Brickwall Overcome

Every one doing genealogy research eventually comes to a brickwall, that spot in the family tree when you can go no further.  This is the story of overcoming a family history brickwall using many and varied resources to succeed, including the help of two generous genealogists. The result was, for me, a remarkable new insight into my heritage.

My paternal uncle had gathered considerable family information and sketches of family trees for various lines of our family.  It was in these notes that I first encountered the name Frederick Bruce, an ancestor who came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from New York with his family in 1842. Those key facts came from the book I Was Born in America: The Memoirs of William George Bruce.

Frederick was the father of Augustus F. Bruce, who in turn was the father of Martin P. Bruce, my great-grandfather. William George Bruce  (1856-1949) — Martin’s oldest brother — wrote and published many books on Milwaukee history and other topics.

Thus I set off with high hopes of finding more about Frederick Bruce in census and other records in Wisconsin and New York. Instead, I immediately hit a brickwall. There was no Frederick Bruce in census records in Wisconsin or New York, nor in the 1848-1849 Milwaukee City Directory. In contrast, I could find many records starting about 1857 for Frederick’s three sons: Augustus Bruce in Milwaukee, Martin F. Bruce near Pensacola, Florida, and John Bruce in San Francisco, California.

So I began collecting all the information I could about the three sons, and garnered additional insights from W. G. Bruce’s Memoirs.  I was delighted to be able to purchase a copy of the book that included portraits of Augustus F. Bruce, his wife Apollonia Becker Bruce and their son William George Bruce.

Pieces of the puzzle emerged. Frederick Bruce, his wife and son August came to America from Prussia in the 1830s. Sons Martin and John appeared to have been born in New York. The traditional male occupations for the family were sailor, ship’s carpenter and ship’s caulker.  And they were Protestants.  Clearly the family came from a port city with shipyards along the northern coast of Prussia, in other words near the Baltic Sea coast. But where?

A vital clue was provided on a copy of the abstract of the will of August Bruce, also called August F. Bruce, alias Bruss. Here was the original spelling of the family name, used until the late 1850s when all three sons began using the anglicized Bruce.

So when I found Frederick Bruss, a ship’s carpenter, in the 1847-1848 Milwaukee City Directory, I was elated — until I realized that he lived in the Second Ward on the west side of Milwaukee River, while our family had lived in the First Ward on the east side of the river, according to W. G. Bruce’s Memoirs.

I continued doing research. I discovered a Bruss family than had arrived from Pomerania in 1839, came to Milwaukee and then moved just north of the city to a new village called Freidstadt or “free city.” They were among the Old Lutherans who emigrated from Prussia to continue practicing their Lutheran faith, when the Prussian Emperor Wilhelm III forced a merger of Lutheran and Calvinist churches into one union church.

That Bruss family came from Cammin, north of Stettin and very near the Baltic Sea. When I read that Cammin was an historic Hanseatic shipbuilding city, I had a “eureka” moment. Could this be where my Bruss family was from? I decided to post a query summarizing all the salient details that I had collected about the family. I noted that the Prussia/Germany Genealogy Forum had an expert shown as Robert T. who helped many family seekers.

In a very short time, he replied and asked if this family from Cammin, Pomerania, Prussia was the one I was seeking: Martin Friedrich Bruss, age 40, journeyman ship’s carpenter; Sophie Bruss, née Stiemke, age 37, w; August Bruss, age 9, s; Martin Bruss, age 6, s; Johann Bruss, age 4, s. [W is wife, S is son]. 

The family sailed,  he wrote, on the ship Echo from Liverpool to New York City, arriving 19 September 1839. The Echo was one of five or six ships that brought about 1,000 Old Lutherans to America, where they settled in and around Buffalo, New York, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Note: the Echo’s passenger list has the surname misspelled as Buss, and both ages and occupation wrong, but Martin, Sophia, August, Martin and Johan are clearly shown.]

This certainly looked like my ancestors, except that sons Martin and Johann or John were also born in Cammin, not in New York.

How could I confirm this apparent match? I knew that John Bartelt, the genealogist with the Bruss ancestors in Freistadt, had obtained birth records for his own Bruss ancestors via microfilm. I wrote to him on the chance that he had the Martin Friedrich Bruss family details, and he did. He kindly sent the birth and baptism dates for sons August, Martin and Johann and they matched dates I had collected from other sources.  He also sent the birth and baptism dates for the oldest son, Wilhelm, who died young according to family history. This certainly was my family! And how wonderful to have Sophie’s name!

