30 April 2017

In Plain Sight!

This post is the fourth in a series about my research in solving the two-part history mystery of . . . Who IS Eva; Eva Ramer? Or, Eva PFAFF?  And, who is George PFAFF? You can read the previous posts in the series by clicking any one of the following links: Grandma Isn't Playing Nice; The Grandparents Are Out of Control!; and Grandma, A Little Cooperation . . . PLEASE!!

Well, we “know” from my last post, Grandma, A Little Cooperation . . . PLEASE!, that Eva, is Eva PFAFF.  And, that conclusion was based on A LOT of research and the piecing together of original and derivative sources; records that recorded primary and secondary information based on direct or indirect knowledge.

I noted in my last post, that as I was writing it, I was again re-reviewing my information, documents and sources.  And, that I had made some “discoveries” that I hadn’t noticed in the . . . oh, I don’t know . . . the first 100 times I had read, reviewed, and transcribed; read, reviewed; and then, read and reviewed the documents and sources, yet again!!  Let me just say here, there is no such thing, as going through and over something too many times.  You WILL, always . . .  ALWAYS . . . find something that you’ve missed; misread; didn’t give importance to; gave too much importance to; misinterpreted; failed to appreciate the significance of, etc., etc.

Let me say it again . . .

there is no such thing, as going through and over something too many times.  You WILL, always . . . ALWAYS . . . find something that you’ve missed; misread; didn’t give importance to; gave too much importance to; misinterpreted; failed to appreciate the significance of, etc., etc.

This simply cannot be stressed enough!!!

So . . . as I was writing my last post, I was again reviewing my research, and even though I had browsed page-by-page each of the census records for each of the counties; Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, and Lehigh.  Going through each city / town / borough looking for ALL PFAFF families and noting any young males in those households that fit the approximate age of George – the gentleman named as the “father” of Eva on several documents, I decided yet again, that I would search the census records one more time.  What the heck, probably fruitless, right?!!  After all, I had thrown everything, “but the kitchen sink” into each of my previous searches!!  And, I had gone through all those census records, in all of those counties, in each and every town, borough and city, page-by-page and hadn’t found him!  But, hey, what the heck, I’ll throw in the “kitchen sink” this time!!! 

In the blog post dated, 19 September 2015, The Grandparents are Out of Control!, the marriage announcement, “SQUIRE SNYDER TIES A HYMENEAL KNOT,” which ran in the Allentown Democrat, Wednesday, 8 June 1892, announced the wedding of Eva’s mother, Louisa MILHEIM and a gentleman by the name of Oscar Ramer.  This wedding announcement is NOT announcing the marriage of Eva’s parents.  While Louisa is Eva’s biological mother; Oscar is most certainly not the biological father. We know this because, the wedding between Louisa and Oscar took place a full three years and four months after Eva’s birth.  Eva’s birth certificate records her parents as Louisa MILHEIM and George PFAFF.  The 1900 US Federal Census records Eva PFAFF, age 11, living in her grandparents’ - Charles and Mary MILLHIME - home, located in Hokendauqua Village, Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Eva’s marriage license records her maiden name as Eva PFAFF.  The Allentown Democrat announced, 20 May 1911, the marriage between Eva PFAFF and George E. W.STARR. And, Eva’s death certificate records her father’s name as George PFAFF; Eva’s daughter, Catherine, provided that information.

While I was confident in my conclusion that Eva was NOT Oscar Ramer’s daughter and that our mystery guy, George PFAFF, indeed was Eva’s father, I still didn’t have enough “proof.”  I wasn’t exhausted!  Nor, had I looked I at, or through, every record set or data collection.  I hadn’t gone through every archive; repository; church; cemetery; funeral home or library.  There was still a lot more, A LOT more that I needed to do.  I needed to aspire to that Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) of a “reasonably exhaustive search.”  Did I think I’d find anything that would alter my conclusion?  No, not really.  However, I needed to be open-minded enough to be open to that possibility – the possibility that I could find something that definitively proved me wrong and take me in a different direction.  I was okay with that.  After all, my goal was, has been, and is, to research my family; my ancestors, and to document their life and lives.  I don’t want to chase after a person or family that isn’t mine. 

So, my next step was to hire a professional genealogist to do “on site” research in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.  While I would have loved to travel home to my home state and the stomping grounds of my youth, my schedule and some other things – life! – simply didn’t permit it.  So, contracting with a professional genealogist in the ancestral geographical area of interest, and requesting additional documents and local archive searches, was the best alternative.  And, I was able to learn and discover some interesting things that both furthered my research and ultimately, supported my conclusions. 

My specific research focus for the professional genealogist was to visit the Lehigh County courthouse and locate the courthouse file and docket reference the fornication and bastardy case for Oscar Ramer; Session: January 1892, page 592, No. 26.  My contract was for five hours of research, plus expenses.  However, he agreed, that if time permitted – that is, the focus of his (my) research was achieved – he’d search the courthouse records for a marriage license for George PFAFF and Louisa MILHIEM.  I believed, IF a marriage took place, it would have been between 1888 and 1889.

The following information was included in the genealogist’s research notes.

“Lehigh County Court of Quarter Sessions Docket Book “J” provided index and file No. 26.  This entry from January Session, 1892, dated 5 January, stated that Oscar Ramer had posted a $500.00 bond to guarantee his appearance at the next criminal court session which would have been in April 1892.  At that time he would have to answer the charges brought against him by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The genealogist noted that there are two sources of records for these Quarter Court Sessions:

  1. The Session Docket Book which included the index of the names of the defendant along with a short entry providing a brief description of the proceedings.
  2. The associated paper file that might include actual full transcripts of what occurred in the courtroom

The genealogist noted that Docket book “J” included entries through January 1892.  And, the following Docket book “K” began with entries beginning in January 1895.  He could find no explanation for why this gap of three years existed in these Docket book entries.  In his speaking with the courthouse clerks, he learned this problem had never been previously discovered in these records.

Well, of course not; is anyone surprised that it was in the research of MY family that this “problem” was discovered?  Ugh, I know that I am not the only family genealogist that feels that way when researching their family.  If I am helping a friend or co-worker, all the pieces of the puzzle – err, records – just fall into place; but my family?  Nope, can’t have that!!  What fun would that be?!!

The genealogist did review the microfilm of the original court file papers for January Session 1892 through the January Session 1893.  He noted that the entry for Oscar Ramer, file #26 case should have appeared in April 1892.  Even if it had been continued to a later session, he believed it certainly would have been resolved prior to January 1893.  He found no entries for Ramer, file #26.

The genealogist noted possible reasons why no later appearance of the Ramer court case were found:

  1. The original paper file was lost
  2. The conflict between the mother and the accused father was resolved out-of-court prior to the scheduled court date in April 1892

Now, for a point of clarification.  I did not suspect that this 1892 court case, for charges of fornication and bastardy had anything to do with Eva and her parentage.  Remember, Eva, was already three years old by January 1892.  What was more likely, the charges were for a more recent event; Louisa MILHEIM’s pregnancy with daughter Mamie, who was born, 25 April 1892, while this court case was still being decided / settled. 

The genealogist suspects, in the absence of a court case, that Oscar Ramer and Louisa MILHEIM negotiated an agreement before the continuance date in April 1892. 

Louisa’s and Oscar’s daughter, Mamie, was born in April 1892 and they were married in June 1892; is there any doubt as to what agreement was reached during the negotiations?

The genealogist then turned his attention to Oscar and Louisa’s marriage license and he noted . . .

“The license application states both Oscar and Louisa were single.  If Louisa had been previously married and widowed or divorced, the application should have listed her as such, not single.”

