly beat them.  If you read between the lines it was obvious the uncle in the U.S. was well aware of it, but was much more kind to his nieces and nephews.  So physical abuse by their father – and the desire to see the United States and prosper in the new country led to a pleading letter.  There were a precious few letters between the two men.  Our family is not even sure why we have possession of them, but fortunately we do.

Peter, Elizabeth and Veronika Bootz found their way out of Germany and out of physical oppression at the hand of their father.  They found a way to get to Peoria, Illinois.  Veronika found Johann Bernard Schmitt and married him, soon to become Mrs. John Smith.   How ironic the brutal reality of their family letters wove a complicated tale about family relationships that was anything but simple or homogenized.  Yet, when she married and adopted the American spelling of her husband’s name, she became any other “Mrs. John Smith” in America.

She found a way to slip into the shadows of the new country perhaps to hide her abusive past.  Leaving the old country was not always about finding new found riches or abundant land, sometimes it was about blending in to the background or escaping your terrible past.  Most important was in a time when women had little decisions to make on their own and were often victims of their circumstances, Veronika and Elizabeth along with Peter found a way.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Where’s There’s a Will

It was familiar, it was local and it was hiding a family secret.  Not only had I lived near Western Illinois University my whole life, but I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the institution. I had visited the Leslie Malpass Library numerous times. Teachers do LOVE homework and especially homework with research.  Research leads to libraries.  Libraries HIDE archives….well, not literally, but most people don’t think to check them out.

The Illinois Regional Archives Depository, better known as IRAD, is located on seven different state university campuses in Illinois. (Yes, we did get this thing right as well as claiming Abraham Lincoln.) IRADs hold archival documents for the state, which include birth, marriage and death records, county board proceedings, land deeds, mortgages and tax sales as well as probate records.  Probate records – right there under my nose – on the sixth floor of the building where I was researching the impact of recreation facilities on students in higher education. Secrets are always kept in the attic.  Every child knows if you want to find Grandma’s good stuff, go to the attic.  You’ll find her flapper dress from the 1920’s or flower power child picture of her from the 1960’s.  You’ll find your parents report cards, 4-H records and school yearbooks in attics. Your mom’s favorite doll, your dad’s favorite toy car and baseball glove in the attic. The items that tell our family stories are stored in attics…or on the sixth floor of the Western Illinois University library in IRAD!

By chance, I went to the IRAD and was interested in the Peoria County, Illinois records they had.  I was actually looking for information on my 2nd great grandfather and grandmother, August and Theresa Yess, but what happened “leafed out” the branch of our family tree instead. My maternal grandmother’s family were English (Harrison) and German (Schmitt).  The Harrisons were prolific collectors of family history. Must be something English.  The Schmitts or Shmitts or Smiths only had a little information.  We knew they had come to Peoria, IL from Germany.  We knew their names were Johann Bernard Schmitt and Veronika “Sophronia” Bootz and we knew they would later own ground in Jubilee Township, Peoria County, Illinois. We knew their children’s names. There was little more than that to fill out the branches.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

This is where the “attic” on the sixth floor of Leslie Malpass Library came into play.  I asked in IRAD if they had any records for the name Bootz or Schmitt or Shmitt. (The last had to be a made-up spelling as that is not a combination of letters in German that are used – the “h” and “m” together.) Suddenly the lady returned with a legal-sized folder full of papers  – probate records.  This is the gold mine I found.

WILL OF JOHN B. SCHMITT In the name of God, Amen, I John B. Schmitt of the Town of Jubilee in the County of Peoria and State of Illinois of the age of 56 years and being of sound mind and memory do make publish and declare this my last Will and Testament in the manner following that in to say: FIRST: I give and bequeath to my wife, Veronica Schmitt all my possessions, both real and personal of what kind so ever together with all the appurtenances thereunto belonging to have and to hold for use and benefit during the term of her Natural life Time.

SECOND: At the Death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, I give and Bequeath to my Son, William Wallace Schmitt all the piece or parcals of Lands as followes – the North West quarter of Section Eleven together with the West half of South West quarter of Section Eleven all in Township Ten North Six East of the fourth principle Merridian. Together with all the hereditaments ad appurtenances thereunto belonging to have and to hold the premises above described to the said William Wallace Schmitt his Heirs and assigns forever.

THIRD: At the death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, I give an Bequeath to my son, George Schmitt, all pieces or pracals of Lands as followes – the North East quarter of Section Eleven and the East Half of South West quarter of Section Eleven to hold the premises above described with all the hereditaments and impertinences thereunto belonging to him the said, George Schmitt, his heirs and assignees forever. And I further provide that should theire be any back payments or incumberance on the North West quarter of Section Eleven at the death of my wife, Veronica Schmitt, my son, George Schmitt, shall assign and pay one half of said indebtedness or should the title to the North West quarter of Section Eleven not be secured then the North East Quarter of Section Eleven and North West quarter of Section Eleven to be equally divided between my two sons, William Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt to be held to them their heirs and assignees forever.

