Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Further Evidence for a Family Heirloom

Way, way back in January 2011, I wrote about a family heirloom, specifically a cane or walking stick (pictured below) that my wife was told belonged to one of her ancestors. She hoped that I might be able to identify who that ancestor was.

A year ago, I wrote about using the inscription on the cane to identify the original owner. The task was made somewhat easy as the inscription was "J.J.H." plus the year "1876." My wife had only one ancestor with those initials who was alive in 1876, John (Johann) Jacob Hailer, her third great grandfather. There are no family stories known to us about the reason behind the cane so we don't know if it was a birthday gift or perhaps a Christmas present, or even if Jacob, as he was known, needed the cane to support himself when walking.

Of course, having only one ancestor, or family member for that matter with the correct initials and alive in the year inscribed does not provide conclusive evidence that John Jacob Hailer was the owner, just that he was the likely owner.

Recently, while researching another ancestor in the Wagner family, I returned to the scanned copies that I made of original documents and photographs on file at the University of Waterloo, part of the Wagner-Hailer fonds. This collection of documents was donated to the university by my wife's uncle Gordon Wagner following the 'completion' of his family history research in the 1970s and 1980s.

While visiting the university, I had scanned almost all of the documents including several nineteenth century diaries. There are as a result hundreds of images from that visit and I admit that I have not yet 'processed' all of them. When looking to see if I happened to have a specific document related to another ancestor, I went through these images one by one, stopping when a photo of great-great-great Grandfather Hailer appeared. Obviously I had not looked carefully at the photo previously (I have a few different photos of Mr. Hailer) so I had noticed an important detail. There he was in the photo holding the very cane that I had identified as likely being his.

John Jacob Hailer died in 1882 so the time frame for the photo below (cropped from the original on file to emphasize the cane in his hand) is between 1876 and 1882. While it's nice to have been right, finding the more compelling evidence is better!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Finding Philip Wagner

Whatever the motivation, Heinrich and Anna Maria (nee Eckhard) Wagner left their native Germany around 1832 bound for the United States. Heinrich in his new country would come to be known as Henry, and Anna Maria would come to be known as Mary.

Like many German immigrants at the time, they would find their way inland, using the Erie Canal to travel to Wayne County in New York state and settle in the town of Rose. According to the research of Wagner family historians conducted 30 to 40 years ago, it was here in Rose, Wayne County that Philip Wagner, the youngest of Henry and Mary's five children was born about 1834.

Henry Wagner was a cooper but there is no evidence that either of his sons took up his trade. His oldest son, Jacob learned the trade from his father but became a Evangelical Association minister. Henry's youngest son Philip married Maria 'Mary' Holzinger in 1856 at the age of 22. Philip and Maria seem to have immediately headed west to Mazomanie in Dane County, Wisconsin where Philip tried his hand at farming. Whatever the motivation, the farming experiment didn't last too long and by 1863, Philip and Maria had returned to New York state with the first three of their eight children.

Rather than returning to Wayne County, Philip and Maria (Mary) settled in Buffalo where Philip was able to work as a carpenter. Philip also answered the call for volunteers to fight in the Union army during the Civil War where he served as a Captain in the New York state 65th Infantry and later as the Captain of Company 'E' in the 187th Infantry Regiment. Philip was named in the dispatch of Colonel William Berens of the 65th Infantry Regiment, New York National Guard, dated January 30, 1864, that described the regiment's war effort during 1863 and in particular mentions Philip's involvement in the New York City Draft Riot on July 15, 1863: "Upon reporting to General Wool, I was ordered to take quarters at Centre Market, and to report to General Harvey Brown, which I did. Pursuant to orders from General Brown, the same evening I sent two companies to guard the treasury buildings, on Wall street, viz, Company E, Captain [Philip H.] Wagner, and Company H, Captain [Christian] Schaeffer, and two other companies, along with some United States troops, to restore order in the vicinity of Union Square, viz, Company A, Captain Seeber, and Company D, Captain [Charles] Geyer." Philip served for various periods in the army until about the end of April 1865.

