Another amazing circumstance

My previous post recounted how I was gifted Martha (Focht) Rahm’s personal copy of Ruhe, a history of the immediate family of her parents, George and Anna (Arnold) Focht. Long story short: two sisters contacted me after their mother passed away because they wanted to place Martha’s family history volume (which Martha had given to the sisters’ mother) with someone related to the Focht family (I am Martha’s first cousin, once removed). They found me because of Arnold/Focht entries I’ve made at

I anxiously awaited the book’s arrival and, when it was finally delivered, I spent the entire evening reading its contents. It was an engaging read that offered a glimpse into the lifetimes of George and Anna as well as the childhood and adolescent years of their 12 children. Despite the many hardships and sorrows George and Anna endured, I found the story to be a cheerful, uplifting account of a family who loved and respected one another and who seemed determined to find joy in the simple entertainments of the time.

An important find in the book was a copy of the baptism certificate for Johann Arnold, the great-grandfather of the (Peter Ernest) Arnold cousins as well as the Focht children. A cousin and I used Google Translate to achieve a reasonable translation of the front of the document, but the automated translation of the reverse of the document was much less successful. I then submitted the document to a genealogical translation group on Facebook but did not receive a response.

In the meantime, I attended the monthly meeting of a local genealogical group I’m a member of and, during a pre-meeting “brick wall” session, described how I received the book and about waiting for a possible translation of the baptismal document. I tried to keep my description brief (because I didn’t want to monopolize the conversation) and did not mention that Johann Arnold was born and died in Hungary, but supplied that information in response to another member’s follow-up question.

What happened next was as amazing as receiving the book in the first place!

The man sitting directly behind me, who was a first-time visitor at our meeting, tapped me on the shoulder during a break and asked me where in Hungary my great grandfather was born. After a bit of further discussion, he told me that his father immigrated from Hungary to the U.S. in the 1950s, that his father speaks and reads Hungarian fluently, and would likely be willing to translate the document for me.

I didn’t need any further encouragement and e-mailed the certificate to the gentleman shortly after I got home that day. Less than 24 hours later, I received the following translation (presented with a reprise of original document):

Baptismal Memento (certificate, front)

Johann Arnold baptized in the Parish Church of Csávos; on the 19th day of February in the year of 1856; by Josef Brafsovány. God-father-mother Johann Petri…Elizabetha Rinche.


Renewal of Sacred Baptismal Vows (certificate, back)

O God! I as a helpless child, through Thy boundless love I was cleansed of all sins in Baptism, and was recreated in Your image. Sanctified by Thy holy grace, I was accepted to your only redeeming church.

O Father, I gladly profess my faith in You, Your holy Son, and Holy Spirit, and I only wish to live and die in accordance with this single faith in your holy-apostolic church.

I again will reject all sins, the Satan and his every deeds and pride. Again I will strongly resolve to steadfastly keep all your commandments. I will above all, love You, my neighbors, and myself.

Please revive and renew in me your holy grace that I received in my holy baptism, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.


The translator also volunteered his opinion that, although the baptismal certificate was printed in Hungarian, it was completed by a German. He came to that conclusion because the word “Feber,” which confounded the initial attempt to translate the document, turns out to be an old German version of the word “February.” And, of course, it makes perfect sense that a German-speaking community, especially of that time and place, would be served by a German-speaking priest and/or staff.

So, our family now has a few details (i.e., the officiant/priest’s name and the names of the godparents) that might eventually help us learn who Johann’s parents were and may even lead us to similar information for Anna Oberding, Johann’s wife and our family’s great grandmother. Another key inquiry will be Johann Arnold’s actual birth date (though I’m guessing it is fairly close to when he was baptized because of Catholic church traditions encouraging early baptism of infants in case of an early death). Wish us luck!


Are you related to…?

That was essentially the question posed to me in an e-mail I received in mid-December 2016. The writer, who contacted me on behalf of herself and a sister, is the daughter of Pearl, a friend of Martha Amelia (Focht) Rahm.[1] Martha is a daughter of George and Anna (Arnold) Focht. Anna Arnold Focht, is a sister to Peter Ernest Arnold, the North American patriarch of the paternal side of my family.


The writer stated that Martha gave her copy of a volume entitled Ruhe (“silence” or “peace,” as defined in the book) to Pearl when Martha moved to an assisted care facility. Pearl has since passed away and her daughters decided that the volume needed to be returned to a Focht family relative. They found me at through Focht/Arnold information I’ve posted there.