Now I could find them recorded in the 1943 book about the Old Lutherans, written in German by Wilhelm Iwan and translated into English. Martin Friedrich Bruss, journeyman ship carpenter, and his family from Kammin at shown at the very bottom of this listing of emigrants.

I wrote thank you messages to Robert and John, for their kindness was essential to helping me overcome this brickwall.

And then I remembered that there was a Martin Bruss in the First Ward on the east side of the Milwaukee River listed in the 1847-1848 Milwaukee City Directory — right where William George Bruce said his grandfather settled when he came to Milwaukee.

I was now able to find him in the 1850 Census in Milwaukee’s First Ward, age 51, a ship’s carpenter with $1,500 in real estate, surname recorded as Brass. He had remarried since Sophie had died — apparently in the cholera epidemic, W. G. Bruce had written. Recorded with Martin in the 1850 Census were his sons Martin, a sail maker, and John. All three were recorded as born in Germany. August, the oldest son, likely was away sailing on the Great Lakes.

Overcoming this brickwall took three years of researching on and off, looking again at what I had discovered, trying new approaches, and then taking a chance on a possible solution based on the clues I had accumulated. I am grateful to everyone who helped me find this part of my family who were among the first Germans to settle in Milwaukee when it was still three villages — Juneautown on the eastside, Kilbourntown on the westside and Walker’s Point on the southside — not to be incorporated until 1846.

Antiques: Pastime to Business, Part II

In Part II of this interview with Elizabeth Bradley, we will learn more about the different types of antiques she collects for her Elizabeth Bradley Antiques.

Q:  Victorian Staffordshire figures are varied and popular. What types of figures do you specialize in?

A:  I especially love the Staffordshire dogs… all breeds… and the animals… sheep, cows, rabbits.  Royal figures as children, from the Victorian era, are popular, too. These are my favorites and seem to appeal to my customers, too.

Q:  What is Imari, and how do Chines and Japanese Imari differ?

A:  At the end of the 17th century, Japanese ceramics became fashionable and were heavily influenced by Korea. They were shipped from a port in Japan called Imari and became known as Imariware. Early Japanese Imari was underglaze blue ceramic with overglaze enamels of cobalt blue, iron red and gilt. Most early Japanese Imari is in museums or private collections.

Rarely did the Chinese copy from the Japanese, but they did copy early Japanese Imari, in the 18th century, turning out a finer porcelain with a much more delicate color palette.  Then, in the mid-19th century, the Japanese began to produce Imari for a larger market, with vibrant blues and reds. This is the Japanese Imari we see and collect today. Later Japanese Imari is far more reasonably priced than Chinese Imari as it is later, more primitive and there is more of it available.

Q:  What is Canton pottery?

A:  Canton pottery was made in China in the 19th century and was often used as ballast for the ships that brought tea to America. It is generally crudely made and can be found in many different forms.  Often it was purchased by early Americans to be used as every-day china as it was very cheap.  There is a “kitchen set” at Mount Vernon.  Over the years, it became more prized and more rare.  Today Canton is a collector’s item.

Q:  What do you look for when selecting pieces, whether Staffordshire or Imari or Canton pottery?

A: First of all, the piece has to be aesthetically pleasing.  Then I look for the best condition and color and general appeal, and of course, reasonableness of price.

Q:  What advice do you give someone who is interested in collecting antique Staffordshire, Imari, or Canton and Oriental pottery?

A:  Buy what you love, first of all. Although antiques generally appreciate in value over the years, if you worry about resale value, then buy stocks and bonds. Most importantly, buy antiques that become part of your life and home. Condition is important but, sometimes, with a really rare piece, condition becomes less important. For example, I have a wonderful Japanese wooden temple guardian figure, missing most of its paint and gilt. It doesn’t matter to me because I will never find another one.

Q:  What is your greatest pleasure in working with these antiques?

A:  I love to look at them… some days, I have one favorite, some days, another. I often say, “I am so pleased that we bought that lovely Chinese Imari urn or a charming Staffordshire dog.”

People often ask how I can bear to sell the things we buy. I have developed a philosophy: some things I buy to keep, some things I specifically buy to sell, and some things pass through our collection. When we are ready, we sell them. It is a fluid collection for us and we never tire of it.

> Visit the Elizabeth Bradley Antiques to learn about about the Bradleys and their beautiful antiques.

 

> Read Part I of this interview, for a look at how Elizabeth Bradley was introduced to the world and the business of antiques.

