Friday, May 27, 2022

Considering Cambria


Following the genealogy of a hypothetical connection to one's family history can take on unexpected turns. The trail may have started with a tip, and each subsequent step of the way may be well documented to the other steps in that internal process, but the key is whether we can link up the whole mess with the original inquiry.

Right now, that link we're looking for is the connection between my husband's third great-grandparents Michael and Apollonia Metzger and a man by the name of Joseph John Metzger, possibly their son.

We explored some of the details of Joseph's life yesterday, when we followed him through records in Knox County, Ohio, leading up to his burial there in 1885. The detail shouting out to me the loudest was the fact that Joseph's place of birth was consistently reported to be Pennsylvania. Thanks to the potential DNA link between my husband and a Joseph Metzger descendant, I discovered that at least one other Ancestry subscriber noted—albeit without documentation—that the specific location of Joseph's birth was in Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

So, what about Cambria? When I know absolutely nothing about the research direction I'm about to take, I delve first into learning the background details. Along this journey, I learned some interesting but useless details, such as the fact that Cambria was the Latin name for the country of Wales.

It didn't take long, in familiarizing myself with the history and geography of Cambria County to get that deja vu feeling of having been down this research path before—like a long time ago, in the early days of Internet genealogy. I vaguely recalled that there was a treasured list of Catholic baptisms associated with the Cambria County borough of Loretto, a list shared on those ages-old genealogy forums of that decade.

Of course, now I didn't have the slightest notion of how to access such a list. That's where the hunt began afresh. I usually look first for material to cover the broad basics of the area, and the FamilySearch wiki usually provides ample resources, but not so much for this case in Cambria County. I knew I needed to see Catholic baptismal records if I was ever going to confirm Joseph's birth there, but the wiki on the county level didn't provide what I was looking for. I needed to zoom in to the specifics at the parish level, not the county level.

First step was to see what I could learn about Loretto. Sure enough, Loretto was a settlement founded by a Catholic priest—Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin—in 1799. But where were any microfilms of the church's baptismal records?

I noticed on the FamilySearch wiki that there was a mention of a book called Benedictine Fathers in Cambria County, Pennsylvania transcