Thursday, September 26, 2013

German Ancestors Serendipity Moments

For over forty years my genealogy contained my elusive ancestor, Mary Schaffer. She is my grandmother's grandmother. The family history has been known for years, as her husband's line was traced by two family members, Catholic Priests, who traveled to Germany to document the male line. Her husband Frank/Franz Neppl was born in Arnbruck, Germany in 1852. He and his seven siblings all immigrated to the United States between 1860 and 1880. Their parents died in Germany.

There appeared to be little information for Mary Schaffer. My grandmother always said she was born in Paris and was from Alsace, Lorraine and spoke French at times in their home. This was very misleading. Being stuck with this information in my head she was put off for future research, or when I felt like attacking this brick wall. On Tuesday while visiting a good friend at her Family Search Center we discussed locating her. Then in looking at online family trees we discovered some very good clues to her origin.

In the 1880 census with her husband, her place of birth is listed as Bavaria, which is the same area her husband was from. From the online trees we discover who her family is and that they were from Zwiesel, Germany, a place not far from where he was from. She apparently immigrated in 1875 with her parents and seven siblings. It appears that her older brother John came 1870-1872 according to the census records.

For her siblings there were some additional family trees. They provided various birth, marriage and death information. Some included pictures of the person, headstones, marriage and death certificates, and naturalization records. Of the nine children there are marriages for six, and at least one appears to have not married. Two have family histories included. This family first settled in Carroll County, Iowa and then spread out west to the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, California and Oregon. The parents appear to have deceased in Stanton, Martin County, Texas.

The online family trees have contact information for the submitter and in contacting them I did receive one response so far. It was from a gentleman who has no connection to the family, but was gathering information for a project about the Lost Dutchman Mine alleged to be in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. Maria's brother Albert worked at this mine. I am very grateful for his post as it provided the clear path to locating my great, great grandmother. Many of the other online trees seem to have also made this connection and added information about their line. These clues provide the information to take this family back to Germany.

The next step in the process is to contact the Catholic Church in Carroll, Carroll County, Iowa for records for my immediate ancestors Frank and Maria Neppl, their marriage, births of their eight children and death records. For Mary and five of her siblings the full birth dates may be found in the US records or in the records of Zwiesel, Germany.

For my final step in all of these amazing serendipity moments came when I did a google search for Zwiesel, Germany. The results of that search included the following information:

German Research Handout -
Oct 22, 2011 ... German Genealogy and German Emigration Records - Duane Bogenschneider ... Name of Town District (Kreis) ... Viechtach Niederbayern Zwiesel. Arnbruck.
It turned out to be a handout for one of my classes that was shared when I taught at a local genealogy group. This certainly demonstrates the power of the Internet web crawlers to pick up this detailed information. For me it was a reminder of a great web site for further information.
So it appears that Mary/Maria was probably not born in France. How did this family myth originate and why did I allow it to narrow my mind to the research in this family? In working with my friend we agreed that sometimes we need another person who is not entrenched with family lore to expose us to very reasonable answers. My friend has mentored me in family history research for thirty-five years, but the timing was right this week to break through this brick wall.
Open your minds to options you may be overlooking and you may enjoy some astounding moments of serendipity in your family history research.

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