Okay, here’s the deal, we were all new once . . . right?
When I initially started “collecting” family stories and information in the “dark-ages” before computers and digitization - before I had discretionary funds to send for records or travel to archives - I pretty much knew the present-day and not too distant past stories and details of the living and the recently deceased family members - I had grown up with them, visited them and knew where they lived and worked.
So, in 2003, when I started tracing their genealogy and family history in earnest, I documented what I knew and started a tree sapling on Ancestry.com. And, I made the decision early on, that because I had the most information on my mother’s paternal ancestors, I would document what I knew on them, but would not linger - I’d come back to them later. What I really wanted to get to and discover was the genealogy and family history of my other three grandparents; I didn’t know much beyond them.
I started with the basics, I had birth and death certificates and U.S. Army Discharge papers for my Dad’s Dad; a death certificate for both my mother’s Mom and Grandmother and for her Dad; and, I also had the obituary clipping for my Dad’s Mom. And, of course, their family stories – the stories I had grown up listening to. I entered the basic details gleaned from these documents and stories into each one of their profiles and then set about collecting the basic records to document and substantiate their lives and the details that I had.
Reminder . . . this was before I had learned to really focus on each word and line of a document. Before I had learned the benefits of transcribing a document – even if it was clearly written and easily read – to ensure that I paid attention to every small detail. Before I knew to create a timeline for each family member so that I could see potential gaps in their lives, the missing vital statistics and details of their lives, and to note any conflicting information. Before I knew to really focus on what documents I had and which ones were missing. Before I knew to both pay attention to source information – where that information came from and who provided it – and, to cite – document – the source. And, before I had discovered the Barefoot Genealogist, Crista Cowan, and her tutorials on the Ancestry YouTube channel and all the tips and tricks I’d learn from her. Before I learned to document “negative” research – search results that didn’t yield any further information; new information; or that completely debunked the information I had – so that I wouldn’t “climb” the wrong family tree. Before I learned about blogs and online webinars where I’d continue to learn how to document my family’s history and genealogy. Before I started blogging and getting my family’s story online and connecting with “cousins.” And, before the added dividend of really focusing on the details – the facts, ma’am, just the facts – when creating a blog post on the family member or line that I was currently working.
After, creating the online sapling, I used the initial physical documents to record what I knew about each “leaf” and then I started collecting census records, obituaries, birth and death certificates that I didn’t already have for each family member. Which brings us to today’s post . . .
My maternal Grandmother, Catherine Louise (STARR) Kriebel’s parents were Eva E RAMER and William E STARR Sr. And, my Great Grandmother, Eva RAMER’s parents were Oscar RAMER and Louisa MILHEIM. I knew this because . . .
- My mother and her siblings knew each of them and they knew where each of them lived and worked – they had grown up with them and visited them
- I knew my Grandmother, Catherine (STARR) Kriebel, I knew her siblings, I knew the house she grew up in. I visited there often as a child – her brother, Robert STARR lived there with his wife and with his Mother – my Grandmother’s mother – Eva E (RAMER) Starr
- I had the physical copy of the obituary for my Grandmother, Catherine STARR; the physical copy of the death certificate for my Great Grandmother, Eva E (RAMER) Starr; the death certificate (found online) for my Great Great Grandmother, Louisa MILHEIM and a copy (found online) of the marriage license for Louisa MILHEIM and Oscar RAMER
- I had US Census records for each ancestor and their family unit from their birth through 1940
And, each of of these substantiated what I already knew – names, dates of birth, marriage, death and residence. Nothing was amiss. Or . . . was there?
I didn’t have my Grandmother Catherine (STARR) Kriebel’s birth certificate, I ordered it and waited. Now, I knew that Catherine’s parents were William E STARR and Eva E RAMER, but when I received the copy of her birth certificate via US Postal Service, it was very generic – provided the child’s name, date and place of birth and parent’s names. The certificate read . . .
Name: Catherine Louise STARR
Date of Birth: 1 December 1912
Place of Birth: Allentown, Lehigh, Pennsylvania
Father: William E STARR
Mother: Eva Pfaff
Well, that isn’t right, my Great Grandmother’s name was Eva E RAMER. Must have received this in error. Trash! And, I moved on. Yes, now, I am hanging my head in shame, but remember, I was just getting started and I hadn’t yet learned. We’ll return to this in a bit.
Next I spoke to and “interviewed” my Mother’s cousin Marty. Marty is Robert STARR’s daughter, and Robert is the half-brother of my Grandmother, Catherine, the son of my Great Grandfather William E STARR and his first wife, Ethel Lynda Kline, and the step-grandson of my Great Great Grandparent’s Louisa MILHEIM and Oscar RAMER. She was able to provide very few additional details, but I did learn when her father, Robert, passed away – my family had been living overseas at the time and we weren’t aware – sadly, after the death of my Grandmother in 1975 and the busyness of daily living, our families didn’t stay in touch.
