When I began researching years ago, I knew the names of my grandparents and what country in Europe their ancestors were from, but not much more. I have now traced most of my ancestors back to the Old Country, some to the 1600s. But there remained four ancestors with unknown places of origin among my sixteen 2x great-grandparents. A week or so ago, I decided to go back to the online resources, focusing on James Inglis, the Scottish seaman, and his Irish wife, Anne Corliss. This time I was more experienced, and I was determined to find the records.
Several sources confirmed that James’ parents were James and Isabella. Unfortunately, more than one James Inglis was born about 1838 to parents with these names. I had already ruled these Jameses out, because they were living in Scotland during the 1861 census, while my ancestor was by that time married and living in New York City. Scottish birth, marriage, and death records are incomplete before 1855 when civil registration was required; neither the marriage of James’ parents, nor his birth record were online. Continue reading “Finding Missing Pieces of My Ancestral Story: Scotland and Ireland by Carol P. Christ”
Last week, In the Room of Undressing where women strip themselves to the bone, my great-great-grandmothers on my father’s side spoke in me. I had been afraid they would judge me for not being a wife and mother like they were, but they did not.
The story continues with my great-great-grandmothers on my mother’s side.
Ingrid Mattsdottor, born 1829, Överhogdal, Jämtlands Län, Sweden, died 1918, Kansas City, Missouri, proprietor of a boarding house, mother of five daughters:
I was the oldest of eight children. Our father died when I was eleven. At sixteen I was sent to work as a servant in a village far from home. I stayed for six years. After that, I worked for two years on a farm in our village. I was twenty-nine, and wondering if I would be an old maid, when Olof and I married. Our five daughters came quickly. I knew a lot more about work and children he did, so I took charge. When the crops failed all over Sweden for two years running, I said enough was enough. As soon as our last daughter was born, I sold the farm, and we left for America.
Iowa was worse than Sweden. Our little Carin died the first year. Olof gave Ingrid to a wealthy Swedish couple without so much as a word to me. He kept talking about going back to Sweden. One day he took the money I set aside and bought his ticket.
By the time he came back for us, Anna, Sarah, Belle, and I had moved to Kansas City. I was running a boarding house. I told Olof that we had no intention of going back to Sweden with him. When Anna married, instead of moving out, she brought her husband and his children to live with us. Belle became quite the business woman and took over my role as provider. Sarah and her family were always close by.
I worked as hard as any man and Belle did too. “Far better off on our own,” we would often say. We are proud to have another strong woman in our family. I am sorry you didn’t get to meet Belle. You would have liked her.
Over the past year or so I have been reciting my mother line, seven generations back, as a mantra of gratitude that helps me sleep at night. Sometimes I also name my sixteen great-great-grandparents, though I often fall asleep before finishing.
I have gained courage from the strength of their lives, but I never wondered what my eight great-great grandmothers would think of me. My life feels so different from theirs. Perhaps I feared they would judge me and my life.
This weekend, while re-reading Woman and Nature, I followed the narrator through a Passage to the Room of Dressing:
Where the women are not close. Where the women keep themselves at a distance. . . . where the women tell each other that they are happy. . . . The room where the daughter denies she is anything like her mother. (156)
In the middle of the night in waking sleep, I asked my great-great grandmother Annie Corliss to tell me the story of how she met and married James Inglis. This story came through me in a place I have come to call the Dreamtime. The Aboriginal term feels right. As I understand it, this is not a place where the dead speak to the living but rather a space where boundaries blur as the ancestors speak in us.
Annie Corliss’s Story: As It Might Have Been
My mother decided to come to America after my father died. My brother Hudson was 7 and my brother Hugh was a baby. I was 13. Mother had a little money, and she said we would have a better life in America. We left Ireland on a boat that took us to Liverpool. There we boarded the big ship Continent that took us to America. The trip took about 6 weeks. While we were at sea, first Hudson, and then Hugh died. Their bodies were wrapped in the blankets that had covered them in the filthy cabins on the ship. The priest said a few words of blessing, and they were dumped into the cold angry sea. Every day, another body was thrown overboard, sometimes two. So much grief, so many tears in the night. After Hudson died, Mother wouldn’t let go of Hugh, so afraid was she of losing him. After he died, she would not stop crying. I kept telling her she still had me. She didn’t care anymore. “America is cursed,” she kept repeating. (1) Continue reading “As It Might Have Been: Ancestor Stories in the Dreamtime by Carol P. Christ”
During my ancestor research, I have seen the word “tenement”—with the implication of poverty, filth, and disease–handwritten onto more than one death certificate. Last month, I visited the Lower East Side where my Irish 2x great-grandmother Annie Corliss lived in the tenements near the docks with her husband the Scottish seaman James Inglis and their nine children.
