Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What to Believe?

I want to believe what I read, simple as that. But when doing family history, or anything else I suppose, one still needs to apply a critical mind to any information coming through the door. We can't just buy it off the shelf, even though culturally that's how we live. We have to assess everything all the time and monitor what we believe at all times. It's tiring and certainly easier to do otherwise. But really, how else can we ever approach truth, or even versions of it?

See how I introduce my topics philosphically? Maybe as a reader, you're lost before I get started, but bear with me. It's just my process for sorting through thoughts ....

Here's the scoop. Recently I found a will for Ernest Mann who died in 1846 which named an executor as Jacob Summers. I went to find out more about Jacob Summers and in the space of two days I came across multiple sources published in the late 1800s telling the story of one Jacob Summers, a legislator from Michigan. Except there was more than one Jacob Summers, one was a legislator and one was not. And the tale of each Jacob's origin (from New Jersey or Pennsylvania or Germany) turns out to be a mix of folklore and facts that can only faintly be corroborated.

Honestly, I want to attach a big red flag to the sources in question that says "Don't believe everything you read!" and then send out an All Points Bulletin that would magically reach anybody even remotely involved in researching this branch of the Summers line warning them: If time is your most precious resource, don't waste it here, here, and here! But who am I? Naturally and maybe rightly there are those who wouldn't believe me.

Some days, I want more than anything for there to be an authoritative accounting of my family history that outlines everything from people and places to successes and failures. But even if such a thing existed (it would be available on amazon.com), there is always the matter of wonder. Who wrote what, when and why? Maybe more importantly, who did not write, when and why? Then there is the matter of interpretation and by that I don't refer only to the meaning associated with words. I mean perspective - how we see a picture of people and places from our own geographical and historical location. No matter how close we get, we are always removed. There are some days when I have a vague awareness that some things, even if they survive to be passed down, can't even be imagined by me. It was a vastly different reality that somehow exists now in shadow stories about people whose relationships in the world resulted in me, today, pounding the internet, wandering library stacks, staring blindly for hours at microfilm readers, and then wondering what there is to believe.

Here's what I believe. The true story is a journey of many. It's a very long, sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrifying story. It's going on now as it always has, a collective memory that persistently evolves and occasionally introduces me to myself in new and mysterious ways. My 4th great grandfather Ernest Mann had a trusted cousin, Jacob Summers. No footnote required. Except to say that by some miracle, I now have trusted cousins of my own who believe with me in discovering, telling, and preserving our unpredictable story.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rediscovering Earnest Mann II

Well, it's been awhile. OK, a long while. Maybe that's how it goes – relentless focus on any one subject necessarily requires stepping away. Coming back six months later makes it all seem fresh and interesting again. Ahhh.

As usual, I must report on the details that have lain hidden behind my assumptions. A couple weeks ago, I was at the Family History Library in SLC, and was rummaging through my tree for any documentation that I didn't yet have. To my surprise, I realized I did not have the last will and testament of Earnest Mann who died in 1846. Hmmm, well there it is, in Macomb County, Michigan probate records. Very nicely the will spells out all Earnest's children, complete with married names for the daughters. But then a surprise: the executors are his wife Catherine AND his cousin Jacob Summers. Huh?

Well, this discovery has launched some detailed digging. Aside from identifying cousin Jacob Summers (who would become a Michigan state legislator) came the interesting realization that the Mann family group did not move to Michigan alone - at least three Summers family groups made the move along with the Mann's. (The connection being that Maria Magdalena (aka Mary) Summers was Earnest Mann's mother.) There are a few unanswered questions that remain from this exercise, but I will post those separately. Let me continue this summary.....

The next lesson lies in studying the work of others. I tend to get so involved in what I'm doing with my tree that I don't want to be distracted by false reports or false leads. Unless others have documented their claims, which often seems rare on ancestry, I don't bother looking. But for some reason, I decided to look at other trees involving the Summers line, which is at best fraught with several contrasting theories of lineage. But it turns out there are a few researchers trying to focus in just as hard! AND they are including documentation! And what's this? Here's a source I've never seen or heard of: Newspaper Clippings from the Sussex Register. Following that source gave some interesting detail about the death of William Summers in Oxford, New Jersey. Cool.

