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!

IMG_4846

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

IMG_4845

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 – HALFWAY

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

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

This week marks the halfway point in my 52 Ancestors Challenge and the theme is appropriately halfway.  A suggested twist on the theme was to discuss an ancestor who you feel you have only halfway researched.  With much thought, I decided to further discuss my 2nd great grandfather, August Yess.

Here’s what I do know:  August Yess, as he was known in Peoria, IL, was born 29 January 1829 in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. We believe he immigrated to America via Baltimore, Maryland in 1852.  In 1855, he married Teresa A. Hanlach, also originally from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.  They had six children: Charles, Mary, William, Amanda, Joseph and John.  August died in 1905 and Teresa died in 1910.

I feel I only know half his story because Yess  cannot be his true surname.  Yess is not a German surname.  Much like many Germans who immigrated to the United States, the spelling of their surname was changed. Naturalization papers from 29 October 1892, show August Gess becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States.   He would have been 63 years old at the time and had lived in the U.S. for a length of 40 years.  Why did he suddenly feel the need to become a naturalized citizen after 40 years?

August was only 23 years old when he came to America.  I don’t know why he immigrated here, but I have learned a lot about Germany at the time from an Latter Day Saints genealogist who specializes in Germany.  King William and Baden were in upheaval during the 1850’s and he subsequently lost power to his son, Charles.  The political upheaval led to military action which led to emigration of many Germans.  Economic pressure also caused many Germans to emigrate to the United States.  Was it military servitude or no money that caused August to leave?

I don’t know anything about his family.  I haven’t successfully found records indicating who his parents were, how many siblings he had, where exactly was his home?  Funny how these pieces to the puzzle tell so much about an individual.  Without these important components, one can only speculate on motive.

I don’t know if he came to the United States with any funds at all. Records did indicate he worked as a teamster for a time in Peoria County, Illinois after he immigrated.  He also owned quite a bit of farmland in Jubilee Township of Peoria County, Illinois near the Princeville area.  The Yess family still lives on Yess Road near Princeville.  I do know upon his death, August had amassed quite a bit of money and land.  Peoria County, Illinois probate records indicate he had 15 different Certificates of Deposits in five different banks; three different personal loans he held from individuals, and rent due from a piece of real estate identified as “No. 1311 First Street” – town unknown,  another listed as “H.A. Tuttle house” and “Lynch house” and various farms.

In total, August Yess or Gess of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany was worth $19,983 in 1905 which would be worth nearly $540,000 in 2015.  How did he purchase so much land, so many city lots and collect so much money?  It’s going to require more research. Below are a just a very few of the probate records I have for August Yess.

August Yess Probate File Page 1

August Yess Probate File Page 1

August Yess Probate File Page 2

August Yess Probate File Page 2

August Yess Probate File Page 3

August Yess Probate File Page 3

August Yess Probate File Pg 4

August Yess Probate File Pg 4

Halfway through the year with 52 Ancestors Challenge and I am compiling a list titled “I Want To Know”.  #1 on this list will start with August Yess/Gess family history.  In order to learn some of this information, I’ve decided to take the next step and study German at my university this fall.  I don’t expect to become a phenom at it or a native speaker, but I do hope to be able to understand some of the basic documents I attempt to read.  I’m hoping if I meet August halfway by learning German, he will disclose more information as a thanks.

Knowing only half his story is like viewing a two dimensional photograph and attempting to see a three dimensional person.  There are too many missing details.  It’s time to fill in the details.

August Yess -Probate-List of Assets and Notes pg 1

August Yess -Probate-List of Assets and Notes pg 1

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 2

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 2

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 3

August Yess Probate List of Assets and Notes pg 3

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 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.

52 Ancestors Challenge: So Far Away

August and Theresa

August and Theresa Yess

“Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  This would have been a fair statement to have been attached to the photo my mom found in Grandma’s things. Mom and her only sibling, her brother Jerry, had the task most children do of cleaning out the family home in preparation for a sale to settle the estate.  There were photos…lots of photos and none filled with very much information, save a few.  “August and Theresa Yess” is what the handwriting said on the back of the yellowed image.

August and Theresa Yess – my 2nd great grandfather and great grandmother had kind smiles, wrinkles from a lifetime of adventures living and mystery behind them.  The first mystery was that name, “Yess“.  The whole family pretty much knew that wasn’t the correct name.  August had immigrated from Germany according to family tales and we’d never met any other “Yess” family in the United States that was related to us that weren’t of direct lineage from August and Teresa.  He’d married Teresa in Peoria county, Illinois in the 1850’s, bug what was THAT name?

Mystery #2: Why did he immigrate from what was to become Germany?  Was it the lure of family or friends who had previously come to Peoria, IL?  Was it some other decision that caused the journey?  Was he perhaps the second son, one who was required a lifetime of military service back in the mid 1800’s?

Mystery #3: Where were they buried?  Somehow we had lost them?  Few clues were in the papers to indicate where their mortal remains were.  Maybe there was more information on the tombstones that would help us to put “clothes on their tombstones” as my Mom puts it.

Mystery #4:  What happened to their daughter, Amanda?  She was fourth out of six children.  In some papers it appears she was married to a mysterious Mr. Bontz.  In other papers, I found her committed to a mental hospital in Bartonville, IL.  What was her story?

These people seemed closer than they really appeared because it has taken many years to unravel the stitches in the fabric of their lives.  Family stories, genealogical study, tramping around in cemeteries, and talking, YES TALKING to my ancestors has helped to bring them closer.

As for Mystery #1, our best guess and study of documents seem to point to August’s last name as being Gess.  It would be an easy error made by some English-speaking form filler.  Couldn’t understand the Bavarian?  Well, it sounded like he was saying Yes and it would be too confusing to spell it “Yes”, so add another S and be done with it.

Mystery #2 was not as easy to solve. Asking fellow researchers and studying more about church documents from the area that would become Germany will eventually solve the why of the immigration. Most likely that lifetime military service caused him to take a ship to the United States.

As to Mystery #3, I had finally narrowed down a very large cemetery in Peoria, IL where August and Teresa were buried.  I stopped by one spring day when I was in town for a meeting….little time to spare in a true search for their tombstones.  I had some help in pointing me in the general direction and as time continued to tick down, I finally said out loud to them, “If you want me to find you, I’m going to need some help.”  Lo and behold, a beam of spring sunshine came down to light a gravestone over near the trees in the ravine.  I chuckled to myself thinking, “Oh sure…yeah, right,…I BET that’s their stone.”  And as I walked over toward it, there was YESS on the canopy of the stone with “August Yess – Born: Jan. 24, 1829 Died: Oct. 6, 1905″ “Theresa his wife, Born: Apr. 23, 1824  Died: Mar. 1, 1910” on it.

All life’s mysteries shouldn’t be easily solved. The journey of our lives is piecing together what happened to our ancestors, sharing their stories, admiring their tenacity and bravery.  Sometimes the people appear much closer to us than they actually are.