Though the tenements where they lived in the vicinity of Cherry Street a block from the East River have been torn down to build public housing, my newly discovered third cousin Hattie Murphy still lives in the area. She arranged for me to visit the “Irish Outsiders” house in the Tenement Museum on nearby Orchard Street in order to gain an understanding the conditions of life in the tenements in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Tenement housing, which was a euphemism for apartment living in crowded and impoverished conditions, was often built on 25 x 100 foot lots that had been intended for single family homes. These several story buildings with four windows on the front of each floor were divided into small three-room apartments eight to a floor, each with one window facing the street or the back alley.
In the apartment we visited, the window was in the sitting room in the front, the bedroom was in the back, and the kitchen was in the center. The kitchen included a coal stove that was the only heating for the house. Laundry hung above the stove, and, as our guide explained, dirty diapers with only “number one” were simply pinned up to dry. Coal dust hung in the air and fell upon everything. Even in the summer when the windows were open, fresh air rarely reached to the kitchen, let alone to the bedroom in the back. Our guide remarked that the smells of cooking, coal, babies, and unwashed bodies would have been overpowering. Despite their poverty, the women purchased pretty dishes, often chipped, at second hand stores, and proudly displayed them.
Our visit began in the back “garden” where there were four toilets for twenty-two families. I shuddered to imagine trying to clean them or to run down to use them in the middle of the night. There was a pump for fresh water. The guide handed around a bucket filled with pebbles to give us an idea of the weight the housewives and their children had to lug up flights of stairs numerous times each day. No wonder baths were infrequent. I remember an older Greek friend telling me how they used to wash with a cloth from the waist up one day and from the waist down the next. Annie’s family may not even have managed that.
Our tour included a description of a sick and dying baby and a funeral with the baby’s body laid out in the sitting room. My 2x great-grandmother gave birth to nine children of whom, unusually, the first eight lived to adulthood. Annie must have understood that hygiene is heath. Her days would have been spent fighting to keep her house and her children as clean as she could.
The bedroom in the apartment we visited had a small double bed pushed up against two walls, with just enough room to walk past it to get to a small closet and a few trunks crammed in the space against the back wall. When James the seaman was home, this would have been the marital bed, but when he was gone, the younger children slept with their mother, while the older ones wrapped themselves in sheets and blankets near the stove or in the sitting room.
Anne, age 20, and James “Ingles,” mariner, age 25, husband and wife, living in the area of the docks, appear on the 1855 New York State census. In fact, Annie was perhaps 15, while James was 17. I suspected this was an unusually young age to marry, and research proved me right. The average age for Irish marriages at the time was 20 for the bride and 25 for the groom. Annie would have had every reason to lie about her age for reasons of propriety.
Documents I have only recently found show that Ann “Carless,” age 13 arrived in New York with her mother Mary on January 16, 1854. Her two younger brothers, one 7 and the other an infant, died on the ship. As I could not find Ann’s mother Mary after that, I assume she died soon after arriving, leaving her young daughter on her own.
Annie lived her whole life in America in tenements in the the unsavory area near the docks—filled with bars, drunken sailors, prostitution, and crime. She died at the age of forty-five of a stroke, leaving her husband and eight children. Because of her, I am here.
In early December 2016 I visited central Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, where my 2x great-grandparents Thomas and Anna Maria Christ and their son George and his family, including my father’s father Irving John, lived for over fifty years. I had compiled a list of all the known addresses of the family in Williamsburg from census and death records. The family lived in a several block square area surrounding Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on Montrose Street for all that time.
Most of the buildings at the addresses where the family lived had been torn down and replaced with housing projects in the mid-twentieth century. Some of the remaining ones are being torn down today, as this area of Williamsburg is being gentrified. Still, enough of the old buildings remain to give a sense of what the neighborhood was like in the 1800s. Continue reading “Ancestor Connection in Williamsburg, Brooklyn by Carol P. Christ”
In the past week I visited Cherry Ridge, Honesdale, Wayne, Pennsylvania in the Pokonos, where I was welcomed by my third cousin Marcia Perry Gager whose family never left the place where our ancestors settled. Marcia and I have been corresponding about our family’s history since Ancesty.com connected us about three years ago. During that time, together with another cousin, Debra Ball, we have managed to decipher the complicated history of Henry Iloff, his two wives, and their eighteen children.
