Sunday, August 01, 2010

What's in a misspelling?

While I continue to ponder the life of my great-grandmother, Anna Maria, I decided my next focus for the 1850 and 1857 Reinwald censuses* is my great-grandfather Phillip Reimer.

For most of my life, I hadn’t seen a picture of Phillip. I often asked my mom what he looked like and she would tell me stories of how he walked everyday to Fountain Park to fill a bottle from the famous mineral water bubbler. He never wore an overcoat no matter the temperature or wind chill factor. Phillip smoked a pipe and like most men of his generation wore a hat whenever outdoors.

When I returned to Sheboygan in 2007 for a book signing for “Value Meals on the Volga,” I visited my cousin, Charlotte Rudebeck Lamb. Charlotte’s mother, Sophie, was born April 10, 1910, and seventeen years older than my mom Doris. Sophie married when my Mom was four years old. Therefore, Charlotte grew up alongside her Aunt Doris since they were only a few years apart in age.

Sophie owned a camera at the time my mother learned to walk, so Sophie held the treasure chest of family photos many of which are in Charlotte’s collection now.

When I asked Charlotte what she remembered of Phillip Reimer, she recalled the same things my mother did. Charlotte also said he was a man who never smiled. When I asked, “What did he look like?” she replied, “Haven’t you seen the pictures?” She walked to her bedroom and returned with photos that neither my mother nor I knew existed. With my jaw still hanging as low as a drawbridge, I was astonished to see my great-grandfather for the first time.

My goal was to link my great-grandfather back to the original settlers of Reinwald, or at least to the 1798 Reinwald census. My records indicated that Phillip was born 24 November 1854 but for some reason I reviewed the 1850 census first. I remembered Phillip’s father’s name was Peter so I hoped I could find a link. The Reimers were listed in households 399, 458, 1070 and 1078 in the census.

In household 399 the head of the household, Martin Reimer, passed away in 1840. The 1850 census also cites ages from the 1834 census where Martin was listed as 44 years old, so it is reasonable to assume he was approximately 51 years old when he died.

There is no widow listed for Martin but his sons carried on in this household. Martin had six sons, ages 17 to 2 when he died. Was it possible his wife died in childbirth? Many unanswered questions but I continued to read the household list. The six sons and their ages in 1850 are:

  • Christian, 32
  • Peter, 30
  • Friedrich, 25
  • Gottfried, 23
  • Gottlieb, 21
  • and Heinrich, 17

Peter’s name is followed by his wife, Fornika, age 28. Below their name is a daughter, Sophia, age 2. If this is a match in the 1857 census, my great-grandfather has an older sister.

After Fornika’s name, there is a footnote 7 which leads me to the bottom of the page which indicates, “Cyrillic = ФронИКа. Perhaps Veronika.

Before I shifted to the 1857 Census, I decided to check Phillip’s death certificate for his parent’s names. His father is clearly listed as Peter of Reinwald, Russia. His mother’s name is not so clear. For years, my best guess on her name was Fronia Gussman. I showed the name to many and we were never certain but I recorded Fronia Gusman in all of my genealogical records. Still I doubted if I had the correct name.

Why question her name? You may recall that after handwriting death certificates and before computers, there was a device known as a manual typewriter. For those of you who do remember, you might also know a typewriter had to be fed with typewriter ribbons in order to produce ink on paper. I have a feeling that before Phillips death notice was typed, they inserted a new ribbon. And, I believe Phillip’s mother’s name, unique as it is, prompted an erasure or two.

The typewritten letters of Phillip’s mother name are filled with dark shadows. In 1948 there was no white out or automatic typewriter corrections. If someone misspelled a name, they had to erase the word and type over it. Often this left smudges. With a name like Fronia or Fornika, I imagine a bit of mispronunciation and misspelling may have occurred.

Looking at the death certificate now, I can see it could be Fronika, Fornika or Fronia. A fresh copy of the certificate would probably not help much since the letters were not clear when I received the certified copy in 1983. Check out the attached scan above and send me your best guess on what the name is. At this point, I believe Peter and Fornika (whatever the spelling of her first name) were likely my great-grandfather’s parents.

