March 31, 2013

Easter Morning 1967

The Ballenger Family, Easter morning, March 26, 1967

I love this picture of my family. My Mom always made me a new dress for Easter every year, out of the same material she made her own dress, so that we would have matching dresses. We went to the First Congregational Church and then to one of my grandparents’ houses for Easter dinner. This picture was taken at my Grandma and Grandpa Ballenger’s house on Kenwick Rd. on the east side of Columbus. Of course, the highlight of the day for me was finding the basket the Easter Bunny had hidden, full of candy and treats. Sweet memories all around.

Happy Easter to you, my dear readers!

March 30, 2013

Wilhelmina Mueller Herrel: A Fearless Female

Wilhelmina Carolina Mueller, my great-great-grandmother, spent most of her life in a country far from the one she originally called home. She was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1859, in Germany.(1) Family tradition holds that she came from Bavaria. The picture below, showing her with two of her grandsons, was taken about 1911-1914 in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio.

Wilhelmina Mueller HerrelIn 1880, when she was 20 years old, Wilhelmina immigrated to the United States.(2) I have yet to find her on a passenger list or immigration record. I presume she came as part of a family group, but because Mueller is a common surname and I don’t know the names of any other family members, and women who married did not have to apply for naturalization, I have little to go on. I also don’t know if she knew her future husband before she came to America. What I do know is that she settled in the large German community in Cincinnati, Ohio. On January 25, 1883 at St. Peter’s Evangelical Church in that city, she married Johann George Herrel.(3)

John and “Mina” Herrel made their home in Cincinnati, where he worked as a carpenter, for the next 20 years. She became a U.S. citizen by virtue of her husband John’s naturalization, about 1890. Mina bore ten children, according to the 1910 U.S. census.(4) I have only been able to account for seven of them to date: Otto, Harry, Albert, Amelia/“Melie”, Edith, Bertha, and Frank Herrel. I believe two of the others were little girls who died young, but the identity of the tenth child is a mystery. Melie also died of diphtheria at a young age.

The family moved to Columbus between 1900-1910. They lived in a home on Sycamore St. in German Village for over two decades. John established a business, John Herrel & Sons, making wooden refrigeration cabinets. Over the years Mina picked up the language of her adopted country, and in both 1910 and 1920 the census taker indicated she could read and write English. Her place of birth in all records found to date was noted simply as “Germany.”

Wilhelmina Mueller Herrel died October 7, 1933 at the age of 73. Her son Otto, the informant for her death certificate, put “unknown” for both her father’s and mother’s name. Her obituary in The Columbus Dispatch gave no clue as to her parents or where she began her life. It read simply: "HERREL—Wilhelmina C., 73 years, widow of John Herrel, [died] Saturday night. Survived by sons Otto J., Harry F., Albert W., and Frank M.; Daughters Mrs. Edith Weber, Mrs. Bertha Carter, all of Columbus; 11 grandchildren. Funeral services in residence, 431 Sycamore St., Wednesday, 2 p.m. Interment East Lawn by the Edward E. Fisher Co."(5)

I still have many unanswered questions about Mina. Who were her parents? What town in Germany was she born in? What were the names of her other children? And finally, what was she like? Was she a good cook? I wish I had thought to ask my grandpa, Fred Herrel, to tell me about his grandmother when I had the chance. From the photograph, she looks kind and motherly. In fact, she is smiling in most of the photos I’ve seen of her—a rarity in the days when solemn portraits prevailed.

I consider Wilhelmina Mueller Herrel a “fearless female” because of the strength and hard work it must have taken to come to a new land, learn the customs and language, and raise a family. I hope that as time goes by I will find new clues to help answer some of the questions I have and come to know her a little better.


Written for Lisa Alzo’s “Fearless Females” blogging series, as part of Women’s History Month. Lisa does a wonderful job writing about her ancestors and helping others do the same at her blog, The Accidental Genealogist.