So what happens next if I search this new source for “Mann”? The result made me realize just how deep my assumptions have run. It seemed reasonable to assume that Earnest Mann died in Macomb County where he was last seen on a census and where his probate record was found. But no. Here is what happened:

Ernest Mann, of Michigan, crushed to death at Lockport, NY while enroute to visit his relatives at his former home in Warren county.
See what happens when you think you know the whole story? Not even close. Well, Lockport, NY is part of the Erie Canal, and Ernest was traveling that way to get back to see his New Jersey friends and family. What happened that he got crushed? Reading some history about the Erie Canal tells me that any number of things might have happened to cause such a demise. More digging might tell us.

But in the meantime, the story is already changed. Ernest Mann, born about 1773 in Philadelphia to German immigrant parents – before America was even a country – met his end traveling through one of the most important engineering feats of that time (or maybe since). In his 70s, his wife recently gone, half his children in Michigan, the other half in New Jersey, and caught in the middle of an uncontrollably changing world, one can imagine that he died painfully and alone - or - that maybe his dying was just another way of moving into the next unknown. Oh, Ernest. Here we are now, because of you, reading such stories as if our own world were not changing uncontrollably. Rest in peace, dear 4th great grandpa. We know now how you got there, and how you left. We know better now how to remember you well.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Woman of Her Day

I've been thinking about the women ancestors lately....

By most definitions, genealogy is a pursuit of families along paternal lines, and simply by virtue of inheriting a man's name, both at birth and at marriage, not only are the lives of our women ancestors lost along the way, but we also lose the overall picture of how families survived in good times and bad. Our families were units who operated in very close-knit ways in order to survive first, and second to prosper. The men and the women together.

Well, I won't carry on. But in all the excitement lately of discovering the Menge family in Philadelphia before and during the Revolution years, I started to forget. It's been about finding the war records and the court records and the land records, and learning about taverns, which apparently did more to shape popular opinion than anything else. This is not a time in history with much to say about women. It's easy to forget they were there.

So let's look again at the Menge family in America. We've been busy tracking the boys - Johann, Ernst, and Henrich. Ahhh, but now it seems there was at least one sister, and perhaps two. The one we are learning about now was named Anna Catharina Menge. She married Peter Sommer in 1769 - listed in the church records as Catherine Mänchen. It's so easy to overlook her here until realizing that the German tradition is to add -in or -en to a surname for females.

How old was she when she married? Let's say she was 20, thus born around 1749. When did she arrive in America? Come to think of it, why aren't there any female names on the ship lists of Germans arriving in Philadelphia? One cousin thought it was because it was only the men who were required to take an oath of allegiance when they arrived, but I don't think that was altogether so. Ernst and Johann arrived in 1754, some 20 years before Americans would start pushing back against the British. What oath?

Well, let's imagine. Let's pretend that Catherine arrived with her brothers in 1754. That would have made her 5 years old when the ship pulled in. It's hard now to imagine that such a small child would travel across the ocean without her parents. There are a few small clues that maybe her parents also came to America, but while there is plenty of evidence that the Menge brothers were in Philadelphia, there's not much to support that the parents were also.

So that would suggest (to me) that the older brothers took care of their little sister. There's some possibility that Henry came earlier than Ernst and Johann, and that he was already married in Germany before he came. Perhaps Catharina came across with Henry and his family?

Well, enough imagining. We know that Catharina married in 1769, and she and Peter had 3 children: Johann Ernst, Anna Catharina, and Anna Margaretha. Catharina's brothers were sponsors at some of these baptisms, and thus the Menge family link is strengthened.

Then we know (or think we know) that Peter went off to fight in the Revolution in several capacities before he resigned his commission in 1781 and subsequently died in 1783 at the age of 36. In his will, he specifically states that he is divorced from Catherin Man and she is entitled nothing, but then there is a codicil on the will which subsequently grants her 1/4 of his estate (the 3/4 to his children).

