[Follow Friday] : Concordia Historical Institute

Concordia Historical Institute, St. Louis, Missouri; 2015.
Concordia Historical Institute, St. Louis, Missouri; 2015.

The Concordia Historical Institute (CHI) is housed in Saint Louis, Missouri on the campus of Concordia Seminary. CHI should be on the radar for those researching ancestors in the Saginaw Valley’s Franconian settlements or other “German Lutheran” ancestors located throughout the United States. Why? CHI serves as the Department of Archives and History for The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). All of the Franconian settlements’ original Lutheran churches were early members of this denominational body which was originally known as the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States. Frankenmuth’s St. Lorenz Lutheran Church was one of the charter congregations when the synod formed in 1847.

CHI’s facilities include collections storage, a gallery, and a reading room for researchers. It maintains biographical records researched by staff and files on past and present pastors, teachers, missionaries and others who have served in the LCMS. Additional items of interest to genealogical researchers include various church records and minutes, copies of church sacramental records, photographs, and personal papers of men and women who served in the church. Even if you don’t have a Lutheran pastor or teacher in your genealogy, you may find mention of them in church records or a minister’s papers who served their congregations.

Concordia Historical Institute maintains a website with finding aids, contact and membership information. Membership in CHI includes access to its reading room, discounts on research services and receipt of its publications: the Historical Footnotes newsletter and the venerable Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly (CHIQ). Both the Historical Footnotes newsletter and  the CHIQ feature articles on Lutheran history. These have not infrequently included pieces containing information on Frankenmuth and the surrounding Franconian settlements. Sporadic back issues of Historical Footnotes are available on the CHI website.

Campus of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri; 2015.

I have made two research trips to CHI in the past three years, most recently in May. Each visit has turned up new and interesting and information to add to my family tree or flesh out the biographies of my ancestors and collateral relations. Examples of what I have found include biographical records, newspaper articles, photographs, birth and baptismal records, church minutes mentioning my ancestors and original letters written by long-deceased relations. Their most rewarding collection for me has been my maternal grandfather’s hand-written sermons spanning his career in the ministry. Sermons of exceptional interest include confirmations and marriages of relations, church milestones and celebrations, and funerals of his parishioners and friends. The funeral sermons also fascinatingly spanned the deaths of veterans and active-duty servicemen from America’s three major wars: the Civil War, World War I and World War II.

I never knew my mother’s father; he had died ten years before my birth. Our family was unaware that these papers were housed at CHI or even still in existence. Now, thanks to the preservation efforts of the Concordia Historical Institute, I have begun to know my grandfather.

Old News Beat : The Fourth of July, 100 Years Ago

Independence Day happenings in the lives of our “FrankenGen” ancestors, 1915:

Frankenmuth News header
“The Frankenmuth News” header, 08 July 1915. [1]

Annual Big Time at Birch Run

The annual celebration of July 4th and picnic was held in Smith’s grove at Birch Run. A local band and a number of special features made an enjoyable day. Among the sports, the relay races and the needle race were the most closely contested. The speakers were Clarence Hall and James Lempman of Detroit, and Rev. Scott, Jos. Winslow, M. L. Hadseil, and William McGregor of Birch Run. A ball game between the married and single men was a feature of the afternoon. The married men were the victor by a score of 6 to 5.[2]

Richville Hotel Destroyed by Fire

The large wooden hotel at Richville, known as the Richville house, owned by Jacob Raquet Jr of Saginaw and conducted by Fred Ranke, was burned to the ground Sunday [4 July] morning. Nearly all the furniture was destroyed. With hard work nearby buildings were saved and the total destruction of the little town averted.

Mr. Ranke awoke and smelled smoke and running out of the house found the roof and third story in flames. He got his family out and the piano and children’s bed, but all the rest went up in smoke. Help from Reese and the efforts of the town people saved the rest of the town from destruction.[3]

And the The Saginaw Daily News reported:

Saginaw Ready For The Fourth

Several events are scheduled for Sunday [4 July] afternoon, including the automobile races at the Saginaw Racing association half mile tracks, and the public outdoor meeting at Hoyt park, where it is expected Senator William Alden Smith and Congressman Joseph W. Fordney will make addresses. At the Auditorium The News’ war pictures will be shown in the afternoon with two performances in the evening…

Monday for Main Celebration

Monday, July 5, is to be celebrated as the main holiday by the general public, and it is for that day the small boy has loaded up with firecrackers and similar preparations. Of the events Monday the culmination will be the fireworks display at Hoyt park in the evening following the admirable custom of other years; this eliminates any reason for private fireworks and bringing all the Saginaw family together for one joyous demonstration, the actual work being in the hands of experts, assuring safety with pleasure. In the afternoon, the big attraction will be the Ringling Brothers’ circus out on Genesee Avenue, near the city limits. In fact, the circus is expected to be here Sunday all day and this will unquestionably draw large crowds to that vicinity, the arrival and tenting of a circus still being one of the most powerful magnets known.