The two sisters and I exchanged several e-mail/text messages, and I was able to share with them that Martha was a bridesmaid at my parents’ wedding.[2]

I knew from e-mail exchanges with a cousin that Martha Focht Rahm may have authored a history of the Focht-Arnold family and that a copy was possibly archived at the Library of Congress. I remember searching for it online using variants of Martha’s name, but didn’t find anything and mentally chalked it up as a future research topic, with little to no hope that I would eventually locate a copy.

Its Significance

Until Pearl’s daughters contacted me, I wasn’t entirely certain this family history existed, and, if it did, I had no idea how its contents would be relevant to my immediate family (i.e., descendants of Peter Ernest Arnold). Believe me when I say the book was my first order of business when it was delivered to my mailbox in early January 2017!

Reviewing the content, I was pleased to find that the Chapter I summary of Anna Arnold Focht’s early life basically corroborates my generation’s understanding of circumstances surrounding the family’s two-phased immigration to the United States in 1903 and 1904 (details to follow in a separate post).

The volume also included a copy of the 1856 baptismal certificate for Johann Arnold, our family’s paternal great-grandfather (i.e., the father of Peter Ernest Arnold and his siblings). This is sgnificant because it is the first documentary evidence we have seen for Johann Arnold.


I submitted the front and back certificate images to a Facebook genealogy translations group a few days ago, hoping that someone would be able to provide a comprehensive and reliable translation of the document. There’s been no response to that query so far, but a cousin [a different person than the cousin referenced earlier] and I used Google Translate for the front of the certificate.

As far as we can tell, the details of the front of the certificate, adjusted for English syntax, translate to:

Baptism memorial for Johann Arnold. Baptized in the Csavos church presbytery; of year 1856 Feber havanak 19th day of arrival; by Joseph Bragfsoványi. Cross-father-mother Johann Petri … Elisabetha Rinche.

Untranslated or possibly mis-translated words and phrases are bolded. For example, one would think that the phrase “Feber havanak,” situated as it is between a year and a day, would have something to do with the month, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Similarly, the phrase “Kereszt-atya-anya”, translated here as “Cross-father-mother” seems to be a shorthand of sorts because a search of Family Search’s Hungarian word list[3] defines the word “keresztanya” (i.e., Kereszt-anya from the original) as “godmother.”

So, it appears the adult persons identified on Johann Arnold’s baptismal certificate are more likely his godparents than his biological parents. Though not as promising as parents’ names would have been, the names of Johann’s godparents do provide an additional clue to him and, in time, may lead to additional information for Johann.

[1] Martha Amelia Focht was born 26 May 1930 in Gladstone, North Dakota, the tenth of George and Anna (Arnold) Focht’s twelve children. She married Arthur H. Rahm on 25 May 1963 at Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, Tucson, Arizona. Martha died at age 80 on 01 August 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. (Sources: Tucson Daily Citizen, Tucson, Arizona, 30 May 1963; Focht Rahm, Martha Ruhe (a family history), 1986; Rahm, Martha A. obituary,, published 08 August 2010 in the Arizona Daily Star.)
[2] “Irene Armbrust is Bride of W. Arnold,” Dickinson Press, Dickinson, North Dakota, 11 May 1950.
[3] “Hungary Genealogical Word List,”

Gone Too Soon

Lester Albert Ashbacher was born in Dunn County, North Dakota in 1919.[1]Lester graduated high school in Dickinson, North Dakota in June 1936, and started his adult life there.[2] I became interested in him because he was reportedly married to an extended relative. My initial goal was to confirm whether he and my relative had, in fact, been married. But the more I searched, the more intrigued I became with what became of this young man.

There was a gravestone with his name and military information at Dickinson Cemetery in Dickinson, North Dakota[3], but there was no one else with that surname buried in the same cemetery. Later, I found another gravestone with nearly identical information in Dakota City Cemetery, Dakota City, Nebraska.[4] The second gravestone is associated with an application for a veteran’s marker for Lester. Why were there two gravestones for the same person?

