Monday, March 18, 2013

A Brilliant Conversationalist and a Keen Humorist

Meet Joseph, or Josiah, Steadman Vinson, the father-in-law of the niece of the husband of my sister-in-law's great grand aunt. Yes, I did wander down a rat hole to find him!

Joseph Steadman Vinson
I think he looks a little bit like Martin Sheen, especially around the eyes. Joseph was born in 1844 in Warner Robins, Georgia, and lived a full and eventful life, dying when he was 81 years old. He enlisted as a private in the 6th Georgia Infantry Regiment at 16 and was wounded a year later at the Battle of Seven Pines. He was shot three times in each leg and spent six months in the hospital and at home recovering.

After the Civil War, Jospeh married Amanda Stripling but she died a few months after their marriage. In 1868 he married Julia Bason.

Julia Emma (Bason) Vinson
He mostly farmed in Houston County, Georgia, but also worked as a conductor on the Brunswick & Albany Railroad and later for the Southern Railway, making the run between between Brunswick and Macon. For several years he served as the chairman of the local farmers union and as chairman of the county association. He was a member of the Masons for 53 years. He is buried in the Bason Family Cemetery in Warner Robins, Georgia.

Joseph Steadman Vinson grave marker
When he died, more than a hundred people attended his funeral. His obituary included this personality sketch:

He knew and was known to more persons in Houston, Bibb, Dooly and Peach counties than any other man and he could hail each of these acquaintances by their given names. The friends lamented more than the mere passing of a another friend; it left a hole in their lives; left a wide space in their existence barren and empty. For Mr. Vinson, they said was a brilliant conversationalist, and a keen humorist and when he talked, he became the center of all interest.
There's a lot of grind work to genealogy research that can in no way be described as fun, but when you find a little something that gives insight into an ancestor's character, it really gets interesting.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Most Memorable Letter

You probably think I love the Ternes family so much because of all the interesting things that happened to them, which I posted about here, here, and here.  But that's not really true. I fell in love with Edith Mary Madeline Ternes Reynolds. And I think you will, too, when you read some of her letters.  I found the letters when Googling "Ternes Coal & Lumber Co." and stubbled across the Live from Tormville! blog, which originally posted about Edith.

Edith was interested in genealogy and was researching the Ternes family. She was corresponding with Sofee, another family member about their ancestors. She used recording tapes but typed out what she wanted to say beforehand. The transcript is what survived.  She starts off by introducing herself:

My name is Edith Mary Madeline Ternes Reynolds. I am your grandfather's adopted sister. I was introduced into the family when I was four and a half years old. My mother had died giving birth to her fifth child. My parents rented a house from your great grandparents. My mother was pregnant and on her way to the Ternesses to pay the rent. She tripped on a broken sidewalk near their home. Mother Ternes told me she saw her and went out and put a pillow under her head and called for help. She was taken to the hospital and died that afternoon. She was only 26 years old.
In the summer of 1911 I was taken by my aunt to a cottage on Hickory Island. I played in the water and on the beach with some other children until nap time. I was put down for a nap, when I awakened my aunt was gone and I found myself in a strange place without a single familiar face. At four and a half this can be a devastatingly traumatic experience. It was for me.

Anthony Ternes, Edith Mary Madeline's adopted grandfather
Mary Ann Horger, wife of Anthony Ternes, and Edith Mary Madeline's adopted grandmother
If I could find stuff like this at a garage sale, I think I'd start going instead of running as fast as I can in the opposite direction at the thought.

She also had an enlighted attitude about families and people, which I try to keep in mind when I uncover the less pleasant or tragic side of my ancestors.

If any family tree is shaken hard enough I am sure it will produce stories of heroes and horse thieves. Lives to be proud of, lives to imitate and some to regret. Your family tree, no doubt will be the same, so I think it is wise to remember that we are totally responsible for ourselves and our lives but we owe no debt to the past.
Isn't she wonderful? I'll share more, I promise. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Odessa to Vancouver the Long Way via Vladivostok

William Warm (1909-2007), the husband of my second cousin once removed had one of the most interesting life stories I have yet discovered. Sit back and buckle your seatbelts, it will be a wild ride -- not everyone you meet steals a train!

William Warm's life travels
He was born on 13 Dec 1909 in Millirowa near Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine). In Nov 1914, Russian soldiers stormed into town and led all able-bodied men away, including William's father, John. The men were conscripted into the army and served as soldiers or paramedics.

Not long after the men were taken, the Russian soldiers returned in the middle of the night and rounded up all the women and children. They were jammed into cattle cars and traveled east by train. Then they disembarked and were loaded onto sleighs and continued east in sleigh convoys until they finally arrived in Vladivostok, Russia. Many died along the way. The Warms, however, were reunited with their father. The family were prisoners in Vladivostok unil May 1917 where they cut timber for the Russian Army.

When the Russian Revolution came to Vladivostok, Russian army discipline broke down and the prisoners were able to get a train together with the help of German soldiers. Five families organized the effort and ran the train with a couple hundred people onboard, including the Warms. When they ran into warfare, they would back up the train and wait until the coast was clear. It took three months for the train to get to Moscow.

Under the jurisdiction of the Red Cross, the Warm family was sent to Koenigsburg, East Prussia, which was still under German countrol.  They were cleaned up, deloused and given clean, warm clothing. Later they were sent on to Gdansk, Poland.  John Warm, William's father, was conscripted into the German army and sent to the Western front. When the war was over, he returned to his family in Gdansk. John served in both the Russian and German armies during World War I.

The Warm family lived in Gdansk until 1924 when it was declared a free city and the Germans were kicked out. The family then moved to Berlin. In 1927, they traveled to Bremen, Germany, along with twelve other families and boarded the S/S Seydlitz bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

North German Lloyd Line's S/S/ Seydlitz
They were met in Halifax on 27 Aug 1927 by Rev. Emil Wahl, a member of the German Baptist Church mission, who had arranged for the families' travel. They were transferred to the Canadian Pacific Railroad and traveled to Winnipeg, Canada.

Winnipeg, Manitoba, train station
Rev. Wahl learned that immediate help was needed to harvest a bumper grain crop in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. William joined the group that helped with the harvest and stayed until spring. In July 1930, he hopped onboard his one-speed Opel bicycle that he brought with him all the way from Berlin and headed to Vancouver. This trip alone is worth a separate post. In August 1930 he arrived in Vancouver and stayed with his uncle, Dave Janzten.

All this happened to William Warm before he was 21!

William and Norma (Grapentine) Warm and children about 1952
Photo courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa

Friday, March 8, 2013

Escaping from Eastern Germany

August and Henriette (Arnold) Schalin's son, Robert was born on 16 Sep 1902. He married Lydia Penno on 20 Nov 1928. And they had six children: Brigitte (1929), Antonie (1932), Linda (1933), Richard (1935), Reinhold (1941), and Gertrud (1942).

This post is about how six of eight members of Robert's family escaped East Germany after World War II.

In 1939 the family had been forcibly resettled in Poland, following the signing of the non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia. In 1945, as the Russian army was advancing, the family fled west toward Germany. Robert was conscripted into the Volkstorm, which was organized late in the war under the Nazi party (rather than the armed forces). It consisted of young boys, older men, and those medically unfit to serve. They were given weapons and expected to stand up to the advancing enemy. Not surprisingly, many surrendered or were killed. Robert was wounded during an air raid, captured, and thrown into a Polish prisoner of war camp. He spent nine years doing hard labor because he was a German, fighting on Polish soil.

Robert and Lydia (Penno) Schalin Family about 1948
Standing left to right: Reinhold, Antonie, Richard, Brigitte
Sitting left to right: Lydia, Dieter (Brigitte's son), and Gertrud
(Courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa)
Robert found his family in Wildenau, which was in the Russian occupation zone. In about 1954 he got permission to visit relatives in the West German zone and never came back. His family had lived under Communism in Russia after World War I and he didn't want to experience it again. He got word to his wife, Lydia, and she soon followed him with their youngest daughter, Gertrud, by plane from West Berlin.

Reinhold, a teenager at the time, escaped a few months later, taking the same route used by his mother and youngest sister. Antonie and Richard also escaped to West Germany individually and at different times. 

It's a good thing they fled before the Berlin Wall was erected!

Only Robert and Lydia's daughters, Brigitte and Linda, remained in East Germany.  Brigitte stayed in Wildenau, married, raised a family, and died in 2002.  Linda died sometime in 1947 when the family was living in Wildenau, likely never knowing her father had survived the war.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

There's a Nazi in the Family

Well, technically, no.  Albert Hildebrandt was a German soldier, but there is no record that he ever joined the Nazi party. But you can't let the truth ruin a good headline!

Albert Hildebrandt was the youngest son of Ernestine Schalin and August Hildebrandt. He was born in Nikolajewka, Chassafiert in the Causcasus area of Russia in 1916 -- during the time German families were forcefully moved there for three years during World War I. The family was allowed to return to Volhynia, Russia (now Ukraine) in 1918. Albert grew up in Korist, Volhynia, Russia.

His family was again uprooted in 1939 and moved to a farm in the Wartegau area, which is west of Lodz, Poland. Shortly after their arrival, Albert was conscripted into the German army and sent to the Russian front.

Albert Hildebrandt in his Germany army uniform (Courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa)
On 01 Mar 1945, Albert was taken prisoner by the Russians near Warsaw. He was not released until 1949. He spent more than six months at his sister, Adina's home, recovering from illness.

