Genealogy Potluck

Posted for the meme Genealogy Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth O’Neal of Little Bytes of Life. August’s theme is “Genealogy Potluck” and invites posts revealing writers’ favorite genealogy resources. I hope others will enjoy my “dish,” and I’m certainly looking forward to a new “recipe” or two as I learn about other writers’ favorite genealogy finds.

My maternal great grandparents, Anton and Barbara (Ehli) Armbrust and Joseph and Agnes (Heiser) Jaeger, immigrated to the United States in 1892 and 1889 respectively, settling with their families in or near Stark County in southwestern North Dakota. They and many others came from Ukraine, Russia, but their heritage was German rather than Russian. These “Germans from Russia,” as they eventually became known, settled in the U.S. midwest (Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado, among others) and Canada, and some migrated again further west to California and Oregon.

Official records about these early ancestors and their children are scarce—census records, marriage licenses and certificates, and a few draft registration cards are available—but personal information is even more rare. You will understand, then, why I was so pleased to discover two organizations that collect and make available obituaries for people of this ethnic/geographic background.

I became aware of the first organization, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia[1] [in my experience, better viewed in Internet Explorer than Google Chrome], when I found an ancestor’s obituary on Family Search[2] in a collection entitled “United States, Obituaries, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. 1899-2012,” but I didn’t at the time appreciate the scope of the organization’s contribution. According to the Family Search link, there are nearly 456,000 images in this collection. Many I have viewed are original newspaper clippings; others are transcriptions of newspaper obituaries.

Another organization, the Germans from Russia Heritage Society,[3] headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota, provides an extensive index of transcribed obituaries via the Research Library link on their home page. Ordering obituaries is accomplished via e-mail; once the requested obituaries are located, the staff e-mails to let the requester know the total cost. The transcriptions are sent shortly after they receive payment. The first obituary is $2.50 with other obituaries in the same order an additional $1.00 each plus a modest postage fee (my initial order for 20 obituaries totaled $24.50).

I found several relatives listed on the GRHS site but didn’t see listings for my maternal grandfather or my mother. I recently supplied obituaries for these relatives and was pleased to see that both have since been added to the indices. Note: for married women, search by married rather than maiden name.

Having investigated these sites a bit more thoroughly for this post, I recommend searching the Family Search link first to see what they might have about a “German from Russia” relative and then following up with North Dakota’s Germans from Russia Heritage Society (because of their extensive obituary index) and the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and each organization’s affiliates to see what those entities might have.

Brick wall success story: The GRHS obituary index was the key to learning death date and burial information for my great aunt Elizabeth (Wehner) Ulschak. I knew from previous research on this family that their surname was frequently misspelled, so when I couldn’t find “Elizabeth Ulschak” in the index, I decided to use the Find function (Ctrl_F) to search for all occurrences of Elizabeth. Recreating the search just now, my Elizabeth was #12 of 32 in the very long “U” list and, sure enough, the surname was misspelled (Ulshak vs. Ulschak). From there, I was able to check North Dakota’s Public Death Index[4] to verify the summary information presented on the GRHS site.

[1] American Historical Society of Germans from Russia ~
[2] United States, Obituaries, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1899-2012 ~
[3] Germans from Russia Heritage Society ~
[4] North Dakota’s Public Death Index ~

She was called “mama”

Posted for the meme Genealogy Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth O’Neal of Little Bytes of Life. July’s theme invites posts involving ancestors who make genealogy research “miserable.” I have my fair share of those, but my frustration with my maternal grandmother’s history has less to do with her than my own inability (thus far) to locate meaningful personal information about her.

I know next to nothing about my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Jaeger Armbrust.[1]

I do have a few records for her, including a 1925 North Dakota state census report when Elizabeth was still at home with her parents, a 1940 U.S. census report when she is recorded as a widow with three young children, church records for her birth (1906) and death (1946), and the certificate for Elizabeth’s marriage to Daniel Armbrust in July 1925. I also have birth records for my mother, Daniel and Elizabeth’s oldest daughter, and I’m able to guess at a few other details of Elizabeth’s life based on Daniel’s records.

