“Here is Where My Tapestry Begins”
Many people question where they are from, or who they are. This leads them to then question their family, their ancestry, and their name. I had did this at a very young age, I asked my mother about our family, and our family’s name. My mother told me of my father’s name, the Talbert’s and how we are related to kings in England and she can trace our name back to the seventeenth century. Then she told me about her Father’s surname, Norris, and her mother’s name, Kuchenmeister. This took me to a very long and educating conversation with my mother which lead me in to the story of my mom and how she found her father, and also fueled my hunger for knowledge of the study of genealogy and its addictions, and lastly aided me in finding out where my family was originally from.
While I have known my Grandpa Clarence my entire life, my mother, Paula, did not have that same privilege. She did not meet him until she was a young married mother. Her parents had a hillbilly version of a Romeo and Juliet love story; two young people in a tiny country village. They fell in love young but were kept apart by her unaccepting parents. My Grandma Jeannette died young — tragically in a train-automobile wreck.
Jeannette’s parents had run Clarence off with threats. She was underage and they threatened to have him arrested for statutory rape, despite being fully aware that they were in love. Mind you this is in a time where this was more acceptable. Jeannette’s mother, Ruth was a harsh, hateful woman that was more interested in punishing her daughter’s sin than in her daughter’s happiness, as my mother tell it. She did not care that she was depriving her future granddaughter of a loving family. Harsh and unforgiving, Jeannette’s parents took custody of their grandchild and denied Clarence any access to her. No one in the entire family dared defy the orders of Ruth; they did not want to be on the receiving end of her wrath. I had heard many awful stories of how she treated my mother.
So Paula grew up never knowing that her father wished he could have seen her. Her grandparents told her that her father had rejected her and didn’t want anything to do with her, which was of course a lie. She was a lonely little girl; she told me stories of being in her room locked up all day. She had nothing but her books — maybe why she is such a smart woman today.
After Paula got married and was expecting her first child, she was filled with curiosity about the father that she had never known. She too had wished to see him. She knew her father’s name and that he was from the same tiny town that she had grown up in; but that was about all. Her mother’s family refused to tell her any more than that.
One day Paula decided to try to find her father so she called her aunt Cathy, her mother’s older sister. Through some sneaky questioning, she learned about her father’s sister Joyce. Cathy revealed what town Joyce had last lived in and her married name. After that, a quick call to the telephone information line got Joyce’s number. With butterflies in her stomach, Paula dialed Joyce, her aunt and the dialog was this:
“Are you Joyce Fox?” (My mother)
“Yes.” (My aunt)
“Do you have a brother Clarence Norris?” (My mother)
“Yes.” (My aunt)
“I’m Paula.” (My mother)
“Hello.” (My aunt)
“Do you know where he is?” (My mother)
“Yes, he is living in southern Ohio, in Portsmouth, would you like his phone number?” (My aunt)
“Yes, please!” (My mother)
Joyce gave her the number and said goodbye. So Paula dialed the number and hung up before it rang, in terror. What if he hung up on her? She thought. What if he DID hate her and wanted nothing to do with her? What if? What if? She felt like she might throw up, terrified of being rejected again. Finally after half an hour she let it ring long enough for someone to answer. It was a woman; taking a deep breath, Paula asked if she could speak to Clarence Norris. He was at the store and would be back in half an hour, the unknown woman said. “Ok.”, Paula mumbled and hung up without even saying goodbye, her mind in a hurricane of thoughts and emotions. After waiting several eternities it was time for her to call again, it was only a smidge easier to dial that number again. He answered quickly.
“Hello?” (My grandfather)
“Are you Clarence Norris?” (My mother)
“Yes.” (My grandfather)
“Did you know Jeannette Kuchenmeister?” (My mother)
“Yes.” (My grandfather)
“Hi, I am your daughter.” (My mother)
“I knew you would call, he said. I have waited so long for you to call.” (My grandfather)
So they talked for over an hour and made plans to meet. She told him that she was married, and then told him that he was a grandpa. He whooped and screamed, “I’m a grandpa! I’m a grandpa!!” It was a four hour trip for her to meet him, and her step-mother (the woman she first spoke with on that fateful phone call) and her brother and both of her sisters (whom she never even known existed until today). She had an instant family that embraced her lovingly. Never again would she feel alone and without a loving family and she thanks God for that. And that is the story of how my Mom found out who her Daddy was. This story had me so smitten on my history my family who they are and where they have come from. So at a young age I took up the study of genealogy.
So fast forward to a closer time of today and you can see me in my spare time consuming it with the absorbing entertainment of genealogy and the over whelming mess and time it has created. I find myself in a trance some hours of the night. Picture this, it’s 11:30 at night and you are surfing the internet like a pro. You’re on Ancestry.com, then FamilySearch.org, your fingers fly as you Google names and places. Your printer is humming along steadily printing out your results. Finally you look up and think; “I should enter all this into my Familytreemaker genealogical software program and then file the papers in their surname binders”. You glance at the clock and see that it is 2:39 a.m. — “When did that happen?” So you gather all the papers into a stack, knock their edges on the desk a few times to made the stack neat and while whispering a promise to yourself to enter, cite and file soon, you stack them to the side.
However, the next time that you sit down to scratch that genealogy itch, you want to feel that thrill of discovery, so you jump online and it starts again. Eventually, you begin to feel guilty enough about not doing the entering, citing, and filing of that looming stack that you pick up the first paper and open up Familytreemaker and start entering in the information. “That’s cool”, you think with a small smile on your face. Then you start making the citations for that first paper. You cite every bit of information from that paper, and then you file it in the surname binder. Feeling quite pleased with yourself you start to reach for another paper, but sooner than later, you will want to just check one little fact. Your boredom and curiosity combine and you open a web browser window, but you don’t close the Familytreemaker because you are only going to check this one little thing, just to be thorough and then get right back to entering, citing and filing. It is very easy for you to ease yourself almost unknowingly over that slippery slope that engulfs all but the most diligent researcher and thus the paper tiger threatens to consumer you yet again.