My visit to Honesdale began at John’s Evangelical (formerly German) Lutheran Church. Following a last-minute discovery that the baptism, marriage, and funeral records of the church were not in the Wayne County Historical Musem archives as I had been led to believe, I made a call to the “emergency number” of Pastor Richard Mowery the day before our scheduled visit, not knowing how he would respond to this “not-really-emergency” invasion of his personal space. Continue reading “Down on the Farm by Carol P. Christ”
This continues the story I began last week. Catherina is my 2x great-grandmother; Agnes is my 2x great-aunt; Johanetta is my first cousin, 3x removed, and my step-2x great-grandmother; Henry is my 2x great-grandfather. It is true that Henry had eighteen children with two wives. It is also true that Henry and Johanetta married and had a child soon after Catherina’s death. Some of the other details came in waking trance as I allowed the ancestors to tell their stories through me.
Agnes Lattauer Sweitzer: I thought the day Catherina left for America would be the worst day of my life. I did not know I would see Catherina again. I did not know I would outlive my two little sisters and both of my brothers. I did not know what my daughter would do. I read Catherina’s letters from America through my tears. How I wanted to be with her on her wedding day. How I wished she had been with us when we buried our sister Johanetta. My heart nearly burst when Catherina wrote that she longed to take my hand when she gave birth to her first child. My mind contorted itself trying to envision her living in a big city, in a big building, climbing up and down stairs, her feet never touching the earth, her hands never working the soil. What kind of life was that?
Catherina Lattauer Iloff: I left home a girl. Because I was not yet engaged, Mother and Agnes never told me about married life. What to expect. What to do. I loved Heinrich, or Henry, as he wanted to be called after he became a citizen of the United States. I was not prepared. Henry was so insistent. I was soon pregnant. First Henry, named for Henry’s father Heinrich, then Elisabeth, named for Mother. I had to care for them on my own. Henry was busy with his work during the days. In the evenings he went to the German beer garden to meet his friends. Growing up with my mother and sisters, I had never been alone. There were other women around, but they were busy with their own lives. Some of them were kind, some of them were not, but nobody cared about me the way Mother and Agnes did. One night Henry came home and told me he had been talking with his friends. There was land available in a place called Cherry Ridge, Pennsylvania, a day’s journey from New York City. He said it was his dream come true. We would build our own house. There was plenty of land to farm—not like back home where there were never enough fields to go around. I held my tongue. I did not tell him that I suspected I was pregnant again.
Agnes Lattauer Sweitzer: Catherina and Henry have been to Cherry Ridge. Catherina says there is land for us there too. I don’t know what my Heinrich will say. Life is difficult for us here, but we have two young daughters, Elisabeth and Johanetta, and the baby, Peter. There is Mother to consider. Well, you could have blown me over with a feather. Heinrich said we should grab the opportunity before it is too late. Mother said she would come with us, because she wants to see Catherina and Rudolph again before she dies. She is an old lady. I wonder how she will manage the journey. But I couldn’t say no. The two of us cannot contain our joy. We will see our beloved Catherina again.
Catherina Lattauer Iloff: My life is complete. Mother and Agnes and the dear little children arrived. Mother immediately took Henry and Elisabeth in her arms. Agnes comforted me about the loss of Baby John. I could finally allow myself to cry, knowing that Mother and Agnes would be there to wipe away my tears.
Agnes Lattauer Sweitzer: Our first years in Cherry Ridge were difficult. There were houses to be built, fields to be plowed, cows to be bought and milked. I had two more children, Henry, who died as a boy, and John. My little sister outdid me. She had nine children in all: Henry, Elisabeth, John who died, John who lived, George, Catherine, Mary, Frank, and Barbara. Giving birth to so many children took its toll on her. After the last one, she was never well. I think she may have been pregnant again several times, but she never spoke about it, not even to me. Finally, she took to her bed.
