Serendipity: The Art of Browsing for Clues!
Upon hitting that elusive brick wall and losing focus due to genealogy research fog, I suggest you take a break from conventional methods and just browse. Approach the search as though you were starting the hunt for the first time. Take a gander at periodicals from other societies you have not used before in the areas you have researched. Glance through and see if an article grabs your attention and run with it. I did and found a biographical source about a person who may have had contact with my ancestor, so off to read a history book I go. I hope it’s indexed and has a good bibliography.
Speaking about bibliographies, review sources you already have for additional sources you haven’t explored yet. Did you forget that citation you highlighted in an earlier search? Yep, I did that and found a notation for LDS film. I wish I could order that film right now. Wait! I looked online to see if the film has been digitized and uploaded to FamilySearch. It was. Wow, what a find! My ancestor was listed right where the bibliography stated. The source led me to more information that confirmed the birth and death of one child, not two as written in a family history. I had to read through 300 images, but I got it! Hannah was born in 1757 and died a few weeks later. The first image listed all the kids’ birth dates. Hannah was listed in two different parts of the loose leaf pages from the clerk’s office, same father, same child, and same date.
That reminds me, I mentioned I looked through the entire roll of film for the information I found. The bibliography did not mention other documents I found to add to my family research. It pays to look at the whole roll of film for non-indexed documents. Some researchers upon finding a tidbit of information stop researching, believing they have found it all. Just think of how many times a person is mentioned in other people’s business, county clerks writing down news of the day, or local gossip in county records. Will and probate records contain a wealth of information not related specifically to will and probate business. So, read on, and you just might find the clue to… a family mystery.
Now for the resources to pin point location clues, taking up where I left off after reviewing the film I again found a brick wall, or should I say stumbling block. County names and locations, for example, which Somerset County should I look in? I proceeded to fall back on my old friend, Google, to narrow down the location. I found four different counties named Somerset, one each in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Maine. Knowing the location where the person died, and how he might have migrated, Maine was rejected. I will search each county for clues. The hunt is on. Wish me luck!
So, in conclusion when hitting a brick wall or genealogy research fog, take a step back and browse! I have found as much information through serendipity as I have hard core research.
Rodney Sam and Melissa Hayes
Opelousas firsts: a history of fascinating facts
Opelousas tales: Louisiana legend, lore, laughs
The Louisiana book collection at the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research contains two works by author Carola Hartley. “Opelousas firsts: a history of fascinating facts” and “Opelousas tales: Louisiana legend, lore, laughs” are collections of facts and stories relating to the local history of Opelousas, a small town in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. Each book is a genealogical goldmine for researchers with ancestral roots in Opelousas and the surrounding communities. You’ll learn the names of the town’s first businesses, public schools, and social organizations beginning from the incorporation of Opelousas into an official town. Hartley gives a comprehensive review of the establishment of each town newspaper from 1821 to the present, the history of schools, and the establishment of churches. There are beautiful photographs of the early citizens of Opelousas that include everyone from politicians to members of the high school championship basketball team. I was able to find references to my ancestor Théophile LaChapelle, a volunteer for the Opelousas Fire Company, organized in 1872, in one of her books.
Tracing our families to and from Arkansas: the residents of Liberty Cemetery, Logan County, Arkansas
Trolling the collection for books and things to use in a show and tell during an orientation for Boy Scouts, I pulled “Tracing our families to and from Arkansas: the residents of Liberty Cemetery, Logan County, Arkansas” off the shelf and began thumbing through the pages. This book fit the show and tell criteria 100%. Pictures, documents, and family history were all rolled into one.
The source and acknowledgements page explain where all the research, documents, and pictures came from in a simple, easy to read format. The dedication page has a super picture and directions on how to locate the cemetery and how to leave the cemetery after your visit. For those of us who are directionally challenged, it’s a plus. The table of contents is short and direct followed by an alphabetical listing of all the residents of Liberty Cemetery. The book is 531 pages long, chock full of pictures and family information including documents, census records, and family history.
For example, on page 17 Ms. Dee Heathcott is listed on the third row of the 1926 Liberty School class photo. She is highlighted with a circle around her face. Mrs. Dee Heathcott McBride is shown on the bottom of the page at age 89 years, 7 months of age in front of the old school house which was, the Liberty Church. History about the Church School House starts on page 13. Her family members are mentioned with a family tree, stories, documentation and more starting on page 270. The entries move through the residents of the cemetery in family order with tombstone pictures, family group shots, and more. We pick up Aunt Dee’s story again on page 301. She is 93 years young and just home from the hospital recovering from pneumonia. She is talking about the 1918 flu. She was the only one in the family who did not get the flu then.
