Friday, February 27, 2015

Family Marriage: Wedding at St. Stephanus, Lambsheim, Germany

On this day in 1838, my 3rd great-grandparents were married in St. Stephanus Catholic Church in Lambsheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Courtesy of Wikipedia: St. Stephanus in Lambsheim, Germany

John Rüttger was 40 years old and Elisabeth Carolina Armbrust was 27 when they exchanged their vows in the church pictured above. As far as I can tell, they became the parents of two daughters and two sons. Eight years after their wedding, the family boarded a ship and headed to their new life in America. My 2nd great-grandmother, Anna Mary Rüttger, was only four years old.

Unfortunately, I haven't found any records for the family after their arrival until the marriage of 15-year-old Anna Mary in Pittsburgh in 1858. No Rüttgers are mentioned as witnesses at that wedding, and I haven't found any matching Rüttgers in the Pittsburgh city directories.

My search for John & Elisabeth Rüttger continues, but I pause today to remember them and their wedding day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gather Clues from Geneanet

Finding genealogy clues with
One of the websites I like to turn to when I get stuck with my genealogy research is Geneanet. The European family trees there--in fact, the family trees on many websites--can give you some great clues to locating a possible town or names of parents for an ancestor. I consider them to be clues only because most of the trees don't provide sources to back up the information.

For example, I recently learned from church marriage records (which I'll write about in a future post) that the names of my 4th great-grandparents are Clemens Steimer and Barbara Eid of Wiesbach, Germany. I know I just stated that in a matter-of-fact manner, but I was definitely doing the happy dance!

After that great news, I didn't want to stop there, so I quickly searched for Clemens and Barbara on FamilySearch. No luck. Ancestry family trees? Nothing. So as I said at the beginning, my favorite go-to website is Geneanet. I'm not even a paid member, and I still love it. I did pay for a year or two but decided to take a break and use the money elsewhere. With some patience, you can still get to some of the same information, particularly the family trees. When you're a free member, you can only search on surname (not given name), so you usually have a lot of results to sort though. That's where the patience comes in.

Anyway, I found a tree that lists Clemens Steimer with his birth and death information, along with his second marriage to Barbara Eid. And the tree goes back another six generations to 1600. I would still need to locate the German records to verify these names, but it's an exciting thought that this information could be accurate.

You can also set up surname alerts in Geneanet, which works best for less common names. The site will email you a list of any recently added matches so you don't have to sift through the entire database again. You should check it out. And don't ignore information just because the contributor didn't provide sources; it may help you pinpoint where you need to look for your family's records.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pittsburgh Female College

The Pittsburgh Female College was established in the mid-1850s in the Wilkinsburg area of the city. According to the Annals of Old Wilkinsburg and Vicinity, the college "had a fine class of students--boarders coming from many states in the union--as far west as California and from Minnesota to Texas. The day pupils came from the best families in Pittsburgh and its suburbs." The building pictured below burned in 1891 and was not rebuilt.

Genealogy and Old Advertisements
Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities, 1863

Friday, February 20, 2015

Our Ancestors' Weather

With some of us dealing with unusually cold temperatures (-11°F this morning south of Pittsburgh!), I thought it would be appropriate to post this 1912 article that I found on

Genealogy and Ancestor Weather
The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, PA), January 13, 1912
"With thermometers standing at from 16 to 20 degrees below zero, the mercury Saturday morning registered the lowest in thirteen years. Last evening the temperature marked a few degrees above zero, and the Pittsburg weather office promised a minimum temperature for the night of about five below zero. But there was a steady lowering of the temperature during the night, and this morning when people looked at the thermometer and found the mercury extending but a fraction of an inch above the little glass bulb they rubbed their eyes to see it [sic] they had read aright. The drop in twelve hours was about 20 degrees.
The coldest place in the neighborhood of Canonsburg this morning was McConnells Mills, where thermometers marked as low as 34 degrees below zero. At the store of G. H. Challener the mercury crawled down into the little bulb, the instrument being made to mark only as low as about 30 degrees below. Hickory reported 30 below; Houston, 28 and  30; the pump station near Linden, 27 below." 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Family Birth: Mary Klein, Unwed Mother

My 3rd great-aunt was born today in 1858. She was the first daughter of Peter & Barbara Steimer Klein, who had arrived in America three years earlier. By the time she was 20, she had lived in the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of McKeesport, Versailles, and Lower St. Clair.