Divorce in 1770's Philadelphia? Huh? Well, luckily my local genealogical society was able to educate me about how such things were handled at the time, and I've added research notes about the topic of colonial divorce to my family tree on ancestry.com. But really, what was Catharina doing? It would mean loss of everything material, but most especially her children, aged 13 and under at the time of Peter's death. It's hard to imagine what would make a woman voluntarily give up her children.

Catharina must have fallen for this guy named Nicholas Rash (Rosch and no doubt various other spellings), because less than a year after Peter died, she married Nick. So now her kids would be 14, 12, and 10 (give or take), but where were they? My understanding of divorce at the time is that the woman lost all custody and Peter would have had to arrange for guardians. In the German Lutheran tradition, often the godparent's would help take care of children who lost their traditional home environment for whatever reason. (Were the sponsor's at the baptisms the godparents?) Well, the fact remains that we must now imagine Catherine now around 35 years old living with her new husband in Philadelphia while her children were living (presumably) elsewhere in Philadelphia without her. Oh my. Could she get the children back at that point, I wonder? Did Nick then adopt them? So much to wonder about.

Catharina would live another 15 years. In that time, she would see all three of her children married. She would be a sponsor of her son's first-born daughter, also named Catharina, which would indicate that her son still had loving feelings toward his mother. And then when Catharina died in 1799, her will specifically names the three children, so it seems to me that she did not ever let them very far from her life.

In all this imagining, Catharina who was 5 when she came to America probably barely speaking German, was 50 when she died. She had married two Revolutionary soldiers and raised three children in a city that was not only occupied by the British during the war but which also suffered from rampant diseases such as yellow fever. It could well be what caused her death.

And what of her original family? Her brothers Henry and John were dead, and so only Ernst was still living at the time of her death. Ernst was living in New Jersey by then and one has to wonder if he was still close with his sister in Philadelphia. Was there a funeral? Did Ernst come to remember her? Anna Catharina Menge Sommer Rosch. Well, I'm glad to have met her now, even if in my imagination. And in reality? What's true is that Catharina's line of descendants is at least as long as that of her brothers. Even if her name goes unremembered, the legacy of Catharina lives quietly on nonetheless.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I have told myself all along that if I can find the original immigrant to North American shores for the various lines of my family tree, that will be good enough. Seriously. Is there any REAL hope of finding records of MY blood relations across the pond? Well, I still don't know the answer to that question personally, but I just might be closer to getting my feet wet.

This last week has been incredible in terms of making giant strides in the progress of this line after, as I have mentioned, several years of not much. I think the real breakthrough was the day we located the 5 volumes of 18th Century Records of the German Lutheran Church at Philadelphia, PA (St. Michaels and Zion) [translated by Robert L. Hess]. The pieces have been tumbling together faster than we can fully appreciate what we've found. Dang, this part is fun.

So since this blog is a record of research progress, here is a summary of what we *think* has been found:

1. From the death record of Ernst Menge's brother, Johann Menge, we know that a) Ernst, Johann, and Henrich Menge were brothers and b) Johann was himself the son of Ernst Menge and Anna Catharina. Oh great, ANOTHER Ernest Mann! Ok, fine. Let's just assume these original ancestors lived across pond somewhere. They MAY have come to America too, but for sake of sanity, let's just say they stayed home.

2. Well, here is a very curious burial record:

3 Sep 1773, Anna Cathar. Kilmann(in); b. 23 May 1732 at Sodel?, dau.of the late Joh. Ernst Krainder? and wife Elisabeth Ries(in),? (both of a noble class). (Godparents were Ernst Menge? and wife Anna Catharina);. Immigrated in 1752 with her sister. She mar. Mr . Adolf Kilmann in 1754; had 7 children, of whom 2 sons and 4 daus. survive... (¼-page obit).

Hmmmmm. If this Ernst Menge and wife were godparents in 1732, then I must be looking at a SECOND reference to the pre-arrival generation. Let's just dial up familysearch. What's this?