I went looking for Robert’s obituary.
Robert’s obituary was published 6 June 1992 in The Morning Call (Allentown, PA) and named his parents . . .
“William E and Eva E (MILHEIM) STARR”
Wait, that isn’t right! Where did that come from? Eva E RAMER and William E STARR are the biological parents of my Grandmother, Catherine, but, William E STARR and Ethel Lynda Kline are the parent’s of my Grandmother’s half-brothers, William E STARR, Jr and Robert STARR. Okay, by this point, I had learned that I needed to “sure-up” my research if there was a discrepancy. Everything else in the obituary was consistent with what I knew from first-hand knowledge of growing up with my Grand Uncle. I made note of the discrepancy and did not yet attach the obituary to Robert’s profile. I next moved to census records, marriage license(s), death certificates, etc. and set about the task of documenting my family – confirming what I knew, but, with the added task of “proving” or “disproving” the names of Robert’s parents.
Locating the marriage license for William E STARR and Ethel Lynda Kline, the census records for William and Ethel and Ethel’s death certificate, I was able to “prove” to my satisfaction that both William E, Jr and Robert C STARR were the sons of William E STARR and Ethel Lynda Kline. Eva E RAMER was their step-mother. And, I moved on. (we’ll take a look at these documents shortly)
Okay, that research was pretty much all completed back in 2003/4. In the following years I continued to learn how to research; how to organize my notes; how to create a timeline; how to pay close attention to everything, but particularly to the oddities; how to make note of those oddities, discrepancies, outright errors and “negative” search results; how I should transcribe every document, which in turn helps me focus on all the details; how to do F A N Research; how to create a blog; how to document my searches, so that I didn’t keep searching for those records that I had already found, or, didn’t; how to cite my sources; I learned the basic principals of the Genealogical Proof Standards (GPS); and, I learned research strategies – for me, that meant focusing on one family and surname at a time – to doggedly pursue each leaf and branch, locating “low-hanging” fruit – birth, marriage, census and death records – to include obituaries - and then diving deeper and locating military records, wills and probate records; land deeds, etc.
In all honesty, I am still learning about record collections that I haven’t yet explored – why I continue to watch Crista Cowan and other genealogy webinars and why I read a number of blogs. There is a lot, A LOT of information and educational materials* out there – I cannot encourage you enough to avail yourself of it. And, most of it, if not all, is in easy to understand (read NOT collegiate) language. And, that is PERFECT for me.
*To learn more about F A N Research, Citing your Sources and the Genealogical Proof Standards (GPS), click on the hyperlinks (red print).
Since 2004 I have been focused on documenting the BEARSELL, LEARN and LINDSEY - my Dad’s paternal line - families with occasional short forays into the collateral lines, using the F A N Research strategy to help find and document the elusive direct-line ancestors. Until . . . recently.
Over the past year, the State of Pennsylvania and Ancestry.com have worked together and have recently digitized Pennsylvania’s 1906 – 1963 death certificates. In doing so, a lot of “shaky leaf” hints have been appearing and distracting my attention. I’m usually able to stay focused, I don’t, as a rule, tend to get distracted for long. If my focus on the family / line that I am working on is diverted, it is usually only a brief distraction – one long enough to review the hint and decide whether it is something to keep or can be discarded. I then refocus my attention to the name / line that I had previously been working. However . . .
Two weeks ago, a “shaky leaf” hint appeared for my Great Grandmother, Eva E RAMER – the Pennsylvania death certificate. Okay, I’ll take a look, I don’t expect to find any new information, I’ll just verify that it is her death certificate and I’ll review – in depth - all her source documents when I focus on the RAMER line. But, wait! . . .
- That doesn’t look like the hard-copy certificate I have
- Her parents are listed as George MILHEIM and Louisa PFAFF
Well, that isn’t right. Eva’s parents were Oscar RAMER and Louisa MILHEIM.
MILHEIM is right, but it was Eva’s Mother’s maiden name. Who’s George? My Great Great Grandmother’s – Louisa – Father’s name was Charles MILHEIM. And, PFAFF? Wait! PFAFF? I’ve seen that before. Oh, I remember, the copy of the birth certificate for my Grandmother – Catherine Louise STARR – that I initially ordered and subsequently threw away, had Eva PFAFF listed as the Mother of my Grandmother. And, did I mention, that I had on another occasion attempted to obtain another copy of my Grandmother’s birth certificate? Yes, and when it arrived, it had the same – I assumed – error and . . . you guessed it, I threw it away too. Nope, I hadn’t yet learned.
But, this time, PFAFF had my attention. Everything else on my Great Grandmother’s death certificate was correct - home address; city and state; date and place of birth; date and place of death; and spouse’s name. The informant? My Grandmother, Catherine Louise (STARR) Kriebel and her physical address was also correct.