Following the war, Philip seems to have settled into life in Buffalo, Erie County, New York, living in the Seventh Ward, working as a carpenter, and raising his children with Mary. In March 1889, Philip applied for a Civil War pension however, according to research conducted by Gordon Wagner in 1984, Philip met an early death by drowning on July 29, 1889. Although I have no evidence to substantiate this event, there is evidence that his wife, using her name 'Maria' applied for a Civil War pension as a widow in October 1889.

Clearly more digging is needed to confirm not just the death of Philip but the stories of his eight children and their families. And so the saga continues ...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Elizabeth Nusbickel Van Slyke

She was born Katheryn Elizabeth Fredreka Nusbickel on July 25, 1877 in Lyons, Wayne County, New York, United States. She was the first child and eldest daughter of Frederick Nusbickel (Jr.) and his wife, Anna Marie Kletzing. She was also my wife's second cousin, twice removed.

She preferred to be known as Elizabeth and she was able to enjoy the relative prosperity gained through the family hardware business that was located on the northwest corner of Water and Broad streets in Lyons, New York. Elizabeth attended the Lyons High School, graduating in 1897. The graduation class photo, shown below, includes Elizabeth, seen standing in the back row on the left side of the large pillar. Notably absent from the photo are all the boys from the class. The only men present are school principal, Mr. Worthy Hanks Kinney, on the left in the back row, and teacher, Mr. Francis Gardner, on the right. (The photo is from school files and was re-printed by the Geneva Times newspaper in September 1960).

On June 25, 1902, Elizabeth married Oakley Earl Van Slyke, a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity and Congregational clergyman who had graduated from Syracuse University in 1900. The announcement of their engagement included the note that Oakley was one of four students who won scholarships to continue their education at the Ph.D. level in Boston.

Oakley and Elizabeth were residing in New York state when their daughter Alice was born in 1905 but had moved to California by the time their son, Oakley Earl Van Slyke, known by Earl, was born in 1911. Oakley (Sr.) appears to have followed a path different from his ministerial calling as he worked initially as a nurseryman on a citrus farm in Glendora, California before going into the real estate business, first as an agent and then as a broker in the South Pasadena area.

Elizabeth passed away on July 23, 1952, two days short of her 75th birthday, in Santa Ana, California and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Family Obituaries

As I continue to probe the details of old editions of the Toronto Star newspaper, I have been focusing on finding family obituaries. Two obituaries I found are of particular interest to me.

The first is for 'Gerald' Foley, my mother's favourite uncle and my namesake. I have posted previously about how difficult it was to find Uncle Gerald's birth record. He was born February 17, 1895 so there should have been no reason to have a difficulty finding his public birth vital record. Eventually, the birth registration record was found as was his baptismal record. In the civil registration, he was named as Louis Fitzgerald Foley, Fitzgerald being his mother's maiden name. He was baptized at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, Ontario on March 3, 1895 and his name is listed as Louis Fitzgerald Foley, son of John Foley and Mary Jane Fitzgerald. Throughout his life however he went by the name Gerald.

When Uncle Gerald passed away, his was the first funeral I attended. I remember the trip to the Rosar-Morrison Funeral Home, the 'family' funeral home as my mother explained to me at the time and I remember the 'wake' after the burial at Mount Hope Cemetery. Although I remembered these events, I could only put an approximate date as to when they occurred, that is until I found Uncle Gerald's obituary which appeared in the Toronto Star newspaper on February 7, 1968.

The obituary maintained the name confusion as it lists his name as "Foley, Gerald Lewis." My transcription of the obituary is as follows:

"At the Toronto East General Hospital, on Tuesday, February 6, 1968. Gerald Foley, dearly loved husband of Catherine Helen Simons, dear father of Mrs. Al Sherman (Veronica), Mrs. A. Asselin (Mary), John, James, and Sister Catherine Foley of the Congregation of Notre Dame, Kingston. Friends may call at the Rosar-Morrison Funeral Home, 467 Sherbourne St. (near Wellesley), until 8:30 a.m. Friday. Funeral mass at St. Brigid's Church at 9:00 a.m. Internment at Mount Hope Cemetery. Parking adjacent to the funeral home."