Census records are always a good place to start a genealogical search, and I soon learned that Lester was the son of Ethan L. and Esther E. (Mefs) Ashbacher, and that he had two siblings, a sister Eleanor who was born in 1917 and a brother Ralph who was born in 1921. Adding census detail to Lester’s history prompted more Ancestry hints including a very detailed record from his employment at Northern Pacific Railway Company beginning in October 1938.[5] Lester’s employment history revealed several stints as a trucker for his father’s drayage firm, one as a clerk in the local Red Owl grocery store, and one year at college. Lester started at Northern Pacific as a trucker; a year later he was either transferred or promoted to warehouseman. He remained with Northern Pacific until February 1941[6] when he was drafted into the military, serving with the 164th Infantry Company K, Americal Division, North Dakota National Guard.[7]

Lester is next found in Umatilla County, Oregon, apparently assigned to an Army post there. On February 21, 1942, Lester Albert Ashbacher and Florence Stella Reichert (the extended relative mentioned previously) were joined in marriage by a Catholic priest. Their marriage was witnessed by Lester’s brother Ralph and Florence’s sister Magdalen.[8] It was likely a short honeymoon as Lester was deployed to the South Pacific Theater sometime before November 30, 1942, when he was reported as killed in action (some of the Ancestry Family Trees I’ve viewed say he was killed at Guadalcanal, but I haven’t yet found a record with that information).


Having learned the details of Lester’s war-shortened life, I was still puzzled why there were two grave markers for him, one in Dickinson, North Dakota, and the other in Dakota City, Nebraska. Lacking any additional information for the Dickinson cemetery, I moved on to the Dakota City cemetery where the search for the surname Ashbacher was productive, yielding four results. Lester’s name was there[9], of course, as were the names of his parents, Ethan Lester[10] and Esther Emily (Mefs) Ashbacher[11]. There was little biographical information for either parent except for links to each other’s Find A Grave memorials. Fortunately, Ethan’s bio included the names and dates of birth and death for the couple’s three children.

The fourth result for the Ashbacher surname turned out to be Lester’s sister, Eleanor, whose memorial included very detailed biographical information.[12] It turns out that Eleanor married Charles Beerman, a native of Dakota County, Nebraska, in July 1939. Charles and Eleanor returned to Charles’ home place after their marriage, where they farmed and raised livestock for many years.

I haven’t located specific information regarding Lester’s parents’ move from Dickinson, North Dakota to Dakota City, Nebraska (at some point between Lester’s death in 1942 and 1948 when Lester’s father applied for a veteran’s headstone), but it is reasonable to assume they decided to relocate to be near one of their children during their senior years (as a benchmark, Ethan and Emily would have been approximately 57 and 54, respectively, in 1948 when Ethan applied for Lester’s veteran’s gravestone). It is also reasonable that they might want a memorial to their son in their new hometown.

Epilogue: There is no indication that Lester fathered a child during his and Florence’s short marriage. Florence remarried in 1946; that relationship ended in divorce in 1967. Florence subsequently married at least two and perhaps three times before her death in 1996. Limited research indicates Lester’s brother Ralph was a military “lifer”, serving nearly 30 years in the U.S. Army initially between 1940 and 1945 and subsequently between 1950 and 1974. Northern Pacific Railway Company changed Lester’s status from “Leave of absence” to “Deceased-killed in action South Pacific War Theatre” in January 1947.[13]

[1] Lester Albert Ashbacher, Confirmation Register, St. John, Dickinson, North Dakota. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.
[2] Lester Albert Ashbacher, Employment Record, Northern Pacific Railway Company. U.S., Northern Pacific Railway Company Personnel Files, 1890-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.
[3] Lester A Ashbacher, Find A Grave memorial # 96097555. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[4] Lester A Ashbacher, Find a Grave memorial #106191530. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[5] Northern Pacific Railway Company, previously discussed.
[6] Northern Pacific Railway Company, previously discussed.
[7] Lester A Ashbacher, Application for Headstone or Marker. U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[8] Umatilla County, Oregon, marriage license and certificate 19420038 (1942), Ashbacher-Reichert; Umatilla County Records, Pendleton.
[9] Find A Grave Memorial #106191530, previously discussed.
[10] Ethan Lester Ashbacher, Find A Grave Memorial #113675222. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[11] Esther Emily Mefs Ashbacher, Find A Grave Memorial # 40260629. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[12] Eleanor Edith Ashbacher Beerman, Find A Grave Memorial #76692324. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
[13] Northern Pacific Railway Company, previously discussed.