Catherina Lattauer Iloff: I had nine children. I never told anyone about the babies I lost before I began to show. Mother and Agnes worried that I was having too many children. But what could I do? I loved Henry, and I loved every one of my children. Mother died a few years after she came to Cherry Ridge. She always said she was so happy she had undertaken such a great adventure. She was pleased to know that Agnes and I were settled and happy. I miss her every day. Agnes is always by my side. I was forty-two when Barbara, my last baby was born. I bled a lot. After that, I never carried another child to term. I was never myself again. Agnes is my rock. Johanetta helps with the little ones. Henry is still strong as an ox, busy in the fields or with the cattle. I see that Johanetta hangs on his every word. I dismiss such thoughts from my mind. I do not know how much longer I have.
Agnes Lattauer Sweitzer: Catherina died yesterday. She was only forty-six (I am now fifty-six), and she had not been well for several years. I told her to stay away from Henry, but she was powerless to do so. Sometimes I blame him for her death. I worry about Johanetta now. Wild horses will not keep her away from Henry. I see the way she looks at him, and I see the old goat looking right back at her. She is twenty-six, a full grown woman.
Johanetta Sweitzer: I can’t believe it! Henry asked me to marry him. Mother is furious. Father says he should have whipped me a long time ago. But they can’t say no. I told them I am pregnant with Henry’s child. The older children are shocked that their cousin is marrying their father. The younger ones are thrilled. They have always viewed me as a second mother as well as an aunt. I have been looking after all of them these last years what with Aunt Catherina being so ill. I love those children.
Agnes Lattauer Sweitzer: I had to forgive Johanetta, but I will never forgive Henry. I smile when I see him to keep the peace, but my heart is cold. Peter was her first-born. After that she had Agnes and Emma, who died of some of those diseases children get. I could not help wondering if that was God’s punishment.
Johanetta Sweitzer Iloff: Henry and I were married for twenty years. Except for losing Agnes and Emma, those were the happiest years of my life. In all, we had nine children: first Peter, Agnes, and Emma, and then, Anna, Lawrence, Charles, Robert, Otto, and Phillip. Henry was a good man. He worked hard all of his life to support his family. We lost the second John a few years ago, but there were fourteen living children to mourn Henry’s death. The little ones are still with me, some of the others are scattered to the winds, and quite a few are settled around here, raising families of their own. While he was still strong and able, Henry was elected Commissioner of Wayne County. He served his fellow countrymen proudly for years. I wish Mother had been alive to see that. Maybe then she would have understood what a wonderful man he was.
When I first returned from my ancestor quest in Germany, I fell ill with a bad cold and cough and had little physical energy. For two weeks I lived in the dreamtime, communicating with the ancestors and trying to make sense of the information about their lives I had discovered. After I got better, I had difficulty returning to daily life. The ancestors wanted to speak through me. Their stories, based on facts, come to me in waking trance.
Agnes Lattauer Sweitzer : I was born in Ober-Floerscheim (Hessen Darmstadt) on July 9, 1812. I was the first in a family of five children. Four years after me came Jakob, named after Father, and three years later, Rudolph. It was nice to have brothers, but my dream of a sister came true when Catherina was born a month and a day after my tenth birthday. My mother was busy with Jakob and Rudolph, so I became a second mother to Catherina. I could not nurse her, but I could sing to her and rock her to sleep. I changed her diapers and gave her a bath. It was so wonderful to have a baby to take care of. Three years later little Johanetta was born two days after my thirteenth birthday. Another baby for me and Mother bring up together. I was in heaven. I was both mother and sister to the little girls. When they got older, I took my little sisters to play by the stream, where they giggled and cooed as we fed the ducks and the geese. In the summer, Mother and I brought them with us to the fields where we hoed and planted, weeded and harvested. They tried to pull weeds with their little fingers. It was my job to keep them from pulling up the plants too. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Sisters by Carol P. Christ”
I am Carol Patrice Christ, born in Pasadena, California, daughter of Janet Claire Bergman, born in El Paso, Texas in 1919, daughter of Lena Marie Searing, born in Lyons, Michigan in 1891, daughter of Dora Sophia Bahlke, born in Lyons, Michigan in 1858, daughter of Maria Sophia Catherina Hundt, born in Parum, Mecklenburg in 1827, daughter of Catherina Sophia Elisabeth Schoppenhauer, born in Pogress, Mecklenburg in 1798, daughter of Anna Sophia Seehasse, born in Zulow, Mecklenburg in 1756 in the clan of Tara. I come from a long line of women, known and unknown, stretching back to Africa.
