Our good luck visited us twice during this past week, in two very different, but wonderfully surprising, ways. We gained a great big nugget of information about an ancestor, and we discovered an entire family of our cousins.
First, the hunt for the ancestor:
We have been in Cleveland, not ordinarily our favorite city. We have ranted several times about the inadequacies of the city's information sources, so we won't repeat, except to say that we were somewhat discouraged and cranky after several unproductive sessions of seach for Elsa's Great-great grandparents German relatives.
Now, anybody can easily see that looking for a Smith in a city of over a million people is not easy. And looking for a Smith who variously calls himself Schmitt or Schmidt is even tougher, especially when that city has had a large German population for well over a century. We knew that Louise Smith (or Schmidt), Elsa's paternal grandmother, had been born in Cleveland and had in fact spent her entire life there. We knew that her father Jacob the cabinetmaker had also been born in America (we had, in 2001, discovered Jacob's address on Liberty Street). But Grandpa Henry (Heinrich) Smith (Schmidt) probably came from Germany, on a boat not yet known. We found a map which shows his small farm, on the southwestern side of the city.
Our last best hope was a gravestone, but Cleveland is chock full of cemeteries. Once again the analytical method paid off. A map of Cleveland cemeteries showed that less than a half dozen were located near the Schmidt farm.
And one of those cemeteries had been established on the Settlement Road in the German Settlement (in 1853) by a German Lutheran Church.
So off we went, despite the dire warnings in the guidebook which mentioned the deteriorated state of the monuments, the run-down neighborhood, the failure to provide even basic maintenance. Thus we weren't surprised to find God's Acre (the name of the cemetery in question) crammed into a tiny plot of ground behind a used car lot. Seven-tenths of an acre, the cemetery might have had 150 graves at most. We parked in the used car lot and walked behind the fence into the burying ground.
The ground was so bumpy it felt as if it had been plowed up, and the grass was uncut and ankle high, except in one corner where it was shin high. We imagined someone had tried to cut it down with a weed whacker. Some stones were tipped and turned, but it actually looked better than the picture, so we knew that volunteers have been struggling to maintain the cemetery.
Amazingly we found one relative after another buried here. Jacob's older brother, Nicholas, and his wife Henriette (who was called Harriet Cousins Birdie and Lulu by all the census takers) had a fine large brown marble monument. Just behind Nicholas and Henriette was a Daso (we never knew this was a German name -- maybe it isn't) and we scratched our heads, because Louise Smith's brother-in-law had married a Daso. It will take us some time to sort this all out. There were several more Dasos in the cemetery.
Then we found a tall grey stone inscribed Heinrich Schmidt. Although he had been Henry Smith on all the censuses, he will be Heinrich Schmidt to us now; after all, you ought to respect what a person has carved on his tombstone. The dates were only partially legible, but we recognized "geb" and "gest" as born and died in German.
We discovered Heinrich's wife Anna Maria because the stone was made in the same pattern - a small column shaped like a cross on top. And then we found another stone the same size, which turned out to be one of their children. Heinrich and Anna Maria had farmed 27 acres here for 40 years, and Nicholas continued farming the same land another 20 years after that. There's no trace of a farm anywhere nearby; it's all been filled with houses and streets, stores and bars and schools.
Most of the cemetery names were German. 130th street was once called "Settlement Road," since it led to an early German settlement. Rockport Township has been absorbed into city boundaries. The church across the street, once the German Evangelical (Lutheran) Congregation, founded in 1852, has changed name and denomination a couple of times since.
Every genealogical discovery leads to more work to do. We need to learn when and where the Schmidts immigrated, and where Jacob was born. If we are very lucky, we will someday be able to return to the town in Bavaria from which they emigrated.
Second, the newfound cousins:
The day before we left Cleveland for Ontario last June, we visited Knollwood cemetery where another pair of grandparents is buried, and the cemetery office called the person who was now the point of contact for the family lot. That turned out to be cousin Connie. Warm and friendly and enthusiastic, she inquired about our plans (to spend the summer in Ontario) and encouraged us to come visit in the Fall, when she would round up Grandma and sisters some family members for a get-together.
Well, the get-together turned out to be a gathering of a couple dozen relatives, all related by blood or marriage to those grandparents, who had travelled from as far away as Manhattan Beach and Scottsdale just for this get-together. Connie and Sheldon had opened their house to us all and it was a wonderful, at times even tearful, reunion. And of course, just as everyone feels about family, these are the warmest, smartest, most handsome, successful, kindest, etc. people in the world!
This reunion will be of special interest to other relatives we have met in Kansas and Missouri, because of The Trunk. The Trunk was a box of photos and a few letters dating back to the 1850s. Grandma Ella and Aunt Elsie, both now resting in Knollwood Cemetery, had been savers and organizers, and every photo was saved and neatly tied up in albums and packets by pieces of torn sheet (Grandma Ella never wasted anything). We spent two days frantically scanning and labelling the photos, including some new relatives we didn't know about. The whole lot needed two CDs, and we've made duplicate sets to send around to cousins in other branches of the family.
Just to give you a taste, we include some of the photos we scanned. Isn't it wonderful to look back into the 1800's and make these people come alive again in your mind? Genealogy is the glue that knits us together over the centuries; and the further one looks, the more cousins one finds -- eventually we are all related, you know. If only we could all live in peace!