Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Following Hansel & Gretel: John and Frieda (Bornemann) Schlomer

I know that this blog is meant to be short stories stories about my ancestors, but today the story that wants to be told is about the discovery process itself.  So, readers beware, you are about to be inundated with old Gothic handwriting, conflicting dates, mysterious sisters, funny town names, 4 weddings (with only one groom but three wives--figure THAT one out...), snail mail, cranky librarians and a twice torpedoed steamship.  All of it wonderful to a point that brings me chills.  (But if you STILL don't want to read this--it is a little lengthy, just scroll down to the links where you can get your own copy of some of these documents, if you would like to have them, frame them, whatever.  They are fun to look at, even without my commentary spewing forth.)

I was at the beginning of this story, but I don't remember it very well.  When I was about 11, I was introduced to the Pedigree Chart, and immediately became a huge pest.  I badgered my Grandpa Heagy plenty, I'm sure.  There were too many white spaces on his side of my family tree, and what was he going to do about it? Well, I forgot all about it, but he didn't, and a few years later I vaguely remember being in the Cardston, Alberta temple with Grandpa, Grandma, my mom and brothers, and hearing some of the names that linked up to the white spaces as we worked on making these people part of our forever family.

The names were German.

German genealogy is HARD, sometimes compared to following the white pebbles dropped in the dark forest by Hansel and Gretel.  Hard doesn't scare me, but hey, I don't speak German, so for the last twenty years I've been joyfully sifting through pioneers, pilgrims, and patriots.  All who obligingly left a trail on American soil, in the President's own English.  A few weeks ago I was getting bored finishing up the tail ends of a long project and wondered what my new focus would be.  A couple of days later I felt that it was finally time to take the plunge (into the icy Atlantic??) and start working on the Schlomers.

I started out with the easy stuff--some video tutorials on beginning German research with my ironing parked in front of the screen.  I learned two main things.  One, German Gothic script, also called Blackletter, looks terrifying but can be easily read (decoded) with practice.  Would you like to see a sample?  This stuff was used in print clear up into the 1940s!  Luckily I haven't really had to mess with it much yet.
Don't know what this says, perhaps something about a quick brown fox and a sleeping dog? I know "uber" is over.  Have also discovered that I LOVE Google Translate--it does whole paragraphs at a time, German to English, copy, paste, voila.  Just not the script stuff.
The second thing I learned is that in German genealogy, pinpointing the right hometown is supposedly the hardest part.  This is because there are so many towns with the same names.  Right name, wrong town, means wrong, wrong, wrong.

On with the search.  First principle of research is to gather up everything you already have.  What do I have about John Schlomer?  Some info about his birthday, death date, and marriage from a family tree Grandpa put together that is now online at new.familysearch.org. ( If you follow this link, you probably will need to log in.)  I consider Grandpa's information pretty reliable since he knew John in person.  I also know that I am related to John as follows.  Me>Mom>Grandpa Heagy>Cleora (Schlomer) Heagy>John Schlomer.  Lastly, I had already written a little bit about John's "run in" with the Kaiser on this blog that included some basic bio information, also with some pictures of John and my mom when she was little.
Lori Heagy and John Schlomer, pre-1962.

Second principle of research for me, is to remember that practical genealogy is the collection of the WRITTEN word.  At this point John has one pathetic file.  Hurrah for the internet revolution and the Spirit of Elijah that convinces all these volunteers to transcribe digitized documents into recognizable entries!  In probably under an hour I had found several records that concern our John Schlomer.  (I am still trying to figure out the best way to share documents on this blog, so hopefully these links to Google docs work if you would like a copy. May have to download to see larger...)

1.  A marriage license for John Schlomer and Frieda Bornemann
that does not list their parents, dang it.  It also does not tell us their exact marriage date because it is only the license.  Presumably they would have been married a few days later at a Catholic church.  It does let us know that they were living in Bentleyville, Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1907, John was already working as a brewer, and that John's age doesn't quite match with the information Grandpa had (why would John have said he was only 23 when he should have been, by all other proofs, about 26?  Maybe he was just nervous.  When we got our license, my hubby claimed that he was born in Cincinnati, Utah.  Haha.)  Grandpa and I sent off a request form to the Archives of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (never thought I'd be sending money, well, Grandpa's money, to the Catholic church!) hoping that they have the actual marriage registry, which should have a date and hopefully witnesses who might have been related.  When we were looking at this record Grandma also pointed out that they always had thought Fredericka Elizabeth Bornemann had spelled her nickname Freida, but here the signature says Frieda.

2.  A marriage record for John Schlomer and Mary Comer.  And then...
3.  ANOTHER marriage record for John Schlomer and Mary (Comer) Schlomer.
Yes, John married the same woman twice.  And divorced her twice.  Being twenty years older than the poor girl might have had something to do with it, I don't know.  The cool/frustrating thing about these two documents is that we finally have written evidence about John's parents.  Evidence that doesn't match!  Both records list his father as Anton/Andy Schlomer.  The first marriage lists his mother's maiden name as Elizabeth Ricek--very exciting--I did not already know this.  The kicker is that the second record lists his mother's maiden name as Elizabeth Vormann (could be Normann).  You're killing me here, John!  My guess is that one of the times he didn't fully read or understand the question, that it was a maiden name that was required.  Perhaps his mother had remarried at some point, or was a widow, or maybe his dad Anton married two different women named Elizabeth.  For now, we'll just be happy that we've got options and hope to someday find John's FOURTH marriage record, hiding somewhere in California or Oregon, to a woman named Josephine. 