The second obituary of note that I found was for Mary Elizabeth Gaull, the wife of George Irvine Gaull (named after his father's twin brother), a brother of my great grandmother, Jessie McKenzie Hadden (nee Gaull). My family's oral tradition holds that Jessie (with her family) came to Toronto, Ontario from their home in Saskatchewan around 1926 or 1927 to visit her brother George and that Jessie liked Toronto much more than the farm life of Saskatchewan so they decided to stay.

George Gaull had left Scotland for Toronto, Ontario in 1910 and the 1911 Canada Census shows George, listed as a "Lodger," in the home of the Coulson family. On July 1, 1913, George married the youngest daughter of the Coulson's, Mary Elizabeth. Although the 1911 census record indicates their Mary was seven years older than George, their marriage record states that Mary was only two years older. Mary's birth record has not yet been found. Many records confirm the family's oral tradition that George operated a small neighbourhood grocery store at 87 Pickering Street in the east end of Toronto, Ontario.

Mary's obituary appeared in the Toronto Star newspaper on July 20, 1961 and read as follows:

"GAULL, MARY ELIZABETH - At St. Michael's hospital, Toronto, on Wednesday, July 19, 1961, Mary Elizabeth Coulson, late of 98 Lyall Ave., Toronto and dear mother of Leonard Gaull. Resting at the Sherrin funeral home, 873 Kingston Rd. (at Birch Ave.), Toronto. Service in the chapel on Saturday at 11 a.m. Internment St. John's cemetery, Norway."

Based on these 'new to me' obituaries, some cemetery visits need to be planned as especially as I was struck by the fact that George's relationship to Mary is not mentioned. As a young boy, I walked past the Gaull store many, many times but don't recall ever meeting either George or Mary and I have no idea as to what happened to George, but intend to find out.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Checking The Whole Page

In my last post, I shared how I was discovering new bits and pieces of my family's history through a more thorough search of local newspapers. The newspaper, the Toronto Star in this case, has digitized every page of every edition from 1894, spanning about 116 years. The newspaper is important to my family because Toronto is the city in which several generations of both my maternal and paternal families lived.

The digital copies of newspapers are in PDF format and they are searchable by keyword, exact phrase or Boolean query (like a Google search). The pages on which I have found articles, birth, marriage or death notices about family members, I save in PDF on my computer and then I attach the file to the person and event or fact in my genealogy software program. Overall, it's a labour intensive process to go through the hundreds of pages of 'hits' in the various search results I receive but well worth it.

One of the search features is the highlighting in yellow of the search term on a viewed newspaper page. For example, if I was searching for "Hadden," the search engine would, or should, provide me with all pages in the time period (a maximum of five years) containing my search term. I've come to learn that my tendency to quickly find and examine the highlighted reference and make a determination of it's connection to my family and then move on limits the potential for results.

The best example I can offer occurred when I was searching for "O'Neill" (my maternal family) references. In the Saturday, August 24, 1957 edition of the newspaper, the search engine provided me with an O'Neill 'hit.' The search term O'Neill was highlighted in an obituary for a person that is not connected at all to my family but the deceased person's funeral was being held in the chapel of the "L.E. O'Neill" funeral home.

If I had quickly moved to examine the next search result, I would not have noticed elsewhere on the page an article about the death of Herbert Caskey, the father-in-law of my wife's cousin, Louis Orville Breithaupt. The headline for the article "Herbert Caskey, 94 Dies At U.S. Home" takes up almost as much space as the short two paragraphs that followed.

Dated August 24 at Asheville, North Carolina, the article states: "Herbert K. Caskey, father-in-law of Ontario's lieutenant-governor, Louis O. Breithaupt, died at his home here today. He was 94. Mr. Caskey, who lived in Toronto in his early years, had spent many years of retirement here. His wife died here a year ago. Besides Mrs. Breithaupt, he is survived by a son, Paul, of Rockport, Ill."

Experience tells me that OCR, the optical character recognition technology used in this sort of newspaper database, is not yet perfect but neither is the quality of scanned images that are included for searching. Only by examining the whole of pages can I really determine if it contains information that is of importance to me. Lesson learned - so no more short cuts!