In 1952, he married Ida (Lehman) Stelter, who was a young widow. Her first husband, Reinhold Stelter was killed in Droutheim, Norway in 1944 while serving in the German army. Reinhold and Ida had one daughter, Edeltraud. She was two years old when her father was killed.

Albert and Ida (Lehman) Stelter Hildebrandt (Courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa)
In 1954 Albert, Ida and the children emigrated to Winnipeg, Canada.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Living in War-torn Europe

August Schalin (1853-1927) was the eldest son of Gottlieb Schalin and Julianne Zander and was my great grand uncle. He married Henriette Arnholtz (or Arnold) on 07 Feb 1878 in the Volhynia area of what was then Russia. It is now part of Ukraine. When several of August's siblings decided to move to Canada in 1893, August and his wife decided to stay on their prosperous farm. This is the story of their daughter, Ernestine, and her family and the lives they were forced to live in war-torn Europe.

Ernestine Schalin (1879-1946) married August Hildebrandt on 02 Feb 1897 in Tutschin. In 1909 August traveled to Bremen, Germany, and sailed to the United States, arriving in New York on 16 Jun 1909. 

North German Lloyd Line SS Grosser Kurfurst
He traveled with his brother-in-law, Julius Schalin, and a friend, Ferd Wutzke. They wanted to earn enough money in America to pay off the mortgage debts. August worked in a paper mill in New York, a meat packing plant in Chicago, construction in San Francisco, and in a mine. After three years, August returned to his family in Russia and resumed farming.

In 1915, during World War I, nearly all of the German residents of Volhynia were exiled to various parts of Russia far away from the battle fronts.  The Tsar's generals were afraid the German farmers would support German invaders. The Hildebrandts were sent to Caucasus region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. When they returned to Volhynia in 1918 a Galician family was living on their farm. They were not able to get it back until 1919.

Molotov signs the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact. Behind him are Ribbentrop and Stalin
Twenty years later there was more upheaval. After the non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia was signed, a massive resettlement program began in 1939. Thousands of ethnic Germans, including the Hildebrandt family, were moved westward to Poland and placed on farms formerly owned by Polish farmers in the Wartegau area near Lodz. The previous owners were sent to the areas vacated by the Germans in parts of Russia. August died in 1945. Later that year, Ernestine was forced to flee from the advancing Russian Army. She died the next year near Truenbritzen, Germany, while enroute by train, again uprooted and off to a new destination.

Imagine what their lives would have been like if they would have all gone with August to United States in 1909?

Friday, March 1, 2013

There Is One Born Every Minute -- Scamming the Greedy

The Report to the Jennings Association USA made by Columbus Smith and C M Fisher in 1863 includes this wonderful passage:

The house of the Jennings' is an extensive house. It has many branches and the announcement of a fortune caused them all to stir their stumps. The transatlantic Jennings pricked their ears; the Jennings of America cocked their eyes. In Virginia they held a convention and by solemn resolution invited all persons resident in the state claiming to be heirs of William Jennings to face the music. The convention was to reassemble of the first of this month at Riceville, in the Old Dominion, when it is believed the congregation will be more numerous than select.

New England Jennings Association Constitution
Since few individual Americans would be able to finance a search, agents frequently encouraged the formation of family associations which would share expenses, information and, hopefully, the treasure. James Usher, putting himself forward as the respectable face of the profession, denounced their tactics:

The agent deputed to discover the "broad acres" on arriving in England, spends most of his time at the Probate and Registry offices, endeavoring to connect the dead with a member of the Association. After a prolonged and useless search, he returns and makes an alleged report that is intended to buoy up the hopes of the members' notice of a second meeting is given, and if sufficient funds are raised, another visit to England is made, another report is issued and so on until the funds and patience of the persons are exhausted.
And that was the actions of the more legitimate agents, such as Smith and Fisher. The more unscrupulous ones simply took the money and ran. So how did they make out, using the Great Jennings Fortune as bait? Very will indeed!

But by far the most overseas claims came from America.  The "gold rush" seems to have gotten underway in the 1840s. My Amelia County clan claimed their descent through Humphrey Jennings, the Ironmonger of Birmingham's, grandson, John, who emigrated to Virginia, married and had a great number of children. In their version of the Jennings family tree, John's brother, Robert, was William the Miser's father. My ancestors pursued this claim quite tenaciously and a Mrs. Bartlett was still trying to claim the fortune in the 1930s.

A description of the Amelia County Jennings supposed pedigree
The story is great fun to read about, but frustrating to someone who is just interested in exploring their family's past. The historical records and genealogy reports housed in libraries all over the country are simply wrong and it's nearly impossible to discern the truth. So I stopped trying and used this cautionary tale about greed as my consolation prize.