Beth gave me very good help on a difficult project. She was organized, accountable, stayed within budget and very knowledgeable. I very much appreciated that she left me with a plan of action so that I could continue on my own.
— Carol Williams
I recently listened to a lecture by Julie Miller on the wonders of “Emigrant Guides” as tools to add color, context and narrative to an ancestor’s experiences. She shares that they are not necessarily the best tools to use to pinpoint dates, locations, or relationships for your ancestor. However, they are excellent if you would like to know what their world was like – the customs, the transportation means, the predominant culture and social lifestyle.
All of this leads me to the point of today’s post. Miller uses the word “emigrant.” So, what’s the difference between “emigrant” and “immigrant?”
The Meaning of “Emigrant”
Emigrant means to leave one country or region to live in another. The perspective of the person describing the migrant is that of the port of departing. The migrant is leaving. Hence the use in Miller’s discussed “Emigrant Guides.” These are guides designed to provide helpful information to someone who may be new to a country or region. My ancestors were emigrants both from “the old country,” specifically Germany, Bohemia/Austria, and Ireland to America. Additionally, they were emigrants from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Missouri and New York to Kansas. They left one country or region for another. Emigrant Guides to America or Kansas were probably very helpful.
Another wealth of emigrant records I’ve mentioned in this forum are those compiled by Peter Coldham Wilson on emigrants, who were either indentured or transported as convicts to America from England. Wilson is compiling the abstracts and indexes based on British Public Office Records, which would naturally have the perspective of persons, who left England. The books are understandably titled, “The Complete Book of Emigrants.”
The Meaning of “Immigrant”
Immigrant on the other hand is coming to a country of which one is not native, usually for permanent residence. Ah ha! This is the conventional understanding of an immigrant – one who comes (not departs) to a new country. Witness the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” The immigrants are coming to America from destinations far and wide to make permanent settlement. As a result we have a wealth of immigrant records such as passenger manifests, naturalization records, Oaths of Allegiance, and passport records. The big distinction here is that the person is coming to a different country. That’s what constitutes an “immigrant.”
Whether your ancestors are emigrants, immigrants or both, I’m certain they have an interesting story to tell – well worth the time to find the records and now better understand what the records are telling you.
We know the many reasons we should source our research.
So we can review our own sources should new information come to light.
So we know where our facts are more solid – documented – and where they are less than certain – not documented.
So the next generation has a basis to trust or dispute our findings.
So another researcher can take our work and using our sources extend the research instead of rebuild the research.
Because it follows good, formally approved, standards of research and garners respect from colleagues and professionals.
Yet we get busy and sometimes are remiss, and I am the first to admit I sometimes don’t document my work.
The Documented, Sourced Work that Generated This!
But today I got a wonderful reminder that even though I am “busy,” documenting my work really, really pays off in so many terrific ways.
I have several trees on Ancestry.com. And I do my best to document my work, because my rule of thumb when it comes to ancestry.com or any other compiled trees (online or in print) is “don’t use the information, don’t trust the information if it is not sourced.” I would like people to trust my work in the same manner I trust other researchers’ work.
A lady, whom I’ve never met, never knew of, found one of my trees and sent me this.
Your family tree seems to have the most references so I picked your site and I am offering you a few more documents that have come into my possession. I had to have them digitally restored to be able to handle them and find out who’s family I have.
This lady has personally selected MY TREE, and me as the author, as the recipient of some rare, but digitally restored, family archives. Why??? Because my tree was WELL SOURCED. What did I say earlier about garnering respect from others?
I love genealogy for so many reasons – the amazing people you work with, the great finds, the research adventure – but the most wonderful part is the fabulous, touching moments like these.
I just received the documents. One document was a “family page.” It is a decorative document that the user writes in the family information, kind of like an early American template. It leaves room to list a couple’s children and their birth dates in the middle, then document their marriage at the bottom. The page is for my ancestor Jonas E. Greenwood, b. 1825 in Maine, settled in Territorial Kansas in 1854, and lived to about 1888. AMAZING!!!
I use Jonas as a case study in several of my classes. Guess I’ll need to update my visuals in the PowerPoints!
I was recently asked how to plan for a trip to a genealogy library. Excellent question! We know that time to research at a remote location is rare and very valuable. So we want to make the most of our “time on the ground.” And with proper preparation, a highly productive trip is well within reach.