Mary never married and died at the age of 57 of an intestinal obstruction due to ovarian cancer. For the last 10 years of her life, she lived with her brother Andrew and his wife Magdalena Koenig Klein. I can only imagine that she was a loving aunt to her young nephew Walter.

Genealogy and Pittsburgh Headstone of Mary Klein
Hier Ruht In Gott (Here Rests in God) Mary Klein, 1858-1915
In the 1880 census, Mary wasn't living with her family. She didn't get married because she was with them again in 1900 and still used the Klein surname. Was she a servant in someone else's household? Though I can't be sure, I believe I found Mary in Mifflin Township. A Mary Klein with German parents who was the same age of 22 was among the list of patients at the Pittsburgh City Home Hospital and Insane Asylum.

Mary was single, her occupation was a domestic, and her "sickness" was birth confinement. I'm assuming that the children of unwed mothers were taken away for adoption. It's somewhat stunning to think I could have cousins out there who descended from Mary Klein's child. She most likely thought about her child for the rest of her life, wondering if he or she was happy and healthy. Now I will also wonder about that child.

Note: The headstone photo above was taken in St. Peter's Cemetery in the Mt. Oliver area of Pittsburgh and used with permission from Roseanne Kocinski-Fowler, Find A Grave contributor.

Related Post:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Genealogists as Storytellers

Genealogy Story
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the names, dates, and cities connected to your family tree. But don't forget to take the time to look at all of that information and try to transform it into a compelling story for your descendants. If for no other reason, do it to honor your ancestors as people and to show those who come after you that your family was important even though they may seem like ordinary folk. Your family story is more than just a bunch of facts.

You can keep it simple. I put together a few summaries in a presentation binder for each of my parents that show their families' lives in chronological order with pictures of people, houses, maps and newspaper clippings, along with some historical facts to show what was happening in the towns where they lived.

Here are some tips for becoming a storyteller when you compile information about your relatives:
  1. As you do your research, identify the questions that need to be answered and zero in on the mysteries you want to solve since they may be the start of a great story;
  2. Review the evidence you've gathered to answer these questions and to fill in the missing gaps of your family members' lives;
  3. Describe the characters (your ancestors) and set the stage by researching as much as you can about where they lived; and
  4. Turn your family facts into something visually interesting that future generations can enjoy, no matter how "normal" their lives may have seemed.
I believe every relative has a compelling story and can inspire those who come after him or her. Strive to be a keeper of stories, not just a keeper of facts.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day from 1928

Here's another card from the collection my grandmother saved, this one from 1928 before my grandparents were married:

I'm not sure if my grandfather wrote the date before he gave her the card, or if it was added by my grandmother later, but the cards my grandparents sent me when I was young had the year written on them as well.

Related Posts:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Superstitious Beliefs of Ancestors

Genealogy and Beliefs of Our Ancestors
Tomorrow is Friday the 13th. I don't consider myself a superstitious person, but I've always been fascinated by some of these sayings, customs, and strange beliefs. When I was young, if I walked up the stairs and tripped, my mom would point out in jest that I wouldn't be getting married that year. I've shared that saying with my own son, and so it continues.

One of my favorite Scholastic books from grade school, which I've saved after all these years, is Superstitious? Here's Why! Here are a few excerpts:
  • "Name superstitions run into the hundreds. It's lucky to have only seven letters in either the first or last name. Men with thirteen letters should add one for good luck. No girl should marry a man whose last name has the same initial as hers, or, as the rhyme goes, 'Change the name but not the letter, marry for worse instead of better.' A girl whose name is Mary begins with a good start in life."
  • "Salt as a present for a friend in his new home is a custom in many countries. Because of its lasting quality and the fact that it preserved food, salt is believed close to friendship. In ancient Greece a stranger was welcomed by having a pinch of salt placed in his right hand. In Eastern countries salt was put before strangers as a pledge of good will. Hungary has long had the custom of sprinkling the threshold of a new house with salt, so no witch or evil thing will enter." 
  • "When you sneeze friends are apt to say, 'God bless you,' or the German expression, 'Gesundheit,' or perhaps the Italian word, 'Felicita.' Maybe they will merely follow the old practice, still popular in the Near and Far East, of clasping their hands and bowing toward you. The custom of asking God's blessing began when early man believed that the essence of life--the spirit or soul--was in the form of air or breath and resided in one's head. A sneeze might accidentally expel the spirit for a short time or even forever, unless God prevented it." 
Do you remember any interesting superstitious sayings from your own family?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Setting the Record Straight: Virginia Proctor Powell Florence