(1) “Ohio Deaths 1908-1953,” digital image, FamilySearch ( accessed 23 April 2009), certificate no. 55927 (1933), Wilhelmina Herrel; citing original records, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
(2) 1920 U.S. census, Columbus Ward 3, Franklin County, Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 57, p. 1B, dwelling 18, family 18, John Herrell; digital image, Ancestry ( accessed 25 June 2009), citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1380.
(3) St. Peter’s German Evangelical Church (Cincinnati, Ohio), “Copulationen, Confirmanten, St. Peters Germeinde, Angefangen 1874,” p. 152, Johann Herrel and Mina Mueller marriage (1883); FHL microfilm #1514064, citing original records held by Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.
(4) 1910 U.S. census, Columbus Ward 1, Franklin County, Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 29, p. 3B, dwelling 73, family 74, John Herrel; digital images, Ancestry ( accessed 23 June 2009), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1180.
(5) Wilhelmina Herrel obituary, Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), 9 October 1933, p. 6A, col. 8.

March 23, 2013

John Colletta to Present Seminar April 6

Back in January, I announced that John Colletta would be coming to Columbus, Ohio for a special one-day seminar. Well, time has flown by, and John’s seminar is now only two weeks away. He’ll be presenting “Getting to Know Your Ancestor: Sources and Methods for Biography” on Saturday, April 6, 2013. The seminar is sponsored by the Ohio Chapter Palatines to America, which is dedicated to helping those researching their German-speaking ancestors, both in the United States and Europe. It will be held at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 96 S. Grant Ave.

John Colletta is a popular genealogy speaker, respected for his knowledge and experience and known for his entertaining and engaging style. He is a faculty member of the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, and Boston University’s Certificate in Family History program. He has written three books: Finding Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans, They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record, and Only a Few Bones: A True Account of the Rolling Fork Tragedy and Its Aftermath.

For the April 6 seminar, doors will open at 9 am, and John Colletta’s presentation will begin at 9:30 with the following topics:
  • Lesser Used Federal Records: Sources of Rich Details about Ancestors’ Lives—explains how to use the more easily accessible records from the National Archives to find unique information about your ancestors
  • The Germanic French: Researching Families from Alsace and Lorraine—discusses the German-speaking population in this region, their migration to America, and websites and resources for research
  • Discovering the REAL Stories of Your Immigrant Ancestors—uses three 19th century case studies to show how original records and published materials can be assembled into a story conveying the drama of your ancestor’s immigration experience
  • Erie Canal Genealogy: The Peopling of Upstate New York and the Old Northwest—describes the building of the “Big Ditch” and the ways it affected the lives of millions of workers and travelers from Maine to Minnesota 

A hot buffet lunch catered by the famous Schmidt’s Sausage Haus is included in the price of registration (their cream puffs are to die for!).

If you’re within driving distance of Central Ohio, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear John speak. Sign up by March 30 to get the early bird registration price of $35 for members, $45 for non-members, or $20 for students. You can register online at Walk-in registration will also be available at the door.

As a bonus, you might plan to spend some research time in the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s genealogy department on the third floor. CML houses the national collection of Palatines to America resources on German-speaking genealogy, as well as the State Library of Ohio’s former genealogy collection. For a few tips, see Researching at Columbus Metropolitan Library. An on-site garage offers convenient parking at 50 cents an hour.

If you have any questions about the program or facility, feel free to ask in a comment below. Or let me know you’re coming so I know to look for you. I’d love to see you there!


March 19, 2013

A Fearless Females Success Story

For the last four years, Lisa Alzo has offered Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. While I’ve only posted stories on a few of the prompts, I tend to write about the women in my family throughout the year. Recently, a post I wrote in February on my great-grandmother, Mary Eberhard Comfort, led to emails from three new cousins. We’ve been corresponding, and I wanted to share an example of how a simple blog post can lead to some pretty amazing collaboration.