FOURTH: At the death of my wife, Veronica, Schmitt, I give and bequeath to my daughter, Lizzie Schmitt Feaser, and her husband Wm. Feaser that piece or parcel of Land described as followes – the West half of the North West quarter of Section Twenty Six in Township Eleven North Six East of the fourth princaple merridian together with all the hereditaments and impertinences thereunto belonging to have and to hold for them and theire use during the term of their naturel life time and at the death of Lizzie Schmitt Feaser and her husband William Feaser to be equally divided among their Children of the said, Lizzie Schmitt Feaser share and share alike if an are living. Should there be none living at the time of their death when it shall be Equally divided between my Two Sons, William Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt, to be held to them their heirs and assignees forever. And further that any personal property belonging to my Eastate at the death of my wife Veronica Schmitt it shall be equally devided between my Two sons, Wiliam Wallace Schmitt and George Schmitt, AND: Lastly, I hereby appoint my wife, Veronica Schmitt to be Executrix of this my last Will an Testament without Bonds. She to approve and pay all Lawfull debts owed by me at the time of my deceace and hereby revocking all former wills made by me.

WITNESS: Whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seale this day of October AD 1884. (sig) John B. Shmitt

The probate records also listed all his worldly possessions down to how many down feather ticks for the beds they owned.  The value of cattle and how many bushels of oats were also listed in the will and probate records. There it was!  Buried in a library at the University I attended and work at.

Next time your mother suggests you study at the library, better take her up on it.  You might find your relatives there.

52 Ancestor Challenge – Live Long

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

The Egyptians put great emphasis on keeping the names of their pharaohs  maintained on their tombs, in halls and records.  They believed their pharaohs were immortal as long as their names remained for everyone to see. Genealogy is not unlike that belief.  In maintaining records and family trees, we believe we can give some measure of immortality to our ancestors.

My parents were children of the late 1930’s; my grandparents were born in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.  I was fortunate enough to personally know all my grandparents.  I was even more lucky to hear the stories they told of their parents and grandparents.  And with that set of memories, I easily move back to the 1830’s – almost 185 years in the past.

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

The picture above is of my paternal grandparents, Elzie Chenoweth (1897-1986) and Vera France Chenoweth (1902 – 1995).  Both lived long prosperous lives and saw their great grandchildren born.  With the blessing of videotape, I can still see them and hear them whenever I want. Grandma Vera was a daily diary writer and I still love to pick them up and read what she had recorded each day.  I hear her voice reading it when I see her handwriting.  She lives on through her writing. I hope to do that someday also.

Jessie Smith Yess  (1899-1990)

Jessie Smith Yess
(1899-1990)

John Yess (1896-1985)

John Yess (1896-1985)

These pictures are of my maternal grandparents Jessie Smith Yess and John Yess.  These youthful pictures of them remind me they once were young and just beginning their lives.  My grandmother had been a schoolteacher and quite frequently wrote down quotes or poems she liked.  We still have many letters and poems Grandma Jessie wrote.

Obituary of August Yess (1829-1905)

Obituary of August Yess (1829-1905)

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess  (1829-1905)

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910)
August Yess
(1829-1905)

The obituary at the left is of the man pictured on the right.  August Yess is my 2nd great grandfather and a German immigrant.  He became prosperous after immigrating to the United States and owned a lot of land in Peoria County, Illinois. The picture of August and Theresa Yess, as well as the obituary of August Yess, gives immortality to them also.

Immortality as defined by Websters dictionary, means “unending life”.  Pictures, stories, documents catalogued bring unending life to our ancestors and thus immortality.  It’s vital to honor our friends, relatives and ancestors by recording their names with photos.  We honor them when we repeat their names, when we tell their stories, when we remember them. They live long.

52 Ancestors Challenge – How Do You Spell That?

German is NOT an easy language!  Any language that would take the simple word of paratrooper and turn it into “fallschirmjager” is not an easy language to read or speak!  In 1981, I traded off my Cornish-sounding last name of “Chenoweth” – which means “new house” (Chy noweth) for the German grounded “Terstriep”  Yes, that’s right…TER STR IEP…No, Not EIP, but IEP….Once again, TER ST RI EP.  It’s not an easy name to spell.

Herman Terstriep family prior to Christina Tenk Terstriep's death in 1909.

Herman Terstriep family prior to Christina Tenk Terstriep’s death in 1909.

My husband’s 2nd great grandfather was Herman Terstriep. Herman’s father is listed in baptism records in Germany as either Johann Bernard Terstriep OR Johann Bernard Striepert.  The alternative name shows up in other records dating back into the 1700s.

The family story has always been that “Terstriep” is not actually the correct spelling of the name, but a schoolteacher a few centuries back changed the spelling. Really a schoolteacher? Of all occupations, one would assume the schoolteacher would spell the name correctly.

While I can’t corraborate that story, I can tell you the name has been misspelled and mispronounced by friends, teachers, clergy, neighbors and officials ever since.  “Tur-strip”, “Tier-strip”, “Tur-stripe” and a few other derogatory versions have been cooked up over the years.  Even my smartphone pronounces it differently – “Tur – STREEP”….ugh!