Published in: on March 2, 2007 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Antiques: Pastime to Business

 

One of the special pleasures of doing genealogy and family history research is learning more about the pastimes, professions and businesses of one’s relatives.  One particularly appealing story is the launch and development of Elizabeth Bradley Antiques. Enjoy our interview with Elizabeth Bradley.

 

Q:  When did you begin to collect antiques and what were your special interest at that time?

 

A:  My husband and I began collecting antiques more than 50 years ago when we were first married.  Because we had no money to spend on “frivolities,” we began in a very small way, buying little pieces we liked whenever we could. We had a favorite aunt who had a house decorated in blue and white… very different at that time… which we loved… that probably started our interest in blue and white Canton.  We collected every form and shape of Canton for years… it became a kind of “treasure hunt.”  The fun of collecting antiques is that you never know where and when you will find a gem.

 

Q:  What drew you to these types of antiques?

 

A:  We bought whenever we found a piece we loved… not for resale value. Gradually we became interested in Oriental antiques of all kinds… some furniture, scrolls, jade, woodblock prints, and whatever else appealed to us. Antique dealers became friends which we always found a plus… they were always ready to share their knowledge with us.

 

In that way, a lovely antique object appealed to our eyes as well as to our love of learning.  Whenever and wherever we traveled, we had a mission:  see what new and wonderful antiques were right at our fingertips.

 

Q:  When did you become active in the antique business itself and how did you get started?

 

A:  About 25 years ago, I took a job at the Milwaukee Auction Gallery as an appraiser.  I had an opportunity to be exposed to nearly everything in the antique world… Stickley furniture, English and American furniture, Oriental porcelain and pottery, snuff bottles, dolls, tin toys, World War I posters, everything. This experience honed my taste in antiques… I realized the difference between an object of beauty that I wanted to own and one I could appreciate but did not want to live with.

 

Along the way, an English antique dealer said to me, “You could go into the antique business,” so I decided to do so.  I began advertising in a national antiques trade newspaper and doing a few antique shows and the business grew from there. I have loved almost every minute of it!

 

Q:  Today, Elizabeth Bradley Antiques specializes in four categories — Is there a reason for this cluster?

 

A:  I suppose I have to say that I learned early that I am not a born salesperson…  I find it difficult to enthusiastically sell items that I don’t love myself. Victorian Staffordshire figures, Chinese Imari and Japanese Imari, Canton and Oriental pottery, and English accessories are all antiques we truly love.

 

After years of collecting just Oriental antiques, we learned to love the whimsy of Victorian Staffordshire figures and began to collect and sell them. Besides, it gave us an excuse to travel to England twice a year to buy!

 

> Visit the Elizabeth Bradley Antiques to learn about about the Bradleys and their beautiful antiques.

 

> Read Part II of this interview, where we will learn more about these different types of antiques.

 

 

Published in: on March 1, 2007 at 2:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Thanksgiving Musings

Expressing thanks to those who have helped me on my journey of family research seems an appropriate thing to do on this Thanksgiving Day 2006.  Mentioning everyone will be impossible.  So this is a sampling, one that provides anyone reading this an idea of the remarkable range of assistance available.

My heartfelt thanks to:

The New Holstein Historical Society,  for publishing informative books about the people from Schleswig-Holstein who established the new community in eastern Wisconsin in 1848 and built it into an area with prosperous industries and farms.

Barbara Weber, directory of the New Holstein Public Library, who helped me with their obituary index to the New Holstein Reporter and made sure I read about the town and some of my ancestors in the centennial book.

Debie Blindauer, webmaster of the Calumet County genealogy and history site where I found so much about ancestors who were among the early settlers in New Holstein, located in that county.

The Milwaukee Genealogical Society, that indexed and put online a large collection of Additional Milwaukee Marriages from 1822 to 1876, most not found elsewhere.  Here I found the marriage dates of some of my early family in Milwaukee including:

  • In 1857: Joachim Speich and Marianna Stocker, both from Switzerland
  • In 1859: Sherman A. Bradley, from Connecticut, and Hannah M. Church, born in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Historical Society, that has put a wealth of genealogy resources online including a new Virtual Records Index to many early births, marriages and deaths.  Searching the Wisconsin Name Index showed that a biographical sketch had been prepared on Benjamin Church in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers Project, at the time his Greek Revival house was being rescued and made into a museum.  What a treasure to have about one’s ggg-grandfather, born in New York and my earliest ancestor to arrive in Wisconsin — in 1835.

