Archive for the Genealogy Category

Captain Thomas BriertonLast week, I received a surprise email from a relative I didn’t even know I had. It seems that the family of one of my grandmother’s half-uncles, Thomas (1874-1921) had relocated from Brooklyn to the Niagara Falls area at some point. The family there had found my Brierton family tree online and was thrilled to find the picture of Thomas. We’re still in the process of filling in the blanks, but it’s a part of the family that I had no information at all about. Thomas had a daughter named Alice, about whom I had no other information other than that she was born about 1908. The last information I had on her was that she was still living with her mother in 1930 (the last year that census information was available in which I could locate her). From that point, the trail disappeared. Now that they’ve found themselves on our tree and connected that part of the family, there’s another whole line of information that’s opened up. Isn’t the internet wonderful?!! It isn’t the first time, and hopefully not the last, that people have found us this way.

Father Michael RederAfter I put up the entry about the Gross family, I realized that when I first started this blog, one of the things I was going to do was write something about Father Michael. For a long time, everyone seemed to know he was a relative, but nobody was sure just how that worked out. In fact, it was curiosity about the relationship that got me digging into the family tree a while back (an effort that goes in fits and bursts of energy with long periods of inactivity in between).

Sometime in the 1960’s, Father Michael became a regular visitor at my grandparents house. As we came to learn, he had been cloistered in a monastery since he was 13 years old (since about 1910). The monks had loosened the rules, and he was now allowed to leave to visit relatives. BUT, his family seemed to have disappeared in the 50 years since he was left with them. The only relative of his that the monks could locate was my grandfather, William A. Schmitt. So how was he related anyway?


The Gross family connected to the Schmitt family back in the mid 1800’s. My great-great grandfather’s sister, whose name was Anna (though one census form inexplicably calls her Eliza — possibly from a middle name), married a man named Frank Gross, probably before they arrived in the United States in 1853 from Hessen Darnstadt in what was later to become Germany. My great-great grandfather, Stephen, also lists Hessen Darnstadt as his birthplace on several documents.

Rootsweb has a mailing list for the Gross family, which I joined some time ago to see if anything came through on the name. Most of the family seems (unscientific observation) to have headed for the south. Last week, a woman named Althena Butterfield issued an invitation on that list to join a new website covering the Gross family and other relations. I traded a few messages with her and joined the site. Maybe we’ll get lucky?

Sometime in late 1994 or 1995, my grandmother, then known as Myrtle Jones, was in a hospice near Princeton, New Jersey, where she was dying of cancer. I was working in the area for a week, teaching Advanced SQL Techniques to the employees of Bristol Meyers, and visited her at the end of each day. I had Family Tree Maker installed on my laptop and for several days I sat at the foot of her bed while she tried to remember the names and other details of various family members, most of whom were long gone. Her mind was amazingly sharp, and, as I entered whatever she came up with into the laptop, she asked questions about how what I was doing on the computer and how it worked. Much of what she came up with was information I used to try to track down parts of her mothers family when I gained access to census data many years later, but I was still in early data gathering mode at the time, not even being careful to note sources.

What struck me the most at the time was a comment she made as I answered her questions about the computer. She stated, “Here I am, 87 years old and on my deathbed, but I’m still learning. Isn’t that something?”

A number of years ago, someone asked just how a man we knew as “Father Michael” was related to the family. At the time, nobody was quite sure. All we knew was that he was from the Schmitt side of the family, had lived in a Franciscan monastery in Yonkers since he was a child, and when the monastery opened up, my grandfather was the only relative that they could find. Over time, we figured out a little more, which I’ll probably detail in a later posting, but I realized how little we knew about some parts of the family. (more…)