The original purpose of this post was to highlight a great Pittsburgher: Virginia Proctor Powell Florence. But as I looked at some of the summaries of her life, I found an opportunity to emphasize the importance of checking facts and the need to sometimes "set the record straight."

First, here's a little bit about the life of Virginia Proctor Powell Florence. Virginia was born in October 1897 in the Wilkinsburg area of Pittsburgh. Her life is notable because she was the first black female to receive a degree in library science. Virginia graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1919 and then applied to the Carnegie Library School (now the University of Pittsburgh's School of Library & Information Sciences). Her acceptance into the program was no small feat.

After her graduation in 1923, she went on to work in high schools located in Brooklyn, New York; Washington, DC; and Richmond, Virginia. Her husband, Charles Wilbur Florence, was also from Pittsburgh and received a master's degree in education, pursued a doctorate at Harvard, and was president of Lincoln University in Missouri. What a couple! The family papers of Charles & Virginia are located in the University of Pittsburgh Archives.

Wikipedia and other sources indicate that Virginia's parents both died in 1913 when she was a teenager and that she went to live with her aunt. After searching for her parents' death certificates on to see what caused her to lose both parents in the same year, I discovered that the information was incorrect.

Virginia did go to live with her aunt (in her grandmother's household) since she can be found there in the 1920 census. But her widower father was still alive and living with his brother. Edward Powell lived until July 1945, and was buried in Homewood Cemetery. Virginia's signature appears on his death certificate as the informant.

I couldn't find his wife Caroline at all in the PA death certificates for 1906-1963. Since it makes sense that she might have been buried in the same cemetery as her husband, I searched Find A Grave for a Caroline Powell. There was a match in Homewood Cemetery with the death year of 1904. FamilySearch has Pittsburgh death registrations from 1870 to 1905, so I searched there and found a Carrie Powell who died in 1904. Her age, maiden name of Proctor, and Wilkinsburg residence matched. The record indicates that she died of pneumonia when Virginia was only 6 years old.

I'm not sure where the 1913 story came from, but I'm glad I checked the facts. It's important to get the story right, even though the dates of her parents' deaths are a small part in the life of a remarkable woman.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ancestor Business Envelope on eBay

This is the return address from a business envelope postmarked in 1901 that was listed for sale on eBay. One of the company partners, Albert G. Lewis, was my husband's 2nd great-grandfather. It's a reminder of some of the great items related to your ancestors that you may find by searching eBay.

Genealogy and eBay Searches
Speer & Lewis, Real Estate and Mortgages, No. 426 Diamond Street, Pittsburg, PA.

I also found an ad that the same company placed in a Cleveland newspaper, which I just had to share even though it has nothing to do with eBay:

Speer & Lewis Ad, Cleveland Ledger, June 3, 1905

Related Post:  Learn More about Your Family by Searching eBay

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In Pursuit of the "Pest House"

When I started researching years ago, my sister gave me the hand-written family trees she had compiled from talking to family members. Some are in my mother's handwriting, and there was one page that stood out: it showed the name of a 2nd great-uncle (on my dad's side), with no wife and no children listed. The only note was "died in the pest house." I didn't like that term at all.

My uncle Alphonse's 1902 death registration on FamilySearch shows that he died of smallpox at the Municipal Hospital in the 13th ward of Pittsburgh, which is the Hill District neighborhood. He was only in his 20s. I wanted to learn more about where he was sent for the last 11 days of his life.