In our ritual on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete this May, I will have two new names to add to my mother line. The name Sophia was passed down through the maternal line for at least four generations. I am sorry it was not handed down to my grandmother, my mother, and me.
When I left for Germany a little over a month ago, I knew that Dora Sophia Bahlke was the mother of my grandmother Lena Marie Searing and that Dora Sophia’s parents were Anton Bahlke and Maria Hundt, immigrants from the small towns of Parum and Dummerhutte, in Mecklenburg, Germany. I did not have their parents’ correct names, and I had very little information about their lives in Germany. I have now put some flesh on the bones. Continue reading “An Illegitimate Child in Mecklenburg, 1850 by Carol P. Christ”
In the past month I have been on a spiritual journey seeking my German ancestors. Six of my 2x great-grandparents were born in Germany, which means I am 37 ½ percent German. Growing up, I was subjected to a form of patriarchal family disciple I came to identify as German, but I was told very little, positive or negative, about my German heritage.
Though I had been researching my family tree for five years when I began my trip to Germany, I had no clue about where in Bavaria the Thomas Christ-Anna Maria Hemmerlein branch of my family originated. While making final preparations before the trip, I learned that German church records are no longer kept in individual churches, but are grouped together in church archives. Some areas also have family records in state archives. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of German records were not destroyed in the two World Wars. However, many of the German records are not online. Continue reading “Finding Bavarian Ancestors by Carol P. Christ”
The last few days I have been living in dreamtime with my Swedish ancestors, most especially with my great-great-grandmother Ingrid, about whom I have learned a great deal over the past year. Through a distant cousin Thomas Sievertsson, who has been researching the part of Sweden from which she came, I have discovered details about the kind of life she lived in the old country that few descendants of immigrants are lucky enough to know. Here are a few of them. Continue reading “In Dreamtime with the Ancestors by Carol P. Christ”
I became aware of atDNA (autosomal) tests for ethnicity while watching the PBS American ancestry programs created by Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates. In considering ethnicity, it is important to remember that 99.9% of human DNA is shared. AtDNA testing focuses on the .1% that is not. This type of DNA testing can locate African DNA geographically, and it also can reveal Native American and Jewish ancestry. When the test recently became less expensive, I decided to try it. I was particularly interested to see if my 3x great-grandmother Gertrud Zimmerman might have been Jewish. Continue reading “Ancestor Connection and DNA Testing by Carol P. Christ”
When I decided to become a career woman, I thought I had no role models in my family. My parents (who sometimes considered me the black sheep) would have agreed. Imagine my surprise to find a matriarchal family and three generations of businesswomen women among my Swedish family in Kansas City!
My great-aunt Edith who was a stenographer, secretary, and notary public was a fixture at family gatherings. When I knew her, she was living in California with her two brothers who also were not married. Until their father died, they had lived their whole lives in the family home in Kansas City. I sensed that though my family respected my uncles, they felt sorry for Aunt Edith. It certainly was never suggested to me that instead of getting married and being supported by a husband, I could become a self-supporting working woman like my aunt. Continue reading “Strong Female Role Models among Swedish Immigrant Ancestors in Kansas City by Carol P. Christ”
These days I can’t get my 2x great-grandmother Anna Maria Christ off my mind. She may be the independent female ancestor I have been looking for all these years.
My father’s father was transferred from New York to San Francisco during the depression. When I moved to New York City, I felt powerfully connected to its diverse immigrant culture, but I never thought of trying to figure out where and when my ancestors lived there.
Recently I found my Scottish and Irish 2x great-grandparents, James Inglis, the seaman, and Annie Corliss, mother of 9, living in the tenements on Cherry Street near the port of New York. These were my father’s ancestors on his mother’s side. I felt inspired by a photograph of Annie to take her Irish spirit of triumph over adversity into my soul.
Because it has become fashionable to be interested in things Irish, I began my ancestor research there. In fact, I am more German (3/8) than I am Irish (3/16). As I have delved into my German ancestry, I realized that being German became a cause for shame in both the First and Second World Wars. German language newspapers were banned, Germans were interned, people hated Germans, and many Germans changed their names.
Records show that I have ancestors who immigrated to the United States from Ireland, Scotland, Prussia, and Germany in the early 1850s. Historical research tells me that more than a million people left Ireland and Scotland in the 1850s due to the “potato famine,”* which affected the rest of Europe as well. History explains why ancestors emigrated.