Don’t get me wrong—I am thrilled to have these documents and realize that other genealogists are working with even less information for their ancestors than I have for my grandmother. Still, I can’t help wishing for those elusive personal details that would give me a better understanding of Elizabeth as a person, thus enriching the factual accounts of the names, dates, and places of her life that are documented in the records I have.

Armbrust Family001

Then, a few days ago, I finally decided to open two banker’s boxes worth of family memorabilia I’ve been loaned from a sister’s estate. I sorted through everything and spotted a few truly valuable images, including one of my grandmother Elizabeth with her second child, Dolores.[2] My mother, Irene, is in the foreground of the photo with her back to the camera. Another photo, apparently taken the same day, shows Irene, Dolores, and their younger brother Elmer. I’ve concluded these photos were most likely taken in the summer of 1935, when the children were about 6, 3, and 1 respectively.

So, what other information can I glean from this photo of my grandmother? She would have been about 29 years old at the time, and her younger daughter was almost half her mother’s height. That leads me to think that my grandmother was about five feet tall, which matches the adult heights of her daughters.

Written on the back of the photo in my mother’s hand is “mama, Dolores.” I never knew before I saw this photo and its notation what Elizabeth looked like or what her children called her, but it warms my heart to have these details. I can’t help wondering, though, what I and Elizabeth’s other 14 grandchildren might have called her had she lived long enough for us to know her. Grandmama, perhaps? I can only imagine, but Grandmama Armbrust has a certain ring to it.

[1] Elizabeth (Jaeger) Armbrust was born in or near Dickinson, Stark County, North Dakota, on August 11, 1906, to Joseph and Agnes (Heiser) Jaeger. She died September 1, 1946, probably in or near Watford City, McKenzie County, North Dakota, and is buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Dickinson, Stark County, North Dakota. Source: church baptism and burial records obtained and held by the author.
[2] Elizabeth (Jaeger) Armbrust photograph, ca. 1935; digital image ca. 2016, privately held by author. Original photograph is contained in a photo album created and owned by Irene (Armbrust) Arnold, which was subsequently located in the belongings of Irene’s daughter, Wynne (Arnold) Martin. The album is currently in the possession of the author for scanning to create a digital archive of family photographs and memorabilia.

My first clue

Posted for the meme Genealogy Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth O’Neal of Little Bytes of Life. May’s theme invites posts involving genealogical “Duh Moments.” I’ll admit to having more than a few of my own, including the one recounted here.

…should have been the fact that the names and ages of individuals on the 1925 North Dakota census report[1] for some of my paternal relatives was typed rather than handwritten.

The family of interest is Nicholas and Elizabeth (Wehner) Ulschak[2]. (Elizabeth is my great aunt, the older sister of my paternal grandmother, Magdalena Wehner Arnold.) According to Elizabeth’s 1984 obituary, Nick and Elizabeth were married in April 1912, and their oldest child was born in August 1914.

1925 ND Census-Ulschak, Nicholas household 20160526

My research question was: How many children were born to Nicholas and Elizabeth Ulschak? I was especially interested in verifying the identity of an infant Barbara, reported as age 1/12 (1 month) as of the April 1st, 1925 census date. Barbara’s census entry was an outlier to every other record I’ve found about the family (see entries for the Nick and Elesabet “Ul(s)chack” family, highlighted rows 24-27; two sons were born to the couple in 1926 and 1928).

When I first discovered this record, I somehow managed to ignore the warnings I had read about the possibility of errors in transcribed and indexed records and proceeded as if everything in the report was accurate. I’m guessing the typed version of the report was transcribed from a damaged original when the originals were microfilmed. Whatever the circumstances of the transcription, it means there were one or more persons in addition to the original enumerator involved in the 1925 census record for the families on this record, and that those additional persons increased the chances for errors in the record.[3] Nevertheless, I am grateful this record exists (and that the interventions are obvious) because it is less frustrating (for me, at least) to have a perhaps flawed census report for a family when/where they should have been at a given time than it would be not to find them.