I noted that the genealogist’s findings supported my conclusions.  Although I had shared with him what records and information I had, and where I had already looked, my conclusions based on my research were purposefully omitted so as not to bias his findings.

So . . . as I was writing my last post, I was again reviewing my research, and even though I had browsed page-by-page each of the census records for each of the counties; Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, and Lehigh.  Going through each city / town / borough looking for ALL PFAFF families and noting any young males in those households that fit the approximate age of George – the gentleman named as the “father” of Eva on several documents, I decided yet again, that I would search the census records one more time.  What the heck, probably fruitless, right?!!  After all, I had thrown “everything, but the kitchen sink” into each of my previous searches!!  And, I had gone through all those census records, in all of those counties, in each and every town, borough and city, page-by-page and hadn’t found him!  But, hey, what the heck, I’ll throw in the “kitchen sink” this time!!!

So, what do you think happened?

8 September 1870 - US Federal Census - George Pfaff

  • 1870 US Federal Census @ Ancestry.com
  • Note, David PFAFF, Head of Household is listed on the last line of the previous page and not shown here

Do you see the kitchen sink?!! 

Picture me doing the genealogy dance; accompanied by a hoot and a holler!!  There’s George (!) on the 1870 US Federal Census; recorded on 8 September 1870 living in Slatington, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania with his family.  He’s one.  His parents are David PFAFF and Sally. 

Wait, what?  Hold that thought for a minute; I’ve seen this before.  I’ve seen David’s name before.  Where are my research notes?  My notes record that I found this same family in the 1880 US Federal Census, living in Catasauqua, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.  The Head of Household was recorded as “Dana;” followed by Sally Ann, wife; “Gengrele, son;” and John, son. 

While the enumerator’s handwriting is extremely poor and the transcriber obviously had great difficulty making out the names, I believe, after careful study of the record that “Dana” is DAVID and that “Gengrele” is GEORGE M

9 June 1880 - US Federal Census - George Pfaff

  • 1880 US Federal Census @ Ancestry.com

I had noted in my research notes that George would have been 21 the year that Eva was born, 1889, making him a candidate for the mysterious “George PFAFF.” A candidate worth looking at further.  Searching the local newspapers of the area; the Allentown Leader published David PFAFF’s obituary in their 9 and 10 June 1908 issues.  And, the Allentown Democrat ran an article, 11 June 1908 honoring his Civil War service; prompting me to search for and subsequently purchase a copy of his Civil War pension file.  I hadn’t found “my George,” but David’s son, George in this 1880 census was a good candidate, not having anything further to go on, I needed this file in my pursuit of researching and reviewing every piece of evidence that could be found to either rule in, or to rule out, any possible George with the PFAFF / PAFF surname that was of the right age, in the right time, and place to be Eva’s father.

While I waited for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to process my request for David’s pension file, I put this research aside and documented Eva’s maternal side; the MILHEIMs.

When I received David’s pension file from NARA, I first read through it – all 69 pages – I then set it aside for just a bit.  When I next came back to it, in a day or so, I transcribed the file in its entirety; word for word.  And, I disappointedly noted at the time, that this wasn’t the PFAFF family I was looking for, there was no record or recording of George anywhere in the file.  So, I filed the record away.  I documented the information it contained and I noted my findings, or lack thereof, in my research notes. This was a case of what the professionals call “negative research;” that, is my research of, and review of the records to this point, yielded negative results.  This “George,” wasn’t “my George.”

When did I review the 1880 US Federal Census?  When did I order, read, review and transcribe the Civil War Pension file for David PFAFF?  I reviewed the 1880 US Federal Census and ordered the pension file in November 2015.  I received,  read, reviewed and transcribed the pension file, January 2016. 