You think how searching for your family’s history what a really fun hobby it is. The thrill of the chase can be quite addicting as you find fact after fact. When you find the answer to one question it ALWAYS leads to another question or multiple new questions. As you discover something you have to make a photocopy of it for your personal records. A marriage license here, a birth certificate there, an obituary, a will, land records, the papers multiply like rabbits on Viagra.
Each time you find a new fact, it is like a high. And like the high with any addiction, as soon as you’ve enjoyed that high you are almost immediately chasing it to repeat it. But all this information needs to be organized. You have a handy dandy computer program, Familytreemaker, which organize all this myriad of information and is easy to use. However, entering the information you found and then doing the necessary citations is not fun, although it is a required part of doing your family history. After the information is entered, your physical papers still have to be either filed in folders or placed into binders in an organized and logical manner so that you can find your findings when needed.
If you allow yourself to have too many “yippee!” moments of discovery without countering that with the ho-hum drudgery of entering, citing and filing, your papers will build up and become so overwhelming that you can almost hear that tiger growling. You might even stop searching because of the guilt of not doing the organizing. You try to make a plan out of this self-made quagmire of papers. Maybe if you allowed yourself to research one new page of information for every five or ten pages of older stuff that is built up, you could coax yourself into catching up. If you haven’t already gotten your files or binders setup so that adding to them is easier; you can try this method to fight that paper tiger.
You have to remind yourself that the whole point of fighting this paper tiger back into submission is that having your papers organized will make it easy to find the information when you want to share it, whether that is online or published in a more traditional way. Documenting where you got each piece of information stops you from needlessly looking for something you already found but lost to the paper tiger’s ravenous appetite. So as a reward for being a good little genealogist and citing your sources, and filing your papers; you get to click that mouse and start that seductive web surfing for those tantalizing genealogical tidbits. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game’s afoot!”
So once you can make it through how to manage the “tiger” you actually get to find useful information and actual people such as I did. I found many family members. I pieced together our family puzzle with such entertainment. This started me with my family tapestry, and Mr. Henry Kuchenmeister.
When you are doing family history research having a rare name, such as Kuchenmeister, are both a blessing and a curse. Researching ancestors with such a unique surname as Kuchenmeister is definitely different than searching for an Anderson, Jenkins, or Sanders. It’s a blessing because pretty much anything that you do find is highly likely to be about a relative. It’s a curse because there is not going to be much available, since there were not very many people with that name making records.
Sometimes you have to expand your search and do cluster genealogy to find your rare ancestor. Kimberly Powell’s The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy describes cluster genealogy as an advanced technique that expands the research from the direct lineage to the entire extended family, or even to the same town, or same club, etc. Also, due to this uniqueness you have to get very creative in looking for how somebody said or spelled that surname, because it will almost always be misspelled. For old Henry that means that I need to look not just for him, I need to look for his wife, kids, parents, siblings, neighbors, coworkers, or fellow club members.
Henry Kuchenmeister was a real person; he is my maternal second great grandfather. Born in Germany, he is my immigrant ancestor in that family line, arriving in America in 1855 only five years before the Civil War. He settled in Cleveland, Ohio and his descendants lived there for decades.
Kuchenmeister is a surname with German origins meaning master (meister) cook (kuchen). My mother would tell how her Grandpa Kuchenmeister would brag about what a “good name” it was. But for a researcher Kuchenmeister can be a frustrating name; it is routinely misspelled in seemingly endless ways. In fact, grandchildren of old Henry would argue amongst themselves about the “right” way to spell it; with some sticking with Kuchenmeister and others arguing that it should be Kuckenmeister. Some of the more belligerent… I mean proud members of the family would not speak to the others that spelled it “wrong”; holding a sort of mini German Hatfield-McCoy feud over the difference between an h and a k.
Another problem in researching this name was the language barrier; although the family immigrated to America in the mid-19th-century they still spoke German amongst themselves and their micro-community for at least a half a century more. Mom’s Grandpa Kuchenmeister’s 1912 baptismal certificate was written totally in German even though he was born and baptized in Cleveland, Ohio; since the family attended a German speaking church. Also record clerks would have to understand an uncommon name spoken by someone with an accent. If our ancestor was illiterate they would not be able to tell the correct spelling of their name as they may not have known how to spell it.
Powell’s book explains that when dealing with such rare surnames you have to use creativity in your searching. For databases that allow it, wildcard searches are helpful in finding such ancestors. Wildcard searches are searches that use only a part of the name with an * in place of the missing part. For instance “John*” would find John, Johns, Johnson, Johnston and any other variation that had JOHN in it. Powell also suggests keeping a list of all variations of a unique name to help in the search. Making a list will help you to remember to check every possible variation. Sometimes searching without the surname may be helpful; if you cannot find Heinrich Kuchenmeister in the census try searching for just Heinrich with any other qualifiers such as name, age, birthplace, or spouse’s name or children’s names. Good information I have learned along the way.
As for Henry Kuchenmeister, I have found some information on him such as his marriage and a few census entries for him and where he was buried. I have not found out where in Germany he came from, and why he decided to leave his home and family to try his luck in a new world. But the search continues for Henry Kuchenmeister, Heinrich Kuchenmeister, Kuckenmeister, Keuchenmeister, Kuckinmister … oh you get the idea.