Further investigation revealed that the census sheet recording the Ulschak/Wehner family was the last of a series of nine typewritten census reports in a filmstrip of 311 census images. The only handwritten information on these half typed/half written census reports was the sheet number and the tallies of males and females by age categories. The blanks for locality (township, village or city) and assessor’s district were not completed. The forms did specify that the information recorded should be for “every person living April 1st, 1925. Omit children born since April 1st, 1925” but they did not have a space to record the enumeration date.

To better analyze my problem, I created a spreadsheet that detailed family members by name, dates of birth, death, and marriage, spouse’s names, marriage place, etc. I have entries for the 1915 and 1925 North Dakota state census reports, and the 1930** and 1940 U.S. censuses. I have not yet found the family’s 1920 U.S. census report, but it is not a key component of this analysis since Barbara was born in 1925. I sanity-checked myself by recording each person’s age as reported on the several census reports to ensure I was tracking the same family group.

**I had a lot of trouble locating the family’s 1930 U.S. Census report. I finally succeeded by following a tip I read several months ago: enter the first name of a child, leaving his/her surname blank, and the first name of one or both of the child’s parents. In this case, I used “Curtis W” for the child (because his name was the most unusual one among his siblings) and “Nick” for the father. The first result on the list was for “Nuldrak,” which is, admittedly, a long way from the family’s “Ulschak” surname, but when I followed the lead, I was thrilled to discover a one-to-one match with my Ulschak family except, of course, for the mysterious Barbara.

Since Nicholas and Elizabeth and most of their children are deceased, my next step was to analyze available death and obituary information for the family and add those details to my spreadsheet. I arranged the obituary analysis from earliest death to the most recent and marked each person as “L” (living) or “D” (deceased) according to the obituary’s content. None of the obituaries mentions Barbara or even the passing of an infant daughter.

My last step was to contact a granddaughter of Nicholas and Elizabeth who has a public tree at Her 90-year-old mother, the youngest daughter of Nicholas and Elizabeth, was born at the end of June 1925. Nicholas and Elizabeth’s daughter reports that she never heard even a hint that her parents suffered either an infant death or a stillborn child.[4] Nevertheless, this nonagenarian’s June 1925 birth date does offer one other, admittedly farfetched, possibility: that is, if the census taker (1) didn’t get to the Ulschak family until sometime in July, (2) didn’t follow instructions about before/as of/after April 1st, and (3) somehow mis-recorded the child’s name, then this mystery infant might be approaching her 91st birthday!

So, despite missing an obvious warning sign about the validity of a questionable (but still useful) record, I am satisfied that between the 1925 North Dakota Census, the 1930 U.S. Census, and the several obituaries I’ve reviewed that Nicholas and Elizabeth had a total of eight children, all of whom survived to adulthood.

[1] 1925 North Dakota state census, Sheet 19, Stark County, Township/Village or City [blank], Assessor’s District [blank], Nick Ulschack [sic] household; North Dakota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1885, 1915, 1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.
[2] The family’s Ulschak surname is frequently misspelled. Neither of the spellings (Ulchack, Ulschack) recorded in the 1925 North Dakota census are correct. Other variants include Nuldrak (1930 US Census) and Ulshak (Elizabeth’s obituary and death index).
[3] This discussion is not an attribution of blame, as this writer has no knowledge about the contents of the original census report. It is entirely possible that the original enumerator made an incorrect entry that was subsequently included in a transcribed copy of the original.
[4] W. Jorgensen to [undisclosed recipient], message/e-mail, 22-23 May 2016, “your ancestry question” and “further update on Ulschak family,” Wehner, Elizabeth (1883-1984), Arnold-Armbrust Family Tree, files privately held by W. Jorgensen [contact information available by request via].