Groom's Name: Johann Ernst Menge
Groom's Birth Date:
Groom's Birthplace:
Groom's Age:
Bride's Name: Anna Catharina Riessin
Bride's Birth Date:
Bride's Birthplace:
Bride's Age:
Marriage Date: 08 Nov 1709
Marriage Place: Evangelisch, Soedel, Oberhessen, Hesse-Darmstadt

Heart rate has JUST increased. Match on ERNST MENGE, ANNA CATHARINA, RIES, and location: SOEDEL. If these people are related to my direct line, they must be yet another generation back. Whoa.

I could go on. The Philadelphia church records are only adding to the evidence of connections between Menge, Ries, Kreuter (not Krainder), and Gillman families. Who knows what might be found on the other side.

What do you have to say about all this, great great grandmother Sarah Mann? I know, I know. She is saying good luck (Viel Glück! in German)
with the task of proving my case. And not to worry about getting a little wet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I have found genealogical reseach to be like life - many days, weeks, months go by that seem "ordinary" even though in truth within each and every segment of time something is happening on some level that propels us (whether one is going forward or backward when doing genealogy is another question altogether). What makes one day more special than another probably depends on some combination of our hopes and our expectations.

I met my cousin Janice online nearly 3 years ago when we discovered we have this Mann line (among others) in common. I guess you could say she mentored me by answering my frequent questions and offering always friendly advice and knowledgeable perspectives. We have taken to sharing not only every resource we come across but also our every thought on the subject of Mann's and the times in which they lived. We wonder together, and we cheer each other up when sometimes it feels there is really no sane reason for intelligent people to be spending their time this way. I have often imagined us separately and together physically turning the computer upside down and shaking it violently as if that effort must certainly yield us results and for no other reason than we have proven that we want to know that badly. Sometimes, occasionally, perhaps in association with the phase of the moon, this methodology works.

Like last night. Janice and I were exchanging emails at midnight - pounding the cyber-waves with our thoughts, ideas, questions. Then at 1:02 a.m. comes a simple email entitled "DAR". Attached was a PDF which she had just purchased from the DAR website for $10. It was an application from Rosalie S. Young, listing Ernest Mann, Ancestor #A073424 as her Revolutionary Ancestor.

It's not that we never checked the DAR before, but apparently their site never yielded much but an index, which never seemed to produce anything that was useful to us at the time. Ah but like so many things, the DAR site has been updated! If you haven't thought of it before or recently, think of it again: http://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search/?Tab_ID=1&Tab_ID_Sub=1&Action=Search

It's hard to know what I want to say exactly. To Janice. To the DAR. To Rosalie Young, descended from Rachel Mann Beers who submitted her application in 1949. What does it mean exactly to do all this research and to know with no doubt whatever that it would not be possible without thanks to people I have not actually ever met in person. And for this technology being put to such amazing use because of the dedicated drive of historical researchers to share what they know. Even when they know what they don't know and might likely never know, they work mind, body and spirit in the trust that somebody else will recognize a piece of our stories and our heritage.

Of course, there is always more to do, and I'm glad because I don't really want it to totally end. But today, I pause to celebrate my cousins present and past and all the circumstances that have enabled us to journey together in understanding both our history and our lives today. And to all the Ernest Mann's and all their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, and sons and daughters, I am proud to be a part of this collective remembering.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Taverns in Revolutionary PA & NJ

I must admit this topic is an entirely new area of research for me. When I was at the NJ State Archives last year and the librarian kindly suggested that I check the card index for tavern applications, I assured her that MY ancestor was not a tavernkeeper. The only way I could be so certain of that was by virtue of the preconceived ideas I had about him. Every relation in my line is a farmer - that's just so. This is how I learn my lessons - the hard way.....

Luckily I went back to that card catalog that day at the Archives and to my astonishment found a tavern application in May, 1776 by my Ernest Mann in Oxford, NJ. Not only that, but he also offers up his previous experience operating a house of entertainment in Philadelphia for many years previous. Oh my.