An 1889 map of the 13th ward from Historic Pittsburgh shows it clearly marked as "Pest House." It was located at Bedford Avenue and Francis Street in the Hill District. A block away, a cemetery is shown on the map, which seems to have been Lincoln Memorial Gardens (before it became the stadium for the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team).

Genealogy and the Pittsburgh Pest House
Pittsburgh Pest House, 1889, from the G.M. Hopkins Company Maps

A map in 1901 labels the location as a hospital, but the public and media didn't stop calling it the "pest house." Less than a year after my uncle died, The Pittsburgh Press reported that residents were protesting "against the continuation of the pest house in the hill district. It is claimed the institution is a menace to the health of the people living in the vicinity, and threatens the health of the entire city, by reason of the danger of a spread of disease." The city was building a new Municipal Hospital and, after a brief work stoppage, the construction resumed.

Genealogy and Newspaper Articles
The Pittsburgh Press, June 8, 1903

Construction was completed, since a map from 1904 shows the outline of a new, larger structure on the lot. There are also photographs on Historic Pittsburgh of the facility in 1914-15.

Genealogy and Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital
Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital, 1904, from the G.M. Hopkins Company Maps

Pest houses were eventually eliminated due to education and the advance of science. The Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital later became the site for public housing. Today, this area is the location of the Dwayne Cooper Garden of Hope, a community vegetable garden.

Note: The term "pest house" continued to be used in the media for decades after my uncle's death, as seen by these headlines found on
  • "Contract Is Given for New Pest House," New Castle Herald (New Castle, Pennsylvania), October 15, 1920
  • "Pastor, 50 Feet Off, Marries Pair on Pest House Porch," The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), June 4, 1926
  • "Plans Made to Care for Dump Dugout Residents at Old City Pest House," The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), March 17, 1932
  • "Resolution Asks for Vaccination; To Build Cabin for Pest House," Moberly Monitor-Index (Moberly, Missouri), February 16, 1938
  • "Death Claims August Machlinski, Pest House Keeper," The Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio), May 30, 1940
  • "Pest House Sale Okayed by Council," The Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana), April 12, 1955

Sunday, February 1, 2015

History Repeats Itself: Measles in the Headlines

With the current measles outbreak in California and Arizona making news, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the measles headlines from more than 100 years ago:

  • "Dealing with the Measles," Evening Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii), September 22, 1893;
  • "Measles-Disease Little Feared Yet It Kills More People Each Year than Does Small Pox," The Santa Ana Daily Register (Santa Ana, California), January 11, 1913;
  • "Measles No Longer a Trifling Disease," Fort Wayne Daily News (Fort Wayne, Indiana), March 14, 1913;
  • "Preventative for Measles May Be Reported Soon," The Washington Herald (Washington, District of Columbia), March 23, 1913;
  • "Health Department on Measles Outbreak," The Allentown Democrat (Allentown, Pennsylvania), December 27, 1915;

You can find all of these news stories on Here's one from 1920:

Genealogy and newspaper searches
"A Measles Arrest," The Kansas City Kansan, May 6, 1920
"An overestimation of their powers as parents and a disregard of the public health laws resulted in warrants being arrested [sic] this morning for the arrest of the heads of three families on South Ferree street. The parents are charged with failing to report cases of measles in their homes.
An investigation of the measles cases was made by the health department following the receipt of an anonymous letter from a resident of the neighborhood, who said other parents were afraid lest their children should catch the disease from the little ones in the three homes. Dr. Gloyne found measles cases in each of the homes, as the letter stated, and he found the neighborhood mothers in a high state of fear and excitement. The three sets of parents pleaded they did not know the state law required that measles cases be reported.
'Measles is often regarded as a simple disease that none need fear,' Dr. Gloyne said. 'But in reality measles lurk with subtle danger, and often result in permanent deafness, blindness and awful results. I am convinced these families did not know they were violating the law, but I am forced to make a start sometime in prosecutions and this is a case I can't let pass. I am going to issue a warrant for the physician who saw part of these cases, and failed to make us a report. A lack of medical attention in these three homes and the failure to report the cases to this department might have resulted in a general epidemic of measles, and its consequent suffering and loss of money and lives.'"