It's taken us a long time to unravel the mystery of Elsa's paternal grandparents, Paul Walther and Louise Smith. Paul's parents we found by wandering a cemetery in Bunker Hill, Indiana, and then piecing together the story. Louise was a tougher nut to crack.
Do you know how many Louise Smiths there are? Before we came to Cleveland we spent half a long day in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City looking for her in the census. We don't recommend this approach.
We thought we had the problem solved when we obtained Louise's death certificate. She was born in December, 1864, and her parents' names were given as Jacob Smith, born in Ohio, and Anna M. Schilling, born in Germany. We had very little family stories to go on. Elsa's father had written that his grandfather was a cabinet maker who had raised ten children: seven girls and three boys. One of the girls became part of Uncle Bert and Aunt Lottie, another was Uncle Henry, and a third was Aunt Tina. We also knew that Paul and Louise were married in 1887.
There are now available printed indices for the 1870 and 1880 censuses, produced in the 1980s and 1990s. We studied them carefully, but we absolutely could not find a family with a Jacob and Anna Smith and a daughter Louise. We also looked for Schmidt and Schmitt, too, but no luck.
A search of Cleveland city directories turned up the expected large number of Smiths, including, in 1870, one carpenter named Jacob Schmidt, who lived at 177 Liberty Street. By 1871 Jacob Schmidt had become Jacob Smith, still at the same address. After decades of musty, crumbling directories had filled our lungs with dust and covered the floor with brittle paper shreds, we knew that Jacob the carpenter had been listed from 1861 to 1907, always on Liberty Street. He was not listed after 1907, but in the 1908 directory there was a listing for "Smith, Anna, wid of Jacob." But she had moved across town, which didn't make sense. Possibly this was not the same Anna. We followed Anna for awhile, till she, too disappeared.
We decided to look for this Jacob Smith in the census. After consulting some historical atlases, we found that the street that was named Liberty Street in 1870 is now called West 48th Street, and it was in the 31st Ward in 1870 and the 10th Ward in 1880.
Ignoring the printed census books, we stared at the microfilm for the 1900 census, 10th Ward of Cleveland. We were happy when we saw that Liberty Street was one of the blocks the census taker walked. After twenty or thirty pages, near the end of the listing for the ward, we found Jacob Smith. But he was married to Mary. Jacob was born in Ohio, his parents in Bavaria; Mary and her parents were born in Baden. Their children were Charlotte, Henrietta, and William. According to the census, Jacob was born in 1836 and his wife in 1841. So they could have been the parents of Louise. Charlotte could have been Aunt Lottie. Was Anna a middle name? Was Mary a middle name?
Virtually all the records of the 1890 census of the United States were destroyed in a fire, so we couldn't follow the Jacob Smith family back to 1890, but had to jump all the way to 1880. There was no Jacob Smith in the printed index, but we just went to the 10th ward and looked for Liberty Street. Sure enough, he was there, but as Jacob Schmitt. His wife was Maria M. Schmitt, and he had a daughter Louisa. But his youngest daughter was named Albertina instead of Henrietta. Perhaps this was Aunt Tina. Finally, there was a son Henry.
We followed the Smith / Schmitt / Schmidt family back for two more censuses, to 1860, and were pretty well satisfied that we had the right family, but the mother's name remained Mary or Maria; she was never called Anna on the census.
The next day we were twenty-five miles away, at the Highland Park Cemetery on Chagrin Boulevard. "For your convenience," as governments like to tell the citizenry, Cleveland has brought the cemetery records for all twelve municipal cemeteries to Highland Park. Starting with the cemetery closest to Liberty Street, we began leafing through the indexes in great crumbling volumes pulled from metal cabinets.
The only entry we found for a Smith was a Mary M. Smith, who died in 1901, but had been moved to a private cemetery, Brooklyn Heights, in 1917. We did find a couple of Walthers, though. They were Elsa's great uncle John and his wife, as we could tell from their address and dates of death. But we were unnerved to find John listed as "Walther, Schilling John."
So on a sunny Saturday morning we drove to Brooklyn Heights Cemetery and asked about Mary M. Smith. The manager disappeared for many minutes into the back room, returning with a five by eight index card. He showed us that she was buried in a lot purchased by Jacob Smith and Paul Walther in 1917. We copied down all the information and hurried to the grave site, where we found Elsa's grandparents, Paul and Louise, buried next to her great-grandparents, Jacob and Mary.
We've learned some lessons, too: don't believe printed indexes of censuses; check the films, too. If you're doing genealogy in a big city like Cleveland, be prepared to traipse all over town. Don't believe everything you read on a death certificate. In the stress after the loss of a loved one, the informant can make mistakes. Finding out that Uncle John's middle name was Schilling gave us a clue as to where that name came from on the death certificate. As to where the Anna came from, it's still a mystery.