Face it: if we, as younger adults, never thought to ask our grandparents any questions about their grandparents, the chances are pretty minuscule that such a thought ever entered the minds of the children of our immigrant ancestors. And yet, how did we receive those stories of the rites of immigration passage about our founding ancestors?
Take my current frustration, Nicholas Schneider, third great-grandfather of my husband. I can find all sorts of assertions about where he lived on his way to the land he bought in Perry County, Ohio. I can even find, online, two claim as to the place of his birth in Europe. How such claims can be supported without documentation is something that still eludes me—unless Nicholas was fortunate enough, before his 1856 death, to be peppered with questions by his inquisitive grandchildren.
Still, in pursuit of this month's research goal, I was able to point to paper confirmation of some of the places where the Schneider family—turned Snider almost as soon as they met up with English-speaking bureaucrats—lived along their American migration trail. But not about his origin in Europe; just the fact that he sailed from Emden, Germany.
That, however, does not mean Nicholas Schneider was born in Emden. Sea-going immigrants came from miles around a port, simply to gain passage to the New World. It is highly likely that such was the case for Nicholas, Anna Elizabeth, and their three small children.
Of course, if it was not the case, I'd be delighted to entertain the option of considering some documentation. Any documentation would be helpful—along with a solid proof argument to demonstrate that we are talking about the right Nicholas and Elizabeth.
And yet, one assertion on an internationally-recognized genealogy site claims Nicholas was indeed born in Emden, while another one claims the birthplace was Mainz, Germany. What was the proof? An Ancestral File, an Ordinance Index, the IGI, and GEDCOM data.
Hardly my idea of documentation.
How do you proceed in such a case? Born before the turn of the nineteenth century, chances are likely that Nicholas' birth record would only have been acknowledged through baptism in his family's Catholic Church. Not knowing his parents' names—let alone the geographic location—finding a record for such a common surname with so many spelling variations will be a challenge.
And yet, there are some who have written about Nicholas' past as if they were the repository for their ancestors' eager questioning, sitting at the feet of patriarch Nicholas in the early 1800s. One excerpt from a typewritten version which a subscriber shared on Ancestry.com—but which I cannot find in its entirety elsewhere—styles Nicholas as a German soldier living in Alsace-Lorraine, sent with the French army to fight Austria. The story goes on to portray Nicholas as the third son of a nobleman who had just died while Nicholas was away at war—hence his impetus for leaving the homeland for America.
I would love to obtain a copy of that manuscript—and no, it is not included in the book collection at FamilySearch.org—for nothing else but to check for footnotes or at least a bibliography. How do writers come up with this information? Oral history?
The facts as shared in that manuscript might indeed be true, but are they verifiable? If that verification process can be repeated, it can lead us to more information. If not, we are still left staring into a murky void.
And yet, I realize I have left out other possible routes to further information. With one day left to this research goal tomorrow, it will be time to draw up a research plan for the next time I revisit this problem.