It’s now spring of 2017 and there’s George!  But, this makes no sense.  I looked at this George; this family, a year ago and while on paper it would seem that they were very good candidates for the person and family I was looking for, my subsequent research seemed to indicate otherwise.  So, I don’t get it!  Time for a call to to a good friend in California; we frequently work through research conundrums, issues and strategies together.  I made the call and what she hears on her end is . . .

Holy heck, I found him!

By the way, that’s the “family friendly” version! 

I explained and then said, but, I don’t get it.  I looked at this George!  I looked at this family!  And, while right age, right place; right time fit, it couldn’t be him, because this George wasn’t mentioned in any other record after the 1880 US Federal Census, and David PFAFF, the Civil War soldier, the soldier whose pension file I ordered, didn’t mention George, at all.  So, I had concluded a year ago that this wasn’t THE PFAFFs that I was looking for.

And, my ever patient friend said, “do you still have the pension file?”  Why, yes, yes, I do.  And, we went through it . . . again.  Literally, I read it to her; word for word; line by line.  When I got to . . .

“Have you any children living? If so, please state their names and the dates of their birth.”

And, David listed his children. 

I kept reading.  But, my friend said STOP!  Go back and read that again.  Okay . . .

“Have you any children living? If so, please state their names and the dates of their birth.”

And, David listed his children. 

I kept reading.  Again, my friend says . . . STOP!  Read it again . . .

“Have you any children living? If so, please state their names and the dates of their birth.”

And, David listed his children. 

And, I again, continued reading.  And, my friend says . . . “No!, Tracy, take a minute and think about what that sentence says!  One, one thousand; two, one thousand; three, one thousand; four, . . . Holy . . . he’s DEAD!!! 

Can, you just picture my friend on the other end saying . . . “ding, ding, ding!  And, WE have a winner!!”

Son of a . . . err . . . gun!  That  means I’ve had the answer to who George PFAFF was; who Eva’s father was, for over a year!!  One . . . whole . . . entire year!! 

He WAS in PLAIN SIGHT!!  And, yet . . . I had missed him!! 

This is why we take copious and detailed research notes.  This is why we document both positive and negative research.  This is why we read, review, and transcribe ALL documents. This is why we “collect” all same name persons and families when we are looking to sort out who is who in a genealogy history mystery.  This is why we cite our sources, so that, in the advent we need to retrace our steps to determine why we did or didn’t do something; why we did or didn’t rule out someone, we can retrace our steps to the documents that we used to base our opinions and conclusions on.  Wash, rinse and repeat many, many times.  I cannot stress enough, and I am constantly reminded of this all the time; when researching, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, take the time to periodically go back through your research – your notes, documents, timelines, etc., etc.  from the beginning! – Do NOT SKIP THIS VITAL PROCESS!  Oft times, the “brick walls” we encounter are those of our own making.  Let me remind you . . .

One entire year!  Fifty-two weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 , minutes, and 31,536,000 seconds.  And, . . . I had him . . . all along!  He was in plain sight, and . . . I missed him!!

We, genealogists – as a community – could successfully apply for any brick mason’s job.  Experience?  Oh, we have experience!!!

We’re really good at building walls . . . walls that are impenetrable.  Walls that are indestructible; walls that will stand for years, decades and centuries!

Personally, though, as a genealogist, I’d much rather have the skill set of an “explosive technician;” a person that is skilled in construction demolition – you know, bringing down those brick walls. Nope, not one brick at a time; all at once – turning them into sand!!!

So, mystery solved?  Yes.  But, another one surfaces; what happed to George?  Why didn’t anyone beyond my grandmother, Eva’s daughter, know about her father?  They didn’t even know his name? I’ll fill you in; watch for a future post.

This questionnaire, a quarterly payment review,  in the pension file was completed by David PFAFF, 4 May 1898.  Eva was born in January 1889; George PFAFF was still living, at the very least, nine months prior to that!  By the time his father, David, completed this questionnaire in 1898, George was deceased.  Well, that’s a nine year window I now have to work with.

Now, misery loves company, so please tell me that I am not the only one who has missed the obvious.  Have any of your ancestors been hiding in plain sight?  I’d loved to hear your stories and how you ultimately discovered what was there the whole time.

Tracy

Copyright © 2017 Family Preserves; Tracy L Meyers

8 comments:

  1. Interesting that you noted that three year span between Eva's birth and her mother's marriage to Oscar. You thought it couldn't be. I smiled as I read that. I thought the same thing with my 3X great grandparents in Copenhagen, as I couldn't find a marriage record for them and their first child was born in the summer of 1840. I hunted high and low, but it wasn't until that daughter was confirmed and the record stated that she was born at the unwed mother's hospital that I began searching for a marriage after July 1840. They married in August 1842, shortly before child #3 was born! You can never say never in genealogy.

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    1. Linda, thank you so much for visiting Family Preserves and for posting your thoughts.

      You are so right, we should never presume, assume or say never. I will only tell you, that as I discovered in this case, George died; more in on that in a future post.

      Have a great day and I hope you will visit Family Preserves again.

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  2. Sometimes talking things over with people helps a lot. Different people interpret things differently when filling in forms too. Here in Australia we have very very useful death certificates which ask about marriages and children. Sometimes though the informant takes it to mean only living children or only children of the last marriage or children born of the marriage when there might be a child born out of wedlock when completing the section . You need to put yourselves in the minds of the informants as well as those collecting the information.

    I enjoyed reading your post.

    Visiting from a Facebook link

    Regards
    Anne
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    Anne Young

    Anne's family history

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    Replies
    1. Anne, thank you for your comments. It's so true that people interpret things differently and too, it depends how a question is asked. Much as you noted about the death certificates in Australia, we have similar situations with regard to US records as well. For instance the question Where are you from? Is very different from Where were you born? We are a military family, when someone asks me, my husband or two sons where we are from, oft times our answer is dependent on the context of the situation and the conversation as a whole as to how we answer that.

      My husband I and I were both born and raised in Northeast Pennsylvania; my eldest son was born in Northeast Pennsylvania, but the greatest portion of his life he was raised in Virginia. My youngest son was born in Iceland, but for 4 years of his life was raised in Virginia. So, when my husband and I answer where we are from, we initially start to provide Pennsylvania - most often we have to correct our answer, because we realize mid sentence, that what is really being asked, is where in Virginia do you live? When my eldest is asked, he answers in the context that his parents identify as Pennsylvanians, but depending on what is actually being asked and the context of the conversation, he too may have adjust his answer. My youngest on the other hand identifies himself as a Virginian and unless he is specifically asked where he was born, Iceland never enters the discussion; nor Pennsylvania. It really is fascinating how we as a people an all be asked the same question, but respond differently.

      Thank you for visiting Family Preserves today, I am glad you enjoyed the visit and hope you will visit again.

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  3. Could it be that the reason there was no further court case was because George had died? Thus narrowing down further the window of George's death?

    Regards
    Anne
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    Anne Young

    Anne's family history

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    1. Anne that certainly is a possibility. Look for the next post.

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  4. I enjoyed this story very much! I once thought that my ne'erdowell John Jones would never be identified after he left his pregnant wife and children, let alone his parents. I recently scanned the Civil War Pension File for his father-in-law after reading it when it arrived and then filing in the closet (no time to research after that). Looking though it, there is an affidavit from Thomas Jones, a neighbor. Guess who John's dad turns out to be???? The answer to the question I thought I'd never answer had been sitting in a file for 8 years! So, yes, review review review and then review some more for those brick walls. Still trying to recover from the banging my head against the wall after that.
    Andrea Weigel

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    Replies
    1. I am so glad that you enjoyed the post! Oh my, eight years!! I truly feel your pain! I am still kicking myself for missing what seemingly now should have been plain as day.

      This this posting I have learned so much more, stay tuned for the last post in this series.

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