Armed with this information, I started to review the 1857 census. Instead of Martin Reimer listed as the head of household 36, it is now led by the eldest son, Christian Reimer, age 39, who was listed in the 1850 census. In 1857 there are twenty-seven people listed in this household. It appears that all but one of Martin’s sons continued to reside together. Gottfried married Katharina Huwa and moved to household 37 with their two sons, Gottfried and Heinrich.

The other four brothers, their wives and children remained in household 36. In the 1850 census, Peter was listed as age 30. In the 1857 census Johann Peter is listed as the second eldest son at 37 years old. His wife is listed as Friedrich (sic.) Giesmann (ГнсмаЪ). Her age is 35 and the census does not list her age from the previous census. The name does not match that of Peter’s wife in 1850 census, however Friedrich is listed as 35 years old and in the 1850 census Fornika is 28 years old. The ages indicate that this could be the same woman since she is seven years older. Could this be one more version of the Fronia Gusman, Fornika or Fronika I originally added to my genealogical records? Did this woman go through her entire life and death with varying names?

With Johann Peter and Friedrich’s names not matching exactly to the 1850 census, I needed to review the children. Their first daughter is Sophia, age nine. This clearly matches the Sophia age two in 1850. Second, we have Christian, age five. Third, is Katharina, age four, and fourth there is a son, Friedrich, age three.

In 1857, Phillip who was born in 1854 would likely be three years old. Could Phillip’s first name have been Friedrich as listed in the census? German Russians were notorious for using, re-using and then using again a favorite name. In this household alone there are four Friedrichs, not counting Peter’s wife Fornika who is listed as Friedrich. Is it possible Friedrich was his given name but he was called by his middle name Phillip to distinguish from the four other Friedrichs? It is certainly plausible, but difficult to prove.

My next step will be to track down a census from Urbach where Fornika was born according to Phillip’s death certificate. Perhaps I can uncover another spelling of her name.

One last step on the Reimer family tree… the Reinwald census from June 17, 1798. I had never fully tracked the generations back to the original settlers. Could I find Martin among those listed?

I searched and found household number fourteen listing Konrad Reimer age 40 and his wife Katharina Steinbrecher age 38 from Krasnoyar. They had five children as follows:

  • Heinrich, 16
  • Karl, 11
  • Martin, 7
  • Katharina, 5
  • Maria Sophia, 2

Seven-year-old Martin would have been born in approximately 1790-1791 depending on his birth date. Peter’s father Martin was forty-four years old in 1834 so his birth year was also around 1790-1791. Coincidence? I think not.

Despite all of the various names and translations between German to Russian to English, I believe I may have just tracked my mother’s maternal ancestry to 1798. After over thirty years of research, I have to admit to a great deal of satisfaction and contentment, at least for a week or two.

*Reinwald 1850 and 1857 Census. Initial acquisition and translation of the 1857 Census of Reinwald was made possible by the generous contributions of the following: Mrs. Jene Herder Goldhammer, Portland, Oregon; Mrs. Shirley Hurrell, Beaverton, Oregon; Mrs. & Mrs. Arthur R. Mai, Sharon Springs, Kansas; Prof. & Mrs. Brent Mai, Beaverton, Oregon; Mr. Gerald Yurk, Fort Meyers, Florida. Census was translated by Brent Mai, Concordia University, Portland, Oregon. For more information on Brent's research visit Special thanks to Dick Kraus for finding the census in the FHL collection.


Becky Jamison said...

What an interesting story. Her name looks like "Franka" to me. I don't see the presence of enough letters to make out Fornika. My ancestors are Volga Germans. I always said they had 5 male names and everyone got a combination of those: George, Jacob, Heinrich, Friedrich, or Wilhelm. Well, there were a few more. But as you said, they stuck with combinations of the same names for generations!

Frank said...

My head is spinning. What wonderful photos. And I am going to call you Sherlock. What detective work. And to think there was no "Reimer reason" to what you knew of that branch of the family..... (bada boom)... more puns....