Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Desatating Loss

Sara knew very little about her family so she asked me to see what I could find.  I found that she had a great-grandmother named Emma who was born in 1875.  The census record from 1880 and other member trees in Ancestry.com listed her parents with a different last name. I ordered her death certificate from the state, but it also showed that her parents were the same as in the census and other member trees.

After a lot of research, I finally found that Emma's mother's name was really Mathilda.  Mathilda was only a teenager when she passed away about 3 weeks after Emma's birth.  She was married to a 26 year old man named William.  The people listed as Emma's parents were actually her grandparents.

Sara and I had so many questions.  Why did the grandparents claim to be her parents?  Why was Mathilda married so young?  How did she die?  Was it from complications from the birth?  Why did William drop out of sight?  Had he killed Mathilda?  We came up with so many possible scenarios, none of which came close to the truth.  I scoured the newspaper archives for their names and ordered the articles.  We were shocked when we read what happened to this family. 

Mathilda and William didn't have a "shotgun wedding" as we had suspected.  They were actually married for about a year before Emma's birth.  Mathilda and her two sisters all died of typhoid fever in the same month.  Having lost all three of their daughters at the same time, the grandparents took Emma in as their own.  We still don't know what happened to William.  He may have also passed away or he may have left the area after Mathilda's death.

I can't imagine what it must have been like for these parents to lose all three of their daughters so quickly.  Stories like this remind me of the ordeals that our ancestors went through and to be thankful that we live in the age that we do.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mystery Marija

All we ever knew about my grandfather George was that he was born in Slovenia and had 2 brothers, Pete and Frank.  I set out on a search to find out more about him but it was very difficult because the brothers never spelled their names the same way twice.

I finally found a ship record for Pete arriving in America.  He listed a sister in Brooklyn as his next of kin.  There was never any mention of them having a sister.  I thought that I had the wrong Pete, but then I found a ship record for Frank dated a few years later.  He also listed a sister in Brooklyn at the same address.

The census records for that address showed a Joseph and Mary.  Eventually, I got their marriage license and Mary's death certificate.  By this time, I had received the church records from Slovenia, so I knew that my grandfather did have an older sister named Marija.  

The problem was, Mary's name on the marriage license was Shutte and that's not our last name.  Her parents were listed as John Shutte and Catherine Maurice.  Those aren't the names of her parents.  She also signed it with a completely different last name!   

Her death certificate also had her maiden name as Shutte, but the names of her parents were listed as John Shutte and Margaret Maurice.  Not even close to the real names of her parents.

I thought that I was on the wrong track and had the wrong Mary, but I entered Mary and Joseph into my tree anyway.  A few months later, I was contacted by another ancestry.com member who said that I had her great-uncle Joseph in my tree!  I couldn't wait to talk to her.

My new friend Elaine explained that her grandmother Margaret Šutej (pronounced Shutte) came to America with her sister Mary.  The girls came to America first, then were followed by their boyfriends who were also brothers.  Elaine's grandfather said that Margaret told him, "If you want to marry me, you'll have to do it in America."  Margaret was boss and he always did as she said!  Both couples married in Brooklyn.

I recognized the name Sutej as being Marija's mother's maiden name, but Mary didn't have a sister named Margaret.  I searched through the church records for Margaret's family.  There I found the connection...Margaret and Mary were cousins, not sisters!  Mary was using Margaret's last name so they could pose as sisters!


There are so many questions that will probably never be answered.  Why did the girls run off to America alone?  Why did they pose as sisters?  One theory is that the girls' parents didn't approve of their boyfriends.  Or maybe the parents of the boys didn't like the girls?  Some say that Mary and Margaret were just rebellious young women. 


The wedding of Marija (Mary) and Joseph.  The couple on the right
is Margaret and her husband Peter.  Photo generously provided by
an ancestry.com member.

Why did Mary list the wrong names of her parents?  I don't believe that she was in hiding from her family because her brothers knew where to find her and the Slovenian records do show her moving to Brooklyn.  Her family definitely knew where she was.

Margaret, her husband, and her children are all long gone now.  On my trip to Slovenia, I did find her nephew, but he didn't know anything about her.  She had already moved to America by the time he was born.

