One of the most maddening experiences in Genealogy is spending hours researching a family and coming up empty time, and time again! It can be challenge enough when you know the information you are dealing with is complete and accurate but occasionally the information we have to work with is faulty and misleading! At least we know the names of the people we are looking for…or do we??
I knew full well the name of my 2nd Great Grandmother, Sophia Lewis! My grandma had even preserved a photo of her with great love and care. Sophia Lewis had married my 2nd Great-Grandfather Martin Alexander Blancher 3 Nov 1866 in Oxford County, Ontario. The marriage record index actually listed Martin’s last name as Bluchen, which I believe was a transcription error. Martin was ten years Sophia’s senior. From this record I learned that Martin was indeed from the US as family lore indicated and his parent’s names were Richard and Elizabeth–good generic names! Sophia was from Germany–again exactly as my grandma had always stated–and her parents were listed as Christopher and Rachael. It was believed Rachel’s maiden name was Chandler. I was so pleased to have names and locations to work from!
I began to search through the Canadian records to flesh out this family’s story. The earliest Canadian census I could find for the Lewis family was the 1861. Christopher was written as Christian but there was Rachel and Sophia and Sophia had siblings, Charles, Christian (Jr.), and Eliza. While Christian (Sr.), Rachel, Sophia, and Charles were born in Germany, Christian (Jr) and Eliza were not. This would be helpful in determining immigration year! Sophia had been born around 1850 in Germany and Christian (jr.) was born in 1857 in Canada so the family had obviously immigrated within that 7 year window.
I could trace the family here in Canada, later census records, more children–William, Henry, and Sarah Lewis–but with only Germany as a location of origin for the Lewis family nothing led me further back. Location, location, location is everything when tracing family across the pond and I had little more than the vast ever changing country of Germany!
As seems to be the case in genealogy a little luck can be all one needs, one more piece of the puzzle which is the lynch pin, the clincher! It was luck which finally ended the madness. A woman contacted me on Ancestry.ca. She had seen my tree and all the research I had collected and realized the family connection. A distant cousin, she had a private tree of which I was unaware and she had information, amazing information!
Sophia Lewis was actually Sophia Johanna Karoline Laartz, her father Christian Johann Theodor Laartz and her mother Fredericka Maria Linow Shultz! Sophia’s brother, Charles was named Jahann Karl Frederich, and a sister Frederike Karoline Dorothea. Of course, I realized Lewis was not a particularly German version of a surname but I had not known about the name changes. It was backed by amazing documents which were in this woman’s possession and a fascinating story.
There was a “passport” letter written, certified, and sealed by the family’s pastor and dated 4 May 1855. This letter detailed the names and birthdates of each of children and indicated their parents names. Propably to verify the family ties for their emigration. The documents indicated that Christian Laartz and Fredericka (Rachael) Shultz were unmarried. It seems both worked for a farmer who would not allow them to be married. At the time servants required their employers permission to marry or they could be hanged. These circumstances made common-law style relationships, like that of Christian and Fredericka, quite common. Unfortunately, this was a source of great embarrassment to them when they emigrated and they hid these documents in an old hymnal to protect the family’s reputation. It is thought that Christian and “Rachael” did marry in Canada in 1880 but I have not found proof of this event.
I was grateful for the new information but I was able to return the favour by finding the name of “Rachael” Schultz’s father and German place names on the documents this cousin had not noticed previously: Grob (Gross) Flotow and Penzlin, Mecklenburg. After a bit of research in the Meyer Gazetteer and some messages on a Mecklenburg message board I was about to learn more about the region. I am now eager to dive into the microfilm records Family Search holds for Mecklenburg, Germany!
Awareness of name changes and anglo-sized names in the new world can crack brickwalls….a few more pieces and that cracked wall could crumble!