Ellen, who with volunteers has built Links to the Past – Milwaukee Web site with truly extraordinary resources. The transcribed City Directories for 1848-1849 and for 1857-1858 are one examples of special resources. In the latter volume, several ancestors were found, including:

  • Sherman A. Bradley, carpenter, boards with Mrs. Luscomb
  • B. Church [Benjamin], builder, Fourth, between Cherry and Galena, W
  • John Speich [surely Joachim based on the 1860 Census] , grocer, North Water, between Milwaukee and Odgen, W

Ira May “Tootie” Sharp Dennis, who for more than 30 years has devoted herself to tracing all the descendants of Isaac Sharp and his wife Mary Woolverton Sharp — including daughter Rebecca Sharp who married David S. Conger, among my maternal lineage. In the summer of 2006, she confirmed that I had correctly figured out that an old biography of old Isaac was wrong about Rebecca’s husband, an error picked up in genealogy databases.  Tootie has developed a Sharp Family Web site where I learned even more about my Sharp and Conger ancestors.

And, mostly recently, Robert Roesler of the Greenfield Historical Society who has sent a plat map showing where the Jacob and Samuel Stocker farms were located in Greenfield, Milwaukee County, when the properties were bought and sold, and much more. The two men were Marianna’s father and brother.

And last but not least, family members! Mother, sister, uncle, cousins — and relatives I did not know I had — all had pieces of the puzzle that is slowing fitting together into our family saga, our part of America’s history.  Thank you all!

Published in: on November 23, 2006 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Serendipity & Genealogy

But for a twist of fate, I likely would not have become captivated by the search for my family’s ancestors. 

A colleague well known for his genealogy research and newspaper columns was retiring from the university where I work. We had occasionally had shared work ideas over lunch, so I offered to treat him to a farewell lunch at the spot of his choice.  At the last minute, he couldn’t make it.  Some months later, we were able to reschedule lunch and conversation.

On a whim, knowing his genealogy interests outside of work, I decided to plug some family surnames into a Google search. This might give us an added topic for our lunch conversation. I was intrigued with the first clues that I discovered. When you find a little, you will often want to get just a bit more, to clarify a fact here or a relationship there. And then again more. You’re hooked!

We enjoyed lunch, including conversation about one ancestor he simply had been unable to find. Little did I know then that I would have a key ancestor like that as well… a classic brick wall situation.

The colleague was Terrence Day, and some of his helpful genealogy columns are online. For a collection of more than 65 of them under the heading The Family Tree from the Tri-City Herald in Washington, click here.  Among the many topics Terry covers in those columns is immigration entry points and records.  See Oct. 15, 2000, for that column.

He also has written about the elusive ancestor, his great-grandfather John Day, in a more recent column.  Remarkably, the family has been trying to understand John Day’s origins since at least 1941.  And here is a listing of some of Terry’s more recent genealogy articles for the paper.

This is my small way of saying “thanks, Terry” for all the years you were a fine colleague — and for the inspiration for launching my own genealogy research.

Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 6:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Melting pot revisited

The melting pot. Few concepts are more familiar than this one, at least among Americans educated in the nation’s public schools during most of the 20th century. The melting pot appeared to be the ideal metaphor for the blending of immigrant peoples and cultures into a new unity: the American people, the American culture.

Rare were those among us who learned the source of the term, namely a play called “The Melting Pot,” written by Israel Zangwill, an English Jew, who had visited New York City in 1908.  Sources note Zangwill saw the various peoples of Europe melded into a new people, leaving their old prejudices behind. [See Melting Pot]. 

The concept in its time was extraordinary influential, creating a mindset that spurred newcomers to learn English and adopt the American way of life. Many people did assimilate, especially the immigrants’ children.

In that assimilation process, however, something very important was lost. Many families focused on being Americans in the here and now, largely ignoring their ancestral histories. Broad brush strokes of origins remained, but the retelling of ancestors’ stories was seldom an important element of family life and legacy.

Alex Haley’s book and television series, Roots, the latter in 1977, helped galvanize people’s interests in their own roots, their own family stories.  Then the efforts of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, to record the marriages and families of many Americans’ ancestors made a wealth of genealogical information available.  Then the Internet put that information within reach, right at home.

 Today I am one of the many people captivated by genealogy research, discovering aspects of themselves as they learn about their ancestors and their lives.  This blog, Relative Musings, is about genealogy research and some of my own discoveries that I want to share.  This is a beginning.

Published in: on October 24, 2006 at 5:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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