The end of the book is a traditional list of burials by death date and the index. Mrs. “Eva” Dee Heathcott McBride makes her last appearance on page 474. She was not listed as a resident of the Liberty Cemetery when the book was published in 2009.
I have no ties to known relatives in Liberty, Logan County, Arkansas, but I was impressed with the style of writing and family connections of the residents in this family cemetery community book. Maybe in the future I could write such a resource on my family cemetery. Now if I could just find one…
Who are the Wends and Why Should I Care?
When it comes to tracing your European roots in Central Texas, the usual question is “German or Czech?” Finding your ancestors in a certain, few communities during the late 1800s can yield a third option to that question.
Wends or Sorbs?
The Wends are a Slavic people, originating in an eastern region of Germany known as Lusatia, near the border with Poland. Despite being surrounded geographically by Germans, they maintained a separate and unique cultural heritage. In Germany, they are known as Sorbs, (not to be confused with Serbs), and Sorbian is still recognized as a minority language there. The terms Wends and Wendish are preferred outside Germany.
In the mid-1800s the Wends were facing increased pressure to assimilate into the greater Germanic culture and Lutheran religion. Seeking to preserve their heritage and flavor of Lutheranism, they began investigating resettlement in a new homeland. The Wends were primarily farmers, and so were seeking cheap, abundant farmland. They also wanted a remote settlement, to further insulate their ethnic heritage against the adoption of new ways. There were two places that met the hopeful emigrants’ criteria: Australia and Texas. Both were remote locations at the time, and both were offering inexpensive acreage to all who would claim it. Groups eventually went to both areas. Around a thousand emigrated to Australia, while just over 500 chose to sail to Texas. The Wends of Australia were successful at starting several settlements, but were unable to attract a pastor to lead their congregations. This left them with the option of attending services catering to German Lutherans. The Wends of Australia were quickly assimilated into the Australian culture without their religious ties to bind them together.
The Move to Texas
The Texas Wends faced disease, quarantine, and even shipwreck on their journey west. Most were penniless by the time they landed on the Texas coast. Many were forced to pack up their precious possessions in a wagon and walk to their remote settlement sites. Leaving Houston and heading southwest, they established townships and communities as families dropped out of the migration. Eventually the largest group settled in what is now Serbin, in Lee County. Unlike the Australian Wends, these families had a pastor for their church, John Kilian. He was instrumental in planning and administering the migration to Texas. Shortly after arriving in Lee County, the families were hard at work building their sanctuary, known today as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Pastor Kilian and his sons used the pulpit to deliver sermons in both Wendish and German for many years. This allowed the Wendish community to remain tightly-knit, bound by religious and cultural heritage.
Absorption… then Return to Roots
The newly-minted Texas Wends found that the soil they had chosen was not as productive as they expected. Eventually, families began spreading out, establishing new Wendish communities in search of better farmland. As immigration from Germanic regions populated the once-remote countryside of Central Texas, the Wends found themselves in the situation they had left Germany to avoid. Without an authentic Wendish congregation beyond the one at St. Paul’s, they increasingly worshipped with local German Lutherans. In Serbin, the language and culture were also disappearing in the face of increasing German settlement of the area. After Pastor Kilian and his sons had passed, the sermons at St. Paul’s were delivered in German and English. The cultural and religious ties were fraying and giving way to mainstream German culture. Texas Wends were assimilated into the Texas German community, and then later, the German community gave way to the English-speaking Texans. The rich culture and heritage they had worked so hard to preserve was almost forgotten. The 1970s saw an increase in awareness of ethnic heritage after the publication of Alex Haley’s “Roots.” The resulting television mini-series set viewership records across the country. Interest in Texas Wendish heritage led to the establishment of several groups with a mission to preserve the vanishing language and culture. The Texas Wendish Heritage Society hosts family history workshops and the Annual Wendish Fest to keep the history of the Texas Wends alive.
Houston Public Library Wendish Resources
The Wends of Texas
Texas Wends: Their First Half-Century; with Historical, Biographical & Genealogical Information on the Serbian Wends, the Schatte & Moerbe Families in Particular
The So-Called Wends of Germany and Their Colonies in Texas and Australia
Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 1899-1949: A History of the Newspaper and Print Shop of the Texas Wends
The Wendish Texans
Stuck in the mud at Post Oak Island: history of a Texas settlement
Baptismal Records of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Serbin, Texas, 1854-1883
Bastrop and Lee Counties, Texas: Wend Colony, 1854
Passengers on the Ben Nevis and Their Families
In search of a home: nineteenth-century Wendish immigration
Wendish Language Printing in Texas