My maternal Grandfather died in 1963. My aunt decided to honor his memory by writing a biography of him and his side of our family. She self published and gifted each one of her siblings and nieces and nephews with a copy of it.
My Grandfather was a kind and generous man whom we all loved very much. However, at the time I received my copy of the book I wasn’t particularly interested in the family history part other than the part that dealt specifically with my Grandfather. Later on when I became interested in Genealogy it was a virtual treasure trove of information. I was very fortunate to be able to begin my own research with all the right names back to my Great, Great Grandfather who was the original emigrant to come from Ravensburg, near Baden-Wurtemburg, Germany in 1854.
At the time my aunt wrote this little book the internet did not exist, or if it did actually exist it certainly didn’t for folks like us. So my aunt had to gather her information in the only way she knew how to do it. She asked every relative she could find about what they knew about the family. Since my Grandfather came from a large German/American Catholic family she found plenty of relatives to interview. Along the way she picked up many family legends, some of them in multiple versions.
When it came my turn to start looking it didn’t take me very long to figure out that every single one of these legends had been substantially altered as they were passed along verbally from generation to generation but every one of them was loosely based on fact. Some of them a lot more loosely than others. Finding out what the true story was turned out to be an adventure and I loved it. Trying to figure out who they were was not nearly as interesting to me as what kind of a person they were.
I haven’t solved all my mysteries yet and how I long for someone to invent a time travel machine. But in the meantime I started in the only way I knew how by taking each ancestor, one at a time and sending for every public record I could find and then sitting down and trying to put all the pieces together and trying to get some sense of what life may have been like for them.
I won’t bore you all with a list of all the different types of records I accessed but I will say that I found some records much more interesting than others. Military records, especially from the Civil War era are sometimes full of information that goes far beyond the bare facts of the ancestor’s military service. Here is an example of how I found out a lot more information than I was expecting.
Legend #1: My X2 G-Grandmother had 4 husbands. This is a matter of record as well as being something that has been highly speculated on by many of her descendants. In a telephone conversation with a 3rd cousin he told me “My Aunt Dolly said that Mary _ had four husbands and one of them was stabbed to death with a pitchfork.”
Fact: Husband X2 died in a farming accident. I knew that because when Mary _ filed for a widow’s pension from husband #3 the application stated that #3 had died from consumption caused by hardships suffered while serving in the 2nd Mo. Infantry during the Civil War. Apparently she also had to prove her 2 former husbands were actually dead as well because included in the pension application was a sworn and notarized affidavit by a friend of #2 who stated that #2 died as a result of a fall from a hay wagon. (Source Pension Record)
My Conclusion: Legend #1: Since #2 actually died as a result of a fall from a hay wagon and my cousin’s Aunt Dolly said he was stabbed with a pitchfork I concluded that he probably landed on it when he fell. This made the family legend a little less colorful but did clear Mary of doing the poor guy in.
This is Mary with her 4th husband. Poor Mary has one of those deer caught in the headlights kind of looks. But those civil war years were hard times for many people and Mary was a survivor. We have tough women in our family.
Legend #2 from same family: #3 was a Master Brick Layer and member of the GAR and was active in the Republican party and was a popular speaker at political rallies.
Fact: Death Certificate states that at the time of death #3 was working as a moulder in a brick factory.
My Conclusion Legend #2: If #2 worked as a moulder in a brick factory and given the state of his health per Pension Record, (#3 had died from consumption caused by hardships suffered while serving in the 2nd Mo. Infantry during the Civil War) I am guessing he simply had a big mouth. I can’t see a consumptive person who worked at a menial job in a brick factory making the rounds as a speaker at political rallies. But he might have, who knows.