Mary passed away in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Her son (another interesting story) died in 1978.  After Mary's death, Joseph remarried and had 2 daughters.  I'm still searching for them in hopes that they will be able to shed some light on what those girls were up to!

A Very Happy Ending

Last fall, I was contacted by someone that asked me to help her sister-in-law find her mother and siblings.  Denise was 55 years old and hadn't seen them since she was 5.  She had been searching for them for 30 years.  It had haunted her and greatly affected her life.

Denise remembers living with her parents and siblings in California.  One day, an uncle and aunt came and took Denise and her younger sister away.  The girls stayed with them for about a year before her father came to get them.  She never heard from her mother again.

Denise was able to tell me the names of her older siblings and approximately how old they were when they disappeared from her life, and that her mother's first name was Virginia.

I was able to find Denise's birth certificate and a marriage certificate for her parents which gave us Virginia's last name, that she was born in Hawaii, and the names of her parents.  However, the 1940 census for Hawaii didn't show any family by that name.  Other than Denise, there were no records of children born to a woman name.

It was a tedious search, but I eventually found a family in the 1940 census that had the same first names as were listed on the marriage certificate and had a daughter named Virginia.  I searched for children born to a woman with the same last name as in the census.  There they were...children with the same first names and ages as Denise remembered.

With the full names and birth dates of the other children, I was finally able to start tracking them down.  I got a list of about 20 possible addresses and Denise starting writing letters.  After about 3 weeks, her phone rang.  It was her brother Tommy.


Tommy explained that their mother was still alive and was living in Oklahoma.  Although he and the other kids weren't raised by Virginia, they had kept in touch with her.  After abandoning Denise and her little sister, she had married again, had more children, and also left them to be raised by their father.  There were 12 children in all from 3 different husbands.  Virginia didn't raise any of them.


Denise and her mother Virginia
Denise flew to Oklahoma to meet her mother, and the family recently held a family reunion with all of Virginia's children and grandchildren.  Denise now has all of her family in her life and the burden has been lifted.

I have so many questions that only Virginia can answer, but Denise doesn't seem to need those answers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Croatian Mary Kay Letourneau

My grandfather died in 1934 when my father was only 5 years old.  Dad knew very little about his father.  He knew only that my grandfather and his 2 brothers came from Slovenia sometime before the 1920's.

After many years of research, I finally learned my great-grandfather's name and the name of the village where he had lived.  His name was Jurij and there was another ancestry.com member who had him in his tree!  I contacted the owner of the other tree who turned out to be my step-second cousin (if there is such a thing.)  My new-found cousin still lives in Slovenia, not far from where my grandfather was raised.  He was kind enough to send me the church records for my family.  And this is where it gets weird...

Jurij was born in 1854.  He and his wife Marija had 7 children.  In 1929, Marija passed away.  A few months later, Jurij, who was 75 years old, married a 40 year-old woman named Ana.  Who was this woman?  Why would my great-grandfather marry a woman younger than his children?  I had to know more about Ana.

Searching through church records, I found more on Ana.  She was from a tiny village in Croatia which was right across the river from Jurij's home.  She had 3 children with 3 different fathers, and had never been married.  The records showed that the youngest child, Slavko, was fathered by a 15 year old boy.  I was shocked.  My great-grandfather had married the Croatian version of Mary Kay Letourneau!  OMG!  What was he thinking?  How did his children feel about this?  I went to Slovenia to find out.

Jurij was alone in 1929.  His wife had just passed away.  Only 2 of his 7 children were still alive and both had moved to America.  His only brother had died in Switzerland.  He had no cousins, no nieces or nephews...nobody.

Ana was raised across the river by a single mother who was also the child of a single mother.  Ana's descendants say that being unwed mothers was a "family tradition."  I suspect that they worked as prostitutes just to survive. 


Ana in 1960
So here is Ana, a homeless mother of 3, and Jurij, a very lonely old man with nobody to take care of him.  He also had no one to leave his home to when he passed away.  I believe that he married her so that he would have someone to take care of him and, in exchange, she and her children would inherit the house.

Jurij passed away in 1940 when he and Ana had been married for 11 years.   Ana passed away at the age of 90 in 1979.  Ana's descendants, some of which still live in Jurij's home, say that he was the kindest person and credit him with saving their family.