4. A WWII draft record for John Schlomer.  Huh, you say?  Wasn't he like, sixty by WWII?  Was he just getting picked on for being German?  No, actually.  He had to participate in something called the Old Man's Registration, for all men between the ages of 45-64, for the purpose of identifying useful industrial skills, etc.  One very good possible clue from this record is his John's unusual choice of contact--someone who would always know his address.  He listed a Mrs. Louise Shaeffer, Cherokee St., St. Louis.  At the time John was living in Santa Monica, California.  Who is zees mysterious voman?  The 1940 Census comes out in April, and I'm hoping to pinpoint who she is.  Wouldn't it make sense that this could be a sister?  (Or maybe he had a widowed pen pal?)

My next stop was to visit the Riverton FamilySearch Center, where I can access the $$$ subscription required Ancestry.com for free.  While I was there I located two exciting records, still in English, lucky for me.

5.  John Schlomer's Naturalization and Citizenship record (the next page, for some reason I can't get it to upload here, I tacked it on the end), where he gives a specific hometown for himself:  Alme (two syllables) and also a hometown for Frieda:  Adorf.  Alme is a great piece of info because we already knew the district and region (Brilon, Westfalen, Prussia/Preussen--rhymes with poison).  Adorf is also nice but not quite as cool because there are several Adorfs in Germany and we don't know which one we want.  John lets us know that he came over on the Vaderland in August of 1903, departing from Antwerp, arriving in New York City.  He also had to renounce Kaiser Wilhelm II.

the Vaderland
When I read the part about New York City I got all excited that I might find a record at Ellis Island--they have a great website and I've never been able to use it because my other ancestors came over too early.  Well, I found the ship, the voyage, and the very long manifesto (1500 and some passengers) but John somehow got missed, either on the manifesto itself or by the transcribers.  It would have been easy to do, the record is pretty messy and torn in places.  I even tried searching by anyone in their twenties, and he still didn't show up.  This would have been a nice record because the passengers had to list who they were coming to visit.  If anyone feels like combing through, name by name, be my guest.  It was pretty cool to read about the Vaderland's crazy history.  (Grandpa also liked that part...surprise.)  It was a bit unlucky, getting torpedoed by U-boats in 1915 AND 1917, when it finally sank.

6. A ship manifesto entry for Frieda Bornemann, traveling on the Reine, departing from Bremen, arriving in Baltimore in 1906.  The crazy thing about this record is that she is coming to America for the 2nd time, having been to Chicago the year before!  She paid her own way and left the ship with at least $50 declared.  (They didn't make them declare more than that.)  She also had to answer all kinds of crazy questions that must have been pretty nonsensical for any non-English speaking passenger, such as whether or not you practice polygamy.  The best part of this record (as usual, also the most infuriating) is that Frieda says she is going to visit her sister in Charleroi, Pennsylvania.  We did not know that John or Frieda HAD any siblings at all.  The infuriating part is that the handwriting is not quite clear enough to define for certain.  Here, have a go at it.  I welcome input.
The first word is Sister, the initial is R--I think, because the word underneath it is Fourth, but it could be a B.  The married name (we know she's married, otherwise her last name would be easy--Bornemann) is tricky because it's getting some interference from below, and this clerk's capital letters are extra loopy.  Check out that "C" on "Charleroi", Pa.!  The librarian and I worked at it for a minute and our best guess was Loehner.  Could be totally wrong.  When I got home I hit on a verrrrry interesting possibility.  One of John's cronies, a fellow brewer who witnesses John's naturalization petition, is a Herman Lackner.  Unfortunately, Herman's wife's name was most definitely Mary, so that's not quite it.  There are more than one Lackner in the area, though, and they are also German.  We'll have to see what comes back from the Catholic Archives and hope that Frieda's family was close.

I called Grandpa to inform him that he now had a Great Aunt R. and found out that he was already down here in Utah.  He and Grandma came for a fun visit.  They also were extremely kind to come a different day to the world-renowned Family History Library on temple square.  Grandma and Leslie patiently scrolled through departures from Bremen looking for Frieda while Grandpa and I looked for Schlomers in a Catholic church book microfilm from Alme.  I was sure we'd find John's baptism record or the marriage record of his parents (and determine once and for all his mother's last name) but we didn't have any luck, other than to find that Schlomer is a very uncommon name.  My guess is that there was more than one parish in Alme, or his parents baptized him somewhere else.  When I tried to clarify the one entry for a Schloemer that we did find, the librarian didn't understand my question and seemed a little put out that I had already found the film number. In any case, I was glad for the Grandpa and Grandma's help because I would have been looking through those records all by myself, anyhow.

As we were winding up at the library, a senior missionary approached us with a big smile, noticing our three generations hard at work.  He told us that we were so lucky to be doing this together.  I agreed. 

So now we are at another impasse, hopefully not for long, but I think John and Frieda and their families are wanting us to keep them in mind.