Mary’s mother was Polly Scheirer, whose photo I posted as a Fearless Female in a short post in 2011. I didn’t have much information on Polly’s life at the time, nor have I attempted to research her since. I just had a small copy of her image, labeled on the back by my grandmother, Nora Eberhard Ballenger. But my new-found cousins not only had more information about Polly—it turns out they also had the original charcoal drawing that my image must have been made from. The thing was, the drawing was unidentified, and they had no idea who it was of. It had nearly been thrown out several times over the years. Now, thanks to their willingness to keep an unknown drawing, my Grandma’s foresight in labeling her small copy, and my posting it on my blog, we’ve all come together. The drawing is identified, and we’re in the process of sharing what we know about the Comfort and Scheirer families, to everyone’s mutual benefit. That’s a modern genealogical success story, in my book.
Nora Eberhard Ballenger 
Here are the women in this line, and the posts I’ve written about each of them:

My grandmother, Nora Eberhard, who married Lloyd R. Ballenger:
Mary Comfort Eberhard 
My great-grandmother, Mary Comfort, who married John Llewelyn Eberhard:

My great-great-grandmother, Polly Scheirer, who married Lewis A. Comfort:
This experience has given me a new incentive to keep posting these kinds of pictures and stories about the women--and men--in my family. After all, you never know when someone might find one and reach out (that’s one reason why I put my email address on my home page). And I love making new connections with long-lost cousins, don’t you?

March 12, 2013

Finding Daughters by Searching on Father's Name: Tuesday's Tip

Last Friday night, the Twitter airwaves were busy with people sharing their tips for finding female ancestors on #GenChat. Jen Baldwin has compiled many of them into a Storify piece. One question that arose was: how do you find a woman in later records if you don’t know who she married, or where? If you don’t know her married name, you might not be able to find her death record, for example—and death records can be a particularly rich source of information.

There’s a little technique I’ve found helpful in some of these situations. It doesn’t work every time, but when it does, it’s a gem. Any online death index (or birth or marriage index, for that matter) that’s searchable by father’s name is a good candidate. Since I the use “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953” database on constantly, I’ll use that as an example.

A few weeks ago I was searching for the death record of Rebecca Clark, daughter of George Clark and Rachel Orr. I had her name and approximate birth date from census records, but lost track of her when she left her father’s household. I turned to the “Ohio Deaths” collection on FamilySearch, and entered only her first name, Rebecca, leaving the space for the last name blank. Then I clicked on “Parents” under “Search by a Relationship.” I entered her father’s name, George Clark. I usually don’t enter a mother’s name unless I get too many results. I didn’t enter any geographic information, since I didn’t know where she was living when she died.

With that little bit of information—her first name and father’s name—I hit the Search button, and up popped a list of people whose death certificates show George or Geo. Clark as their father. Those named Rebecca were at the top, and the one I was looking for happened to be first on the list. Her married name was Cook, and just like that I discovered her birth and death dates (at least, as they were reported on this record). How easy is that?

Now, I admit this is a pretty simple example. You might ask why I didn’t just search for a marriage record—and in this case, Rebecca’s marriage record is also easy to locate. But sometimes you can’t find a marriage record, or a woman marries for a second or third time and becomes difficult to track. This little trick may be just what you need in those cases.

The same technique also sometimes reveals a child (male or female) who was born and died between census enumerations, and whose only record is on an old county death register. Many of the county death registers I’ve seen only put the parents’ names if the person who died was young. So if you try it, keep your eye out for an unexpected result.

So, just a little tip, a small tool to add to that ever-growing toolbox that each family historian depends on. Another of my favorites is Using Obituaries to Find Married Names. Gena Philibert-Ortega is doing a wonderful series this month on "Researching Your Female Ancestors" on her blog, Gena’s Genealogy, with a different resource featured every day. She’s giving me a lot of new ideas that I hope will help with finding and understanding the women in my family. And Lisa Alzo is encouraging bloggers to share their findings with “Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month.” What's your favorite?