I knew this information to be correct because I knew my Grandmother and where she lived – I visited her there often – and while I didn’t know either of my Great Grandparents, I did know where they had lived and died – my Grand Uncle Bob (Robert E STARR) and his wife, Ann, lived there – and I visited them often. So, back to my original question, where did George MILHEIM and Eva PFAFF come from?
It’s 2015 and by now I had learned the lessons mentioned above. So much for briefly looking over the hint and “storing” it for when I began work in earnest on the RAMERs. I couldn’t just put it aside, I needed to, at the very least, research why the PFAFF surname kept appearing – three times is more than a coincidence. What was I missing?
I went back and looked at the document I had on Eva’s death – remember, I thought, or, perhaps more accurately, assumed, it was a copy of her death certificate. When I looked at it, I now realized it was a copy of the Local Registrar’s Certification of Death.1 And, it did not include the names of her parent’s. Nor did it note her maiden name.
The document provides my Great Grandmother’s name as Eva Elizabeth STARR and the place of death as 548 Noble Street, Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It also provides her date of birth, 24 January 1889 and her date of death as, 5 January 1959. This is all accurate. Eva’s step-son and my Grandmother Catherine’s half-brother, Robert and his wife lived in the home he was raised in. The home, for which the address is provided on the certification of death. And, as I’ve said, I visited there many times.
The death certificate2 provides the place of death and the deceased’s usual residence (where deceased lived) as 548 Noble Street, Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The document also provided Eva’s . . .
- Full Name: Eva Elizabeth STARR
- Full Name of Spouse: William E STARR
- Date of Birth: 24 January 1889
- Date of Death: 5 January 1959
- Father’s Name: Geo MILHEIM
- Mother’s Maiden Name: Louisa PFAFF
- Informant: Mrs. Wilmer KRIEBEL of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania
Mrs. Wilmer KRIEBEL is my Grandmother, Catherine STARR. She was married to Wilmer, my Grandfather.
Hmm, Grandma isn’t playing nice!
Next I looked at the marriage license3 for my Great Great Grandparents Louisa MILHEIM and Oscar RAMER. It provides the . . .
- Man’s Name: Oscar REMER (variant of RAMER)
- Woman’s Name: Louisa MILHEIM
- Age of Man: 23
- Age of Woman: 23
- Residence of Man: Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
- Residence of Woman: Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
- Parents’ Name – Man: Eli REMER
- Parents’ Name – Woman: Charles MILHEIM
Nothing amiss here; all what I had grown up hearing around the dinner table.
What I initially find made me realize that I’d need to employ the F A N (Family / Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) research method and go through both the 1880 and 1900 US Federal Census for Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. I will need to document the RAMERs, MILHEIMs, and PFAFFs prior to Eva’s birth. What this means is, I will need to “collect” all families with these surnames and save them in my ancestry “shoebox” and then, I’ll need to go through ALL of the townships and enumeration districts within the county, page by page. I know that I’ll have to compare each individual within a family and each family in order to sort this out. And, I also know that I’ll have to pay close attention to the neighbors as well. And, too, I need to go back over the census records that I had previously saved back in 2003/4.
And, collecting all instances of these surnames within the townships and enumeration districts of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania is what I have been doing, as time permitted, these past two weeks. For statistical purposes, the 1880 US Federal Census for Lehigh County, Pennsylvania had 31 townships, 56 enumeration districts and 1,385 images. And, the 1900 US Federal Census for Lehigh County, Pennsylvania had 36 townships, 67 enumeration districts and 1,920 images. FUN!!
Having gone through all 3,305 images of the 1880 and 1900 US Federal Census records for Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and collecting all instances of the RAMER, MILHEIM and PFAFF surnames – including variant spellings – I am now ready to review and dissect each and figure this mystery out. Thanks Grandma!!
I will return soon and share what I’ve learned.
COMING SOON . . .
Will my real Great Grandmother, Eva E. . . RAMER. . . MILHEIM . . . PFAFF please stand up!
PS: I hope that I am not the only one that learns the hard way.
PPS: And, my paternal Grandma? Well, she isn’t playing nice either! She was the informant on her brother’s death certificate and, she said that he was married. Ummm, no he wasn’t. . . NEVER! Sigh, that will have to wait until I’ve sorted through this.
Copyright © 2015 Tracy L Meyers
1Norristown, Pennsylvania, Certification of Death, no. 545557 (1959), Eva Elizabeth Starr; Norristown Local Registrar of Vital Statistics, Cherry Street
2Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, Death Certificate 6852 (1959), Eva Elizabeth Starr; ancestry.com, online
3Pennsylvania County Marriages 1855 - 1950 Index and Images (Family Search), "Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885 - 1950," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VF43-NG5 :, Date License acquired: 31 May 1892 / Date of Marriage: 31 May 1892. FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VF4V-782).