Here are my suggestions for pre-trip planning with the library I know best – Midwest Genealogy Center – in mind. But the strategies are easily transferable to any other repository, i.e. Allen County, Clayton, Family History Library, New England Historical and Genealogical Society, etc.
The best advice I’ve heard is from the late Marsha Hoffman-Rising, who said to focus on a geographic community as a matter of good research policy, but it works perfectly well for on site research, too. Scope in on one family cluster and their time in “X” city/county/state. Then research that family and all of their collateral families (in-laws, step-family members, 2nd and 3rd marriages, siblings, siblings’ in-laws, guardianships, adoptions, etc.). Stay in that one geographic area until you feel like you’ve consumed everything you can. You’ll get the most thorough, comprehensive view of the family/family cluster possible, with the least opportunity for leaving rocks unturned, and the best opportunity for overcoming brick walls.
To that end, when you get to a library – or better yet, before you leave home, zero in on all the records they have for that area by using the online card catalog. (Here’s a link to the Midwest Genealogy Center’s online catalog. LINK With MGC, you will first want to select “genealogy material” in the box to the left of the search field.)
Type in the name of the location, i.e. “Jackson County Missouri.” Don’t worry about capitalization and punctuation in the search field, but do spell out each word. I don’t think you’ll get the best results with “Jackson Co. Mo.” And the catalog will return all of the books the library has for that area. In the case of MGC it includes some microfiche, identified with the ID # beginning “UMI.” If you get an overwhelming number of records in your search, i.e.872, then modify the search to include a record group, i.e. “Jackson County Missouri Cemetery Records,” or “Jackson County Missouri Tax Records.”
On the MGC catalog you can check or select the records you’re most interested in and either save to a temporary list then print, or have them emailed or texted to you. Voila! A clear action item list for the minute you hit the doors.
Further, that same list can be your working research history list. The last thing you want to do is spend valuable time and money on a genealogy research trip only to come home without the certainty of knowing what resources you checked, which ones had positive finds (the good stuff you’re looking for) and which ones were negative finds (came up empty).
If I’m striking out on a road trip to a library or archives away from home I ALWAYS check out their website first. I look for hours, holidays, parking, how do you pay for copies, can I scan or get digital images, and what’s allowed and not allowed into the research area.
Additionally,here’s my recommended packing list for MGC.
Bring a flash drive. You can scan any books for free. Print copies are 10 cents for b/w, 25 cents for color. (They have a brand new overhead scanner, too!)
Bring a sweater if you chill easily. The A/C can sometimes be on ”overdrive.”
Bring a quarter. You can stash any purses, laptops, or extra books in a locker. The lockers take a quarter to get the key, but return it when the key is returned.
Bring change or single dollar bills for the copier and the microfilm/fiche printers.
Bring your ID. You will need it if you want to purchase a library card (assuming you live outside of the greater KC Metro area), or would like a web access card to access library databases while on site.
You can bring in beverages IF THEY HAVE A SCREW TOP.
Pack a lunch in a “chill bag” or little cooler. You can eat in the Patron Lounge, but don’t bring library books into this area for fear they will be attacked by a rebel can of pop.
MGC has tons of blank family group sheets, pedigree charts, individual summary sheets, and census transcription forms available should you need any. No need to pack bunches.
Always, always, always, on your first visit to a new library or archive ask the staff for a tour. Better to spend 20-30 minutes getting the overall lay of the land than the whole visit frustrated that you can’t find the resources you need.
So, start planning your research trip, or as I like to call it a “genealogy vacation,” today. With a little effort before you leave home, you will have a wonderful and productive experience.
Missouri – because of its central location and its large and intricate network of highly navigable waterways – became a hub of early American migration in and through the state. As a result many of us have a heritage that either ends or passes through the “Show Me” State.
The challenge for genealogists is how to trace that often very elusive migratory path. The good news is that Marilyn Moore has compiled an amazing resource in Gone to Missouri… that makes the finding easy and the discoveries fun!
In this reference guide she has indexed more than 16,000 names of early American settlers and cross-country migrants gathered from three genealogy-rich resources. Those sources are:
Missouri Miscellany – a multi-volume series
Missouri Pioneers – another multi-volume series
Genealogical Notes from the Liberty (Clay County, MO) Tribune
Moore has seemingly focused on these sources because they more than most offer answers to the ever-nagging, ever-perplexing question, “Where did you come from?” Those darn settlers. If they would have stopped moving and have left a better paper trail we wouldn’t be in this fix, would we?
I’ll give you a couple of examples of the types of records found in these three sources and indexed in Moore’s Gone to Missouri.
Patrons of the County Atlas Lists – You may be familiar with the plat maps of the late 19th and early 20th Century. They are genealogy-gold in that they have a veritable visual directory of all of the farmers that live in each township, their neighbors (read: family members), and sometimes the topography. But the reason a portion of them are transcribed in Missouri Miscellany and Missouri Pioneers and indexed in Gone to Missouri… is the genealogy-platinum material found in the patrons lists. Someone – seemingly your ancestors and mine – had to pay for the cost of printing the atlases through sponsorship or “advertising.” As a result of their patronage, they were listed in the front of the book – with the town/county/state/country from which they came, the year they migrated and the township/county they settled in. Fabulous!!
Patrons List of Pike County Atlas 1875
“The Old Men of Clay County” Lists – If your ancestor either settled in or migrated through Clay County, Missouri (that’s just northeast of Kansas City), you have a bonus treasure awaiting. Moore tells us that the Liberty Tribune Newspaper ran a series of articles listing citizens in the county who were over the age of 60 in 1870. Most, if not all, had to have been migrants by virtue of their age. Further, Moore says that often a biographical sketch – sometimes a lengthy one – is attached to the list. Pay dirt!
The Gone to Missouri… index includes names from other sources beyond these. You will find references to the expected birth, marriage, death, and probate records where they reference place of nativity. And there are unusual and unique sources like tax lists, cemetery lists, and military lists all either directly or by inference point to “from whence they came.”
Bonus Tip – Moore has also indexed the 1850 & 1860 Mortality Schedules. What? If your ancestor died in 1850 or 1860, their name would be captured in these unique schedules along with their place of birth. Seriously, if you’ve either not known about this resource or blew it off thinking, what are the odds of my ancestor or a family member dying in the census year, look again. There may be the missing piece of information you’ve long sought.
So don’t overlook these unsung heroes of early American migratory research. With one good peak you may have finally caught that elusive ancestor in his migration tracks!
I’ve written a few times about the importance of using timelines to better understand not only your ancestor’s life, the world in which he lived, and the records you’ve accumulated. Timelines are an essential organizational and analytic tool.
One component of a good timeline are the historic events that occurred in your ancestor’s life. Our ancestors no more lived in a historic, cultural, or technological vacuum than we do. Their lives were often dramatically shaped by the world around them.
So, where do you go to find out what was happening “then?”
There are any number of great historical websites and reference books each of which you can glean a portion of the story whether it be wars, natural catastrophes, political events and so on.
But there is one very neat site that offers a one-stop shop for all historical events, and it can be customized to the life of your ancestor! OurTimelines.com is a wonderful free website, on which you can easily find yourself playing until the wee hours of the morning.
It’s a free site, no accounts, usernames or passwords are even needed. So you can be up and running creating timelines in seconds. Simply go to the home page (www.ourtimelines.com) and scroll down the page to the link at the bottom that says “click here” to get started.
Enter the name of your ancestor so it will appear on the top of the report. Enter his or her birth and death years. (You can make a timeline just for a period of his life, such as his War years, or his time overseas. You don’t have to be limited to birth & death date parameters.)
Click “Generate Timeline.” It’s that easy. In a couple of seconds it will return with a customized timeline for your ancestor. It will include historic events, “leadership” or who’s the President, King or other ruler, technology events, and disasters.
Timeline for Richard Watson
Further, you can create your own custom events, i.e. marriage dates, children’s births, military service, and it will weave those into the timeline.
With each event it creates for your timeline it will annotate the line item with the age your ancestor would be at the time. For example, my dad was two years old when movies first had sound. Neat.
Some of the events are underlined or hyperlinked. If you click on that the site will take you to a further description of that event. Not sure what the Abyssinian War was all about? Just click to learn more!
Finally, you can print a web page image of the timeline. The site provides directions under the FAQs.
The site is really neat, but I do have a couple caveats you should be aware of. I’m not a big fan of the black background and neon type faces. It’s hard to read and looks a bit cheesy. Secondly, it would be wonderful if this could be exported into an Excel file or csv format. It would be a lot easier to work with the data.
But, for free, it is a great tool and fun to play with.
The 2nd Annual GenealogyKC event will be March 21st & 2nd at the LDS Meeting House known as the Liberty Missouri Stake Center at 6751 NE 70th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. The two-day event features twelve lecture tracks (simultaneous presentations) including a series of genealogy classes for “youth.” There’s something for everyone!
I am pleased to be invited back this year to offer several lectures and the opening keynote address. A number of fellow professional genealogy speakers from throughout the Heartland will also be presenting, making this a content-rich event. Additionally, sessions from world-reknown genealogists speaking at Roots Tech in Salt Lake will be broadcast.
And the best part – it’s free.
You do have to register online, which includes selecting the classes you’ll be attending. I understand several are already “sold out.” If the event is on the schedule, but not among the choices when you register, you know it is “sold out.” There are complete descriptions of the classes, directions, FAQs and more on the website. So, hurry and make your plans now.
If I were told my ancestor was a “servant” I would form a very distinct impression of him, his state in life, his lifestyle, and maybe even his prospects to succeed professionally. If, alternatively, I was told he was a “farmer,” the impression would be very different. Isn’t it amazing the many layers of meaning we can attribute to about someone from a single fact?
But that’s what the records said!
I had that very exact experience when recently a fellow researcher shared with me the long sought after passenger manifest of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh. Every record I had ever encountered regarding him said he was a “farmer.” Then I was given the typed transcript in the much-hailed series Germans to America co-authored/edited by William Filby (former State of Maryland Archivist). In this series Mr. Filby, or more accurately, his team of researchers extracted “German-like” names out of presumably zillions of passenger manifests, and dutifully transcribed them into a twenty+ volume series.
Wenzel SCHMYRSCH (Vincent Smarsh) listed his profession as a “servant.” There it was clear as day in black and white.
Vincent Smarsh Ship Manifest – transcript
My heart just sank. This was the earliest known record I had of him and the only one that tied to the “old country,” so my head was just spinning. What happened? What must his life have been like in Austria? What kind of servant was he? What kind of unusual traditions did they have in 19th Century Austria that would lead a man into being a servant? I’d always believed he was a relatively successful farmer, so why is he a servant? But, again, there it was – “servant.”
Perplexed in Kansas City
Mystified, I turned to a higher power. My genealogy-friend, Bob, who in my humble opinion knows all things Czech, was quickly in my “to:” box as I crafted an email. Bob, too, was taken aback, but he offered a couple of theories. Maybe his family was running out of farmland to support the children. Unlike England Czech didn’t have the laws of progenitor, where the eldest son inherits all. Instead the farms got increasingly smaller generation by generation. Maybe he sold everything including any land to afford passage to America. Still not convinced he was on the right track, Bob asked for the original.
Do you hear yourself saying, “But why get the original? It’s extra effort and maybe money. You have the record.” That’s what I said, but I got the original anyway.
There it was – clear as day in black and white
I obtained the originals – digitized, microfilmed documents – a bit grainy, handwritten, but readable. I didn’t even look at them a second time. I just forwarded them to Bob. He speaks the language. He’ll be able to make sense of it….I hoped.
It didn’t take long before Bob emailed me back. Beth, I think there was a transcription error, he wrote. The occupation for the passenger listed above Vincent was clearly “farmer,” and it had an implied “ditto” line below and through the next dozen passengers. I know I didn’t see it the first time I looked at the original. I assumed that it would be the same information as found on the transcription., so why bother. Big mistake.
Vincent Smarsh Ship Manifest – original
It seems then that Wenzel SCHMYRSCH (Vincent Smarsh) was indeed a “farmer.” And there was the answer – clear as day, in black and white, waiting for the researcher to take the time to look – really look – at the original documents to know the truth.
It was a dramatic lesson for me about the importance of always checking the original. Aside from the additional information that is usually available on an original over and above a transcript or index, there is always the possibility of an honest transcription error. In this case it turned out to be a change in occupation for my ancestor.
My great-grandfather, Joseph Smarsh, was born on a farm in Pennsylvania then raised, lived and died on a south-central Kansas farm. He was a farmer through and through. He, like the majority of our agrarian ancestors, did very little that we would today consider “newsworthy.”
But then we forget what constituted “news” 100+ years ago.
“Buys Land Cheap – Joseph Smarsh Buys a Farm for $1,500″
This was the headline of a newspaper article in The Wichita Eagle dated Saturday Morning, April 20, 1901. Seriously, my great-grandfather apparently got a deal on some land, and it made the morning news! I can’t even begin to imagine a similar headline crossing the pages of a modern newspaper or even a digital news outlet. Who would talk about the price they paid for land to a reporter?
What’s even more amazing is the detail to which the reporter indulges in crafting a full narrative of Joseph Smarsh’s good fortune. Maybe Joseph had a good shot of whisky and was happy to have an audience with which to relate his tale. We won’t know, but we do learn a tremendous amount about this business exchange from the story. Here are a few fun tidbits that help illuminate the life of an ancestor, whom I never met and preceded my presence on this Earth by 100 years.
Great Detail About Joseph Smarsh
He lived in the “prosperous German settlement northwest of this city (Wichita).” Really? St. Mark’s Kansas was considered prosperous? It looks like any other farm community sans stop signs or stop lights to me!
Apparently, the locals, including Joseph Smarsh, “have a great faith in the country (Arkansas Valley)” that exceeds those “back east.” This gives the locals an ability to buy out easterners at a great bargain.
Joseph pulled up to a “high stool at a Main Street (Wichita) restaurant and ordered a porterhouse steak” as he laughed and began to share his story to the reporter. He ate a porterhouse steak at a restaurant! He’s doing well for himself, and maybe treated himself to celebrate his good fortune.
The story of how he got the deal on the land goes something like this, “(he) was in town a couple of days ago when Michael Block (a real estate agent?) told him that a mortgage company back east told him to sell a half-section of land in Reno County [that's near Wichita, specifically Hutchison if you are familiar with the area] for $1,500. That was less than $5 an acre.” You see even in 1901 the prevailing price for good farm land was $40/acre. If the land was good, it was indeed a heck of a price!
Joseph “went up to Reno County and found that it was all good for pasture and half of it good farm land.”
“Mr. Smarsh did not tarry in Reno County,” we learn. “He turned his horses heads for Wichita and when he came across the Douglas avenue bridge, a policeman threatened to run him in for fast driving, but Joe said he was going after a doctor and the cop let him pass.” OMG! He was busted for speeding and lied his way out of a ticket! Is that not priceless!
“He drove his team to the West End Livery Barn and ordered them rubbed down and fed.” Good job, Joe! Take care of your horses.
“He then went to Mr. Block’s office, counted out $300 and said, ‘I’ll take the land as you priced it to me. I will pay you the balance when you give me the deed’.” He had $300 cash on him! I’ve never in my life had $300 in cash on me, then again, Joseph probably didn’t have a checking account!
That’s something. As genealogists we quickly turn to newspapers for obits and marriage records, but I must say I didn’t expect to find a jewel of a story like this.
Where did I find it?
I’ve written about newspapers in this forum before, so you may recall my mentioning the Chronicling America database on the Library of Congress website. Honestly, I was looking for an obit when I came upon this article. I simply chose “Kansas” and searched the last name, “Smarsh.” Would you believe I got 52 hits? What’s extra nice about this feature is if you view the results as a “gallery,” it will highlight the name/search term (Smarsh) on the page, so you don’t have to fish through 2,000 words on a newspaper page to find the reference to your ancestor. For some reason if you view the results as a list of hyperlinks, it doesn’t highlight the names.
Check it out! Hopefully you’ll find a great article that adds life, color, and texture to your anscestors’ stories.
In my last post, I shared the tale of how finding the godparents of my ancestor’s children, then researching their naturalization records led me to find the naturalization records of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh.
When last we “talked” I requested by email the naturalization records of Anthony Harenrader, Joseph Strousse (godparents) and Vincent Smarsh (ancestor) from the Lancaster County Courthouse.
The Mail Arrived
I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the Lancaster Pennsylvania County Courthouse. Not only did they have the naturalization records indexed online, the archivist responded in minutes to my email inquiry, but I received the paper copies in just a couple of days!
Here’s what arrived in the mail:
Paper copy from microfilm of Vincent Smarsh’s Naturalization Record
Paper copy from microfilm of Vincent Smarsh’s Declaration of Intent form, AND what looks like a log or registry entry with the same information as the Declaration of Intent.
Anthony Harchenrader’s Naturalization Record
Joseph Strousse’s Declaration of Intent log or registry entry.
and an invoice for $5.88 to cover postage & copies! That’s it! A steal at twice the price!
What Have We Learned
According to the naturalization records all three gentlemen (Joseph, Anthony & Vincent) were from different countries! Joseph was from the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (Poland!). Anthony was from the Kingdom of Bavaria, and Vincent was from Austria! So much for my theory of co-migration! This also goes to show that the original documents are key to certainty. Vincent said he was from Austria, Bohemia, Germany or Switzerland…depending time and place he was recording the information. I’m going with the naturalization record as as close to definitive as I can get. Note: see updated information below
Even though they didn’t co-migrate, they must have made “quick” friends. Maybe the Germanic roots, similar languages and their Catholic faith were the common denominators that transcended nationalities. Because Joseph is Anthony’s sponsor/witness on his naturalization papers. This also tells us Joseph was the first to arrive. And as mentioned in the last post Joseph and Anthony were Vincent’s children’ s godparents.
The New Clues
Vincent Smarsh’s naturalization record did offer up a couple interesting nuggets of information.
First, on the same document we see him use both the “old world” and the “Americanized” versions of his name, namely “Wenzeslaus Smerz” and “Vincent Smarsh.” I’ve never seen both on the same document before, and it confirms that they are one in the same person. This also tells me that as early as 1856 (Declaration of Intent) he was using “Vincent Smarsh.” This also gives me first person documentation of his “old world” name and spelling.
We now know that the Declaration of Intent was completed in 1856. And the rules were that you had to be in country for at least two years to submit this form. This provides further evidence that his supposed year of immigration 1853 – gathered from the census records – is probable.
And finally, we learn that his sponsor for naturalization was Henry Strunk, to which you may say “so?” I would agree that this would be a “nothing” find if it were an unfamiliar name to the Smarsh history. However, it isn’t. The Smarshes ultimately migrated to St. Mark’s, Kansas (just west of Wichita, Kansas) to help settle that German farming community. Guess what OTHER families settled St. Mark’s? The Strunks. Indeed, the Strunk’s married into the Smarsh family. This can’t be a coincidence.
The Strunks in St. Mark’s are, according to my research, from Germany, and migrated straight from Germany to Kansas. And unfortunately I don’t have a “Henry Strunk” among them. But I’m not giving up on this. There could be another line of the family that stayed in Pennsylvania, or maybe the Strunks of Germany weren’t far geographically from the Smarshes of Austria. Who knows?
And on we keep searching. Isn’t that how it goes? You find one answer and it opens up more questions? That, my friend, is the joy of genealogy.
Since the publication of this post, I’ve learned more about the Austrian Empire from my friend, Robert Bee. He tells me that “Bohemia and Moravia were part of the Austrian Empire from about 1630 to 1917. ”
Really? The Kingdom of Bavaria was part of the Austrian Empire at the time Joseph, Anthony & Vincent migrated. And while Joseph & Anthony referenced “Bohemia” on their naturalization papers and Vincent reference Austria, they could very well be from the same area – the Kingdom of Bavaria WITHIN the Austrian Empire. It makes perfect sense that they would or could have referenced different entities. I tell people I’m from Kansas or the United State depending on the situation.
My friend, Robert Bee, goes on to tell me that during the Austrian Empire the Czech towns were given German names. No wonder it is so confusing! Is the town Austrian, Czech or German?
One of my perennial brick walls has been the point of origin and/or means and method of immigration of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh (b. 1804 somewhere in Bohemia or Austria or Germany).
Yesterday I had a breakthrough using a technique called “FANs” or friends-associates-neighbors. The concept is to look to your ancestor’s associates as possible links to information about your ancestor. They like your ancestor created records – maybe records which reference your ancestor. And those records may get you over that infernal brick wall.
Let me tell you what happened.
The Brick Wall
Vincent Smarsh settled in Elizabethtown, Lancaster, Pennsylvania not long after he immigrated in 1853. Interestingly, I have the year of immigration because in the 1900 Census, he lists his son, Chris’s place of birth as “ocean,” 1853. Imagine that – having a child en route and on shipboard to America. But his place of origin has been very fuzzy at best. He has listed “Austria,” “Bohemia,” “Germany,” and even “Switzerland” on various documents. Given the fluid nature of the State boundaries in Europe at the time, it’s not terribly surprising.
And this is where my research has been stuck for at least 10 years.
Dateline c. 1850s, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Vincent, and his wife Maria, had several children while in Elizabethtown. And they duly had each one of them baptized at the Catholic Church. A year or so ago, I wrote to the church and asked for the baptismal records. While they couldn’t send copies, presumably because the records were too frail, the secretary was kind enough to transcribe them for me. Not only did this give me the baptismal (birth) dates of the children and the location – I now know the family stayed in Elizabethtown for almost a decade before moving West – I have the names of the godparents.
Which leads us to our FANs. The Smarshes, still pretty new to America, enlisted the help of Joseph Harchenrader, Anthony Harchenrader, and Joseph & Maria Strousse to be the godparents of their children. If you were new to America – or any community – who would you ask to be the godparents of your children? Maybe people who migrated with you? Maybe people from “the old country?”
If I can’t find the golden passenger record for Vincent Smarsh, maybe I can find one for one of the godparents, which may at least point me to the right country of origin.
I dug in and did the research on the Harchenraders and Strousses pulling census records, find-a-grave records, etc.. As it turns out both families are from “Bohemia.” Ah ha! Maybe that’s Vincent & Maria’s home country?
Then I stumbled on a naturalization record for Anthony Harchenrader on a family tree built in Ancestry. Anthony Harchenrader in this declaration of intent disavowed his allegiances to King Maximillion II of the KINGDOM OF BOHEMIA. Fabulous, we’re getting somewhere. Vincent’s presumed friend, Anthony, is from Bohemia. Unfortunately, the researcher didn’t list his source and it was a fuzzy copy. But, fortunately, at the top of the document it read “To the Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas…”
Lancaster County Court Offices
I wanted to write to the Court and ask for a better copy. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to do that or who exactly to write to, so I did a little fishing. I found the Lancaster County Court Website, which was awash with links to things 21st Century people need from a courthouse. And I just felt certain that a call to the office asking for a 150 year-old document would be met with, well, tried patience. So, I took a chance and used the search box on the site and searched “naturalization records.”
Unbelievably, the good people at the courthouse have indexed the old naturalization records and put that index in pdf form online. God Bless the courthouse staff. And all you have to do is pick out your ancestor from the list, write down the indexed page numbers and email the magic “archives@” email address. I say it again, is this a wonderful country or what?
So, I held my breath and started to scroll down the list looking for Anthony Harchenrader. Yes! He was there.
Okay, I thought this is too good to be true. I’ll look for Joseph Strausse. Bingo! He was there, too!
All right, I’ll cover my eyes and hold my breath and scroll around to see if Vincent Smarsh could possibly, possibly be there. A negative find wouldn’t surprise me as elusive as this rascal ancestor has been.
But, YES! He was there! His Declaration of Intent AND his Naturalization Files were just waiting for me.
I couldn’t type fast enough my email request to my new best friends at “firstname.lastname@example.org.” I ordered the papers for Anthony, Joseph, and Vincent, then sat back pleased as punch and braced for a several week wait as is not uncommon with government offices.
Then no more than 15 minutes later my phone went “ding.” Greg at the Archives had already found my papers, made copies and politely asked for my mailing address to mail the copies and inform me that it will be about $3.00 for copies and postage.
THREE BUCKS! ONLY THREE BUCKS!
(Don’t tell Greg, but I would have paid a lot more for that. LOL)
So there you have it. I don’t know the answer to my question, yet. Maybe Vincent isn’t from Bohemia as I suspect. In fact, in the index he is listed with “Austria” as his home of origin. So maybe my theory that he came from whence his associates came proves false, BUT, but the research into his associates pointed me to a document I would never have found otherwise.
I’ll keep you posted, and let you know what happens when the documents my friend, Greg from the Lancaster County Courthouse, arrives!