Sometimes, stumbling upon stories held dearly as family traditions can be a boost to our research. Other times, finding such legends can become research stumbling blocks. It all depends on whether the details can be verified—but even then, who's to say the legend didn't guide us to a coincidentally "supportive" record while steering us away from a more likely clue?
From an earlier era of online genealogy—think listservs and forums and the email exchange of GEDCOMs with inquiring cousins—I had read that before Nicholas Schneider and his family had emigrated from his German homeland, he had served as a soldier in the Napoleonic wars. In fact, according to one story, that was how he met his future wife, Anna Elizabeth Eckhardt.
Just how I am supposed to find documentation for such a story, I'm not yet sure. But I know one thing: Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth Schneider did arrive in the New World sometime after their oldest son Jacob's 1799 birth.
As we've already seen from their subsequent children's birth locations, the Schneider family lived for a while in Pennsylvania, and then in Maryland, before purchasing property and settling in Perry County, Ohio. The oldest child I could find who was born in Pennsylvania was their daughter Catherine, who arrived there about 1805.
Those two dates, then—1799 and 1805—mark the time frame for the Schneiders' possible immigration. It would be prudent to guess that the family arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany, but without documentation, it would be simply that: a guess.
Thankfully, just as that old web page sharing the Schneider family traditions had mentioned, I was able to track records showing the family sailed from Emden, Germany, on a ship called the Fortune, arriving at port in Philadelphia in 1804. That discovery, however, I couldn't have accomplished without the generous sharing of records by other family researchers, plus the foresight of organizations with the mission of digitizing old documents.
A hint at Ancestry.com had mentioned that there was an entry for a Nicholas Schneider transcribed in an old genealogy book, Names of Foreigners Who Took the Oath of Allegiance to the Province and
State of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, with the Foreign Arrivals, 1786-1808. Of course, if I had lived closer to Pennsylvania—like, maybe, across the state border in Emmitsburg, Maryland—it might have been a small matter to access the microfilm of such information at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Archives, but this was not such a time.
I took that wordy title—yes, with every word intact—to Internet Archive to see whether any forward thinking person had uploaded a digitized version. In fact, someone had. The boost at Internet Archive, of course, is that the book is now completely searchable, so I put the program through its paces to find an entry for Nicholas and Anna Schneider and their son Jacob.
But that's a transcription of a supportive record. What about the actual ship's passenger list? As it turns out, yet again, some kind soul had chosen to be generous and upload the scanned picture of the Fortune's passenger list. The vessel, sailing from Emden, Germany, to Philadelphia, had its paperwork dated September 26, 1804. Tucked toward the bottom corner of the listing of passengers was a box for Nicholas, Anna, and Jacob, plus two unnamed Schneider children who, according to the book mentioned above, had died during the voyage.
Whether I'll ever be able to substantiate those other stories of Nicholas' wartime escapades—or even his story of romance while injured during his military service—I can't say. This, at least, is a start to the goal of an unbroken paper trail from Nicholas Schneider's last years in Perry County, Ohio, back to his arrival in Philadelphia with his wife and young son.
Image above from the passenger list of the ship Fortune, dated September 26, 1804, sailing from the port at Emden, Germany, and arriving in Philadelphia; image courtesy of an Ancestry subscriber posted April 4, 2009, at Ancestry.com.