Special value is being given to Independence day this year, by reason of the European war, bringing its perplexities to this country and emphasizing the need of true patriotism and true citizenship. July Fourth is the Americans’ day, and all over the land the spirit of Americans is to see to it that it brings its lessons to all peoples living under the Stars and Stripes. The double holiday calls for the display of the Flag, both Sunday and Monday, and it is looked for that every Saginaw home and every Saginaw building possessing a flag display the same.[4]

Reference Notes:

[1] Header, The Frankenmuth News, 8 July 1915, p. 1; digital images, Frankenmuth Wickson District Library, Frankenmuth News Archives (http://www.frankenmutharchives.org : accessed 3 July 2015).

[2] “Annual Big Time at Birch Run,” The Frankenmuth News, 8 July 1915, p. 1, col. 4; digital images, Frankenmuth Wickson District Library, Frankenmuth News Archives (http://www.frankenmutharchives.org : accessed 3 July 2015).

[3] “Richville Hotel Destroyed By Fire,” The Frankenmuth News, 8 July 1915, p. 1, col. 6; digital images, Frankenmuth Wickson District Library, Frankenmuth News Archives (http://www.frankenmutharchives.org : accessed 3 July 2015).

[4] “Saginaw Ready For The Fourth,” The Saginaw Daily News, 3 July 1915, p. 1, col. 3; digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 3 July 2015).

A Living Father’s Day Memory

My father (stitting) and grandpa planting a spruce tree, Frankenmuth Township, Michigan; Father's Day, 1975.
My father (stitting) and grandpa planting a spruce tree in my grandparents’ front yard, Frankenmuth Township, Michigan; Father’s Day, 1975.

Three years ago or so, shortly after my interest in genealogy began, I found this photograph among others my father had saved. On the back my Grandma Bernthal recorded “Dad & Roy planting spruce for fathers day 1975.” Forty years later the spruce tree still grows in the front yard of what was my grandparents’ retirement house. Now when I pass by it, I think of my dad and grandpa planting the seedling together.

Forty-year-old spruce tree; Frankenmuth Township, Michigan; 2015.
Forty-year-old spruce tree; Frankenmuth Township, Michigan; 2015.

Getting a Genealogical Education : NGS & IGHR

Exhibit hall, 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, St. Charles, Missouri.
Exhibit hall, 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, St. Charles, Missouri.

If you follow my Tweets (and I know you are ;) ), you’ll know I’ve been traveling recently including to the National Genealogical Society (NGS) annual conference in May and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University this month. Both are excellent opportunities to learn and improve your skills as a genealogist.

The 2015 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference was held in St. Charles, Missouri, just north of St. Louis. This provided me with the opportunity to not only attend the conference, but to do some research, sightseeing and indulge in another favorite pastime: wine tasting. Look for a couple of future posts highlighting my experiences in the St. Louis area.

This was my first time attending the four-day NGS conference, and I’m happy to report it exceeded my expectations. I also attended a day-long pre-conference workshop on German genealogy. While some of the information presented in this workshop was not new to me, I still benefited from it. F. Warren Bittner’s primer on German history was informative and entertaining. If you’re researching German ancestors and not familiar with F. Warren Bittner, you should be. He is one of the premier genealogists in Germanic genealogy having performed fascinating original research in the field, as well as being an engaging speaker. You can find some of his work published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and hear some of his lectures recorded by Jamb Tapes, Inc. Although not presented at this workshop or conference, I particularly recommend his lecture “Understanding Illegitimacy: The Bittner Bastards of Bavaria.” Illegitimacy among our German forbears is not uncommon (yes, there is even one amongst my Bavarian ancestors!), and definitely not for the reasons you may expect. This lecture is available from Jamb Tapes, Inc.

In addition to the German pre-conference workshop, the conference also featured a German track. Baerbel K. Johnson’s talk “So You Think You Want to Get Married: Marriage Records, Laws, and German Customs” informed listeners of German marriage records beyond those created by the church. Town council proceedings include petitions to marry and may illuminate circumstances surrounding your ancestors’ marriages or indicate why they could not marry.

Cutting edge methodology was presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills in “The Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta: GPS+FAN+DNA.” Here she demonstrated how she proved four generations of a maternal line for which no documents provided direct evidence of the relationships.

Other educators included Thomas W. Jones, Judy G. Russell, Julie Miller, Alison Hare, Angie Bush, and John Philip Colletta, cementing NGS’s distinction as the premier genealogical conference. The 2016 conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. More information can be found at the NGS website.

Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama; 2015.
Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama; 2015.

This past week was spent honing my genealogical skills at Samford University Library’s Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. Each year about ten different courses of study are taught by faculty distinguished in the fields of genealogical education and research. Courses include beginning, intermediate, and advanced methodology, genealogical writing and publishing, and specialties such as military records and research in the South.

This was my second year at IGHR. I was enrolled in Course 3: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis. The course coordinator and main instructor was Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL. Additional course instructors were Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA; David E. Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA; Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL; Craig R. Scott, CG, FUGA and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS. In addition to having fancy post-nomials, they are all excellent teachers. Classes in this course included reasonably exhaustive research, conflicting evidence, legal foundations of genealogy, government documents, ethics and DNA evidence analysis, correlation, interpretation.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to see Judy speak, you’ll know she’s an excellent educator, and her teaching in Course 3 did not disappoint. So much so that she received a standing ovation from her students at the end of the week. I have no hesitations about recommending her course. If you are interested, be sure to register as soon as on-line registration opens. Course 3 fills up within a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately, after 51 years IGHR will no longer be hosted by the Samford University Library after 2016. Its future is uncertain, although IGHR is eagerly looking for an appropriate new “home” to continue its mission. On its homepage, IGHR has posted a video lecture titled “Time to Make the Doughnuts!” which addresses this issue. I will certainly miss the beautiful Samford University campus and the dedicated SU Library staff. If you’re looking for a solid genealogical education, I highly encourage taking advantage of next year’s IGHR offerings.


Playmobil's Little Luther. Screenshot, Concordia Publishing House (https://www.cph.org/t-littleluther.aspx? : accessed 6 June 2015).
Playmobil’s Little Luther; screenshot, Concordia Publishing House (https://www.cph.org/t-littleluther.aspx? : accessed 6 June 2015).

I love it when pop culture and history collide.

Yesterday I received an advertisement for this little guy in my e-mail inbox. It was for Playmobil version’s of Martin Luther. I thought it was pretty funny. And since ALL my ancestors were German Lutherans, I thought he had a place on this blog (a stretch, I know; he’s just so darn cute). Released ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the toy has broken Playmobil sales records.[1] The figurine even has his own hashtag on social media: #LittleLuther.

Little Luther will be released in the United States on July 1st, 2015.[2] He is available online at Concordia Publishing House.

Reference Notes:

[1] “Why Martin Luther is the answer to Playmobil’s prayers,” The Guardian, 18 February 2015, Web edition (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2015/feb/18/martin-luther-playmobil-figure-sold-34000-in-72-hours : accessed 6 June 2015).

[2] Little Luther web page, Concordia Publishing House (https://www.cph.org/t-littleluther.aspx? : accessed 6 June 2015).

Memorial Day 2015 : Honoring Our Veteran Ancestors

My niece and nephew at the Frankenmuth Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor; Memorial Day, 2015.
My niece and nephew at the Frankenmuth Veterans Memorial honor wall; Memorial Day, 2015.

Today our family celebrated Memorial Day by attending Frankenmuth’s annual Memorial Day parade. Before the parade, my niece and nephew searched the Frankenmuth Veterans Memorial honor wall looking for bricks with the names of their grand-uncles who served our country. Above, they examine the brick of their grand-uncle Willard A. Bernthal who died (non-combat) in 1954 while serving in the United States Army.

Thank you, Veterans, for your service. You are our heroes.

Wanna See My DNA Results?

I grew up with the theory that I was of 100% Germanic stock. So far, all the lines of my family tree bear out that theory. Yet, I still thought it would be fun to test my DNA with Ancestry.com. And the results of my ethnicity estimate surprised me:

    (Click on graphic to enlarge.)

My ethnicity estimate from AncestryDNA. AncestryDNA (http://dna.ancestry.com : accessed 2015).
My ethnicity estimate from AncestryDNA. AncestryDNA (http://dna.ancestry.com : accessed 2015).

Of course, the Europe West and Europe East estimates were no surprise. Both areas encompassed Germanic lands. Scandinavia was not expected, but since I have Prussian ancestors that lived in what today comprises Poland and with Sweden and Denmark not exactly lying very far off, a connection there is a viable possibility. The real kickers were Great Britain and Ireland. I mean, Ireland, really? The estimates could be a fluke or a reflection of tribal movements well before we can expect to find any ancestral documentation. Acting on a hunch, though, that this may not be the case, I decided to have my mother tested, or rather, she agreed to have her DNA tested.

Her results were not what I expected. While her majority estimates reflect Germanic heritage, her results also came in with 26% Scandinavian and and 21% British. These percentages are not so easy to dismiss as anomalies.

And so, my quest for my ancestral origins has taken an interesting turn…