According to author Michael K. Brinkman in the book, “Quincy, Illinois Immigrants from Munsterland Westphalia Germany Volume II “Ter- is used as a prefix for surnames in many towns of western Munsterland.  In Dutch, the word means at, in or to.  Some examples are: Terbrack (at the fallow field), Terliesner (at the Liesner forest area between Gescher and Legden in Munsterland), and Terstegge (at a steep path or foot bridge). Every German immigrant in Quincy (IL) whose name began with the prefix “Ter-” came from western Munsterland.”

Western Germany is where my husband’s family came from.  Dating back well into the 1700s, there has always been a “Terstriep” in the parish records at Sankt Marien Roemisch-Katholische church in Alstaette, Ahaus, Westfalen, Prussia. It appears the spelling error was in vogue for a few years, but the rightful spelling was reinstated some time later.

So, once again, I went looking for clues as to how the name Terstriep came to exist.  If ‘Ter-‘ was to be paired with some other word to denote ‘at, in or to’ what was the other word?  That I’d have to ponder.

In previous blogs, I’ve referred to the fact I often “talk” to my ancestors.  While I don’t actually verbalize out loud to them , I internally talk to them.  I’ve asked them to help me find their gravestones, to tell me their stories and in this case, I’ve asked my husband’s ancestors to help me find the “Striep” in Terstriep.

While checking out what our German cousins were doing on a particular weekend (yes, there are still Terstrieps in Alstaate, Ahaus, Germany), I found one of them was visiting an island in the Netherlands.  Being the snoopy person I am, I looked the island up on the map.  Quaint, small, and honestly I didn’t realize there was this chain of islands off the coast of the Netherlands. They looked beautiful.  In some places, you are only allowed to ride bikes for transportation! Who knew?

As I scanned the map of the Terschelling Island, I found a very, very small town called (you guessed it) Striep. Somewhere in my investigation, I found this means “ditch”.  “Ditch” in Dutch. Literally, the name Terstriep must mean “at, on, or to the ditch”.  The ditch?  That’s it?  Misspelled, mispronounced and misunderstood and it just means “At the ditch”?

In 1867, Herman Terstriep (shown above) and his wife, Christina Tenk Terstriep, immigrated to the United States through New Orleans, LA.  They most likely took a steamship up the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois to join many other German immigrants from nearby Munsterland.  Every Terstriep in the United States, and there isn’t a great deal of us, can be traced back to Herman.

When you think of it, the Mississippi can be a wild and wooly river, but in reality it starts as a small stream…in a ditch…in Minnesota.  A ditch.   It all goes back to the ditch.  “Yes, that’s right T E R -S T R – I E P…we pronounce it Tur-strip.  Yes, I know it sounds funny.  It’s German.”

52 Ancestors Challenge – Different

Different, unique, outside the norm – we all have ancestors who can be classified as such.  Daniel and Mary V.(Peroni) Medi fill this category for me.  I don’t know much about them.  They are my only ancestors from France in my heavily English and German family. Little snippets of information dangle teasing me to spend more time finding them.  Little snippets – they were born in France in early 1820s.  Clues – Napoleon had just died; Young and Champollion had just broken the code of the Rosetta Stone. France was still in turmoil over who its true ruler should be.This is the world into which Daniel Medi and Mary Peroni were born.  Why did they immigrate to the United States?  What caused them to leave?  Where were they married?  Did they have siblings?  What was their backstory?

Daniel Medi's Death Certificate

Daniel Medi’s Death Certificate

Mary V. Peroni Medi's Death Certificate

Mary V. Peroni Medi’s Death Certificate

Somewhere along the line they were married and immigrated to the United States. Their first child – Mary Victoria Medi – was born in 1850 in France. Daughter #2 – Mary Margaret Medi followed in 1853 born in New Jersey.  Mary Augusta Medi followed the next year being born in New Jersey. Mary Rosa Medi and Mary Katherine Medi were both born prior to moving to Illinois.  Mary Louisa Medi was the first child born in Illinois. Mary Josephine was born in Jubilee Township, Peoria County, Illinois in 1866 as was the last daughter, Mary Caroline Medi.   Eight daughters – all named Mary XX.  Now that’s different and nearly a genealogist’s nightmare!

Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine

Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine – my great grandmother

These 2nd great grandparents are different in that I can find little about them save a tombstone in Peoria County, Illinois.  They appear in the 1860 and 1880 Census for the State of Illinois, but other than showing their nativity as France, no other clues exist.  Peoria County, Illinois is a heavy German immigrant area.  Did the Medi’s live near the border with Germanic areas?  Medi and Peroni don’t seem to be traditional French names.  They lack the sound of a French ancestry.

All together, they are just different – the odd branch sticking out on the family tree.   One would assume they were Roman Catholic with eight daughters named Mary.  Could there be parish papers for baptism to fill in blank spaces?

I’ll have to leave that mystery for a ….different day.