Friday, April 26, 2013

Finding Grandpa Ernst In Soedel

Finding focus is wonderful when it happens, isn't it?  For varying reasons, we've decided that it's time we try (again) to locate our 5th great grandpa, Ernst Menge, in Soedel with the family group we believe he belongs to, namely Johann Ernst Menge and his wife Anna Catharina Riess.  It's not like this question doesn't swim around in the back of our mind all the time, but we've never really had a plan for how to approach the problem.  So we came up with a plan and headed once again for Mecca (I mean Salt Lake City, of course).

So with the goal of finding a record for our Ernst Menge (either baptism or confirmation) in Germany, one that hopefully ties him to the family group we believe he belongs to, the plan was to:
  • sift through every Soedel church record carefully
  • sift through church records of surrounding parishes
  • ask for translation help of the old German script whenever possible
Well, I executed the plan over the course of two 12-hour days, and got nowhere.  I amassed a whole lot of information that got uploaded so my cousin and I can study in more depth later, hoping we can spot a clue that we missed initially.  But on first glance, we still could not place grandpa in Germany, never mind with his family group.

So I was set to go home, but then decided to stay just one more day. After all, I have folders of odds and ends that can be looked up at the FHL. I went into the library with nearly NO expectation, and headed for the International floor even though I really had no reason left to go there. Maybe it was my lack of agenda that allowed me to just casually approach the expert desk and ask them for help. I described our problem as succinctly as possible to somebody who really knows and cares about what they're doing. They gave me a couple of very constructive suggestions, one of which was to check the baptisms of Ernst's brothers' children. I had already done that for Henry but not for the brother who did not come to America, Georg. It turns out that Georg and his wife had twins who died almost immediately. Their baptism record is a bit complex and so all the experts at the expert desk pulled together and came to agreement about the following (rough) translation:
The father was Joh. Georg Menge and mother Elisabetha Catharina. They had a little son but it was weak and so there was an immediate baptism (emergency baptism). The sponsor was Ernst Christian Menge, the brother of the father and the unmarried son of the church elder (Kirch Senioris), Joh. Ernst Menge. At the end of the record is a Note Bene - saying there was another baby boy that came (the twin) and it was baptized by the midwife before it also died.

The gist of this appears to be that the sponsor and namesake of the first-born boy was our ancestor whose name was Ernst Christian Menge! I immediately told the experts that we found reference in PHL that our ancestor's name was Joh. Ernst Menge, but they all shrugged and said that doesn't mean much. The expert to whom I had explained our brick wall just looked at me and said "that's your ancestor".

How could we have missed this?  Partly, we might have been dealing with translation errors.  First the author of the Soedel village genealogy book correctly got the part about twins, but he entered one baby's name as Ernst and the other as Christian, which was incorrect.   Then familysearch created just one record for Ernst Christian Menge, son of Georg, when in fact there were twins born.   Clearly this record generated some degree of confusion all along the way.  But in any case, we clearly should have seen the name ERNST as a great big clue.

So there we have it. We might still wish for Ernst's baptism record but this baptism record of his twin nephews clearly identifies Ernst and his place in the family group. Why we can't find Ernst's own baptism record is still a question. We did find a couple of baptism pages at the end of 1728 and the start of 1729 that were torn and missing - maybe Ernst was in those missing pages? And we still suspect that Ernst might have been named for Joh. Ernst Christian Kreuter who has already been identified as having connections with the Menge and Riess families. Finally we still haven't found any German record for Ernst's older brother Johannes, supposedly born in 1722. Nevertheless I think we managed to achieve our overall goal this time around: to tie our Ernst Menge to the family group of Joh. Ernst Menge and Anna Catharina Riess.

Lessons learned?
  1. Don't be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help.  If you can state your issue in less than 5 minutes to somebody who is really listening and who has the skills to offer constructive advice, it's silly not to get a fresh perspective on something you think about even in your sleep.  Be open to every suggestion even when it seems like ground covered.  Try to see the problem as freshly and as detached as your expert listener does.  This alone is worth more than money.
  2. I can't say enough about embracing the obvious.  Every little detail that is sitting right in front of you should be carefully held in hand and examined minutely.  My mantra for everything I'm thinking is "how do I know that?"  And yet when the mountain of information starts to build, it quickly becomes harder to sort what you know and how you know it.  The mountain itself becomes what is obvious, but am I climbing it or falling over the edge?  Maybe just sitting on the mountain quietly can tell me what I want to know.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the trees sway in the wind.  Everything is right in front of me if I can just see it.  This is probably too philosophical for words, but the obvious can often be that way.
And as usual, cousin J was tuned in the whole time.  It's not like she has nothing else to do in her very full life, but she always finds time to reply, to support, to encourage, and to add insights from her own work, which she does secretly in the middle of the night.  It's hard to imagine doing this work on this family line without her.  I have my own curiosity driving me, of course.  But having cousin J as a research buddy has made it all a fun adventure.  Perhaps the truest gift in doing this work is finding such a friend.

So with this latest development, we have a new emerging picture of grandpa Ernst.  He was the youngest child, a stocking weaver, the son of a church elder, a godfather to his brother's dying babies when he himself was probably barely 20 years old.  He then crossed the ocean with his brothers, never to return again, married two women, fathered and adopted probably a score of children, became a tavern keeper, and then farmer who gave foodstuffs to Washington's Continental Army during the Revolution, finally dying over the age of 80 with quite a sizable estate of his own in Oxford Township, New Jersey.  Johann Ernst Christian Menge to Earnest Man.  What a life.  What a rich and wonderful life.....

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