Related Posts:
Polly Scheirer Comfort: A Fearless Female

March 3, 2013

Five Lessons Learned While Writing

Thinking about writing a family history story? I took the plunge, and am here to tell you the water’s fine.

In February, encouraged by Harold Henderson's article, "Why We Don't Write, and How We Can" and Lynn Palermo's Family History Writing Challenge, I wrote two blog posts and one full-length article about my ancestors. All told, that came to about 4600 words, plus at least half that much again in endnotes. Yes, it took a lot of time, but I’m glad I did it. The act of writing the article, especially, drove home a few points that I thought I’d share with you.

Five thoughts on the value and process of writing family history:

1. Getting started is (almost) half the battle
Although I knew I wanted to write an article in February, I hadn’t settled on what it was going to be about. It took me several days to determine a subject, narrow the focus and scope, develop an approach, and write the introduction. I tossed out two outlines, tried mind-mapping, and cut the beginnings of several drafts in the process. Finally I came up with a rough framework—just a list of subheadings and points, really—that worked. The lesson, for me at least, is not to get discouraged early. It takes a certain amount of perseverance just to get through the starting gate.

2. Writing exposes any holes in your research
Even when you’ve already done the research, analyzed and correlated it, and formed your conclusions, chances are you’re going to find some gaps when you sit down to write it up in narrative form. Writing forces you to see those holes and find ways to fill them. In this case, I realized I hadn’t fully explored all the siblings of my ancestors (one guy alone had ten of them). And there was one instance where I felt I needed additional proof of the relationship between generations. There’s nothing like the thought that your work might be put into print to make you double-check your findings for flaws. In the end, I visited a courthouse, three libraries in different counties, a cemetery, and the state archives after I started writing the article. Just to fill those gaps and make sure I had it right. The lesson? Be prepared to do more research while you’re writing, to strengthen and solidify your work.

3. Creating broader appeal means thinking about your reader
Why should total strangers want to read about your family history? I can think of two main reasons: (1) they’re interested in the methods and resources you used to solve your genealogical questions, and (2) they’re absorbed by the way you tell your story. Ideally, you want to satisfy readers on both these accounts. Since I wanted to write an article that appealed to a wide audience, I tried to incorporate bits of history, geography, and social history into my account. And I tried to illustrate how I pulled information from multiple sources together to frame my ancestors’ lives. I took care with the endnotes, to help people who might be interested in using the same or similar sources. Of course, I’m not sure how well I accomplished those goals, since the article hasn’t yet been accepted for publication. Still, I think the take-away is a valid one: give your reader a reason to keep reading.

4. Editing is just as important as writing
Well, this point probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. A lot of my paragraphs—including the first one—looked very different in the end than they did at the beginning. Some writers save all the editing and rewriting until last, and that’s fine. But I did part of it as I went along, spending some time each day cleaning up what I had previously written, followed by more extensive revisions after it was mostly finished. Before I sent in my final draft, I printed it out and read it out loud, slowly, to myself. Believe me, you can catch a lot of errors that way, and you can also see where things sound awkward or unclear. The unavoidable bottom line is that editing takes time and thought.

5. Focusing on the goal will see you through
Writing, for me, demands total focus. Some people might be able to multi-task while writing, but I’m not one of them. While I was working on the article, I fell asleep thinking about the family. When I woke up, they were in my head again within moments. That kind of intensity means that not a whole lot else gets done, to be honest. But it feels good to have created something that hopefully will be published, preserving the work that I’ve done on the family. And that, above all, was my goal: to move the research out of my files and synthesize it into a format that could be accessed, used, and hopefully enjoyed by others. There’s a feeling of satisfaction from knowing it will be preserved, come what may. The end result is worth the time it takes.

If you’ve considered writing a family history article or submitting a story for publication, I’d love to know if you found these thoughts helpful. I’d also welcome any other tips or insights you might have. What inspires you to write, and what are the take-away lessons of writing for you?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...