Now that I'm looking, the occupation of tavernkeeper or innholder is showing up everywhere. George Ernst, who died in 1759 in Phildelphia and was apparently a friend of the Mann family, was a tavernkeeper. Ernest Mann's brother, John (Johannes) was an innholder in Northern Liberties, PA until his death in 1790. Ernest Mann bought land in Oxford, NJ from a relative, Thomas Hayes, who was yes, a tavern keeper.

According to "The Taverns of Colonial Philadelphia" by Robert Earle Graham, "Inns and taverns can be thought of as synonymous terms, referring to business ventures licensed to lodge travelers and to serve meals and beverages to both travelers and men-about-town."

Oxford must have been a bustling place in 1776 and the ensuing years of war with the British. Built up around the Oxford Furnace, one of the first producers of iron ore, Oxford was thought to have supplied Washington's troops with equipment. Indeed, in December of 1776, Washington would cross the Delaware River at Trenton and defeat a Hessian (German) army of 1400 (Hessians were recruited by and incorporated into the British army). What was going on in the mind and heart of my German ancestor in his tavern in Oxford? Or in his brother's inn back in Philadelphia? One thing seems sure - they and their taverns were in the thick of the American Revolution.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The History of Land

I spent today transcribing a document I found last year at the New Jersey State Archives which conveys 200+ acres from Thomas Hayes and his wife Margaret to Earnest Mange, believed to be the Ernest Mann of my family (one of them at least).

Besides the difficulties of reading the handwriting of old European script and the poor quality of the scanned image, I need to comment about what seems like the excessive length of this document for its purpose, which was to say Thomas Hayes was selling land to Earnest Mange. I think the document goes on at some extreme length for three reasons:

a) the document is apparently giving the entire history of ownership of the land in question. This is a BIG thing for a genealogist to realize - that a description of YOUR family's land transaction might well be recorded in the land transaction of those who came later. So in this particular case, if you are looking for surnames STACY, POUNELL, ATKINSON, POTTS, WRIGHT, KNIGHT, JANNEY, KIRKBRIDGE or SCOTT in Sussex County, New Jersey before 1783, you would probably find some interest in the document I have just transcribed.

b) the document gives loooooong descriptions of the boundaries of the land by degrees and chains and links, but also by cornerstones and lanes of neighboring lands. So in my case, the land in question is bordered by George SUMMERS (who would be father-in-law of my Ernest Mann), as well as SIMMS, PENROSE, PARKER, and VANATTA (spelling of these surnames may vary as transcription of this document was a challenge). Another great lesson: my family might be mentioned in the land descriptions of neighbors!

c) the legalese about heirs and executors and dowers goes on and on in what I assume is fine English tradition. This document was signed by a judge of the court of common pleas in the STATE of New Jersey, which in April, 1783 was almost but not quite yet a locale found in an independent nation. George Washington and the Continental Army had spent almost half of the Revolutionary War in New Jersey. And yet now there was true hope of peace: Cornwallis had surrendered in Yorktown in 1781, the preliminary articles for a peace treaty had been signed in Paris in November, 1782, King George III would sign the treaty in September, 1783 and the American Congress would ratify the treaty giving them separation from Great Britain in January, 1784. The American Constitution and election of the first American President were on the near horizon.

So the length of this conveyance document aside, I find myself wondering about my ancestor whose first language was German, who had traveled so far to disembark in Philadelphia in 1754 and there work as a stocking weaver, who in 1776 applied to become a tavern keeper in Oxford, New Jersey, and who was now about to make himself an American landowner. I find myself imagining it was an amazing day for my Ernest Mange, the 13th of April in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty three.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Getting Started

Welcome to my research blog for Michigan Mann Genealogy. I hope to keep track of and share the research that I'm doing (along with others) on this family line. It's quite a journey! There are no shortage of questions and happily, with some perserverence, a story is starting to emerge! Be sure to check the link to my research page to see if you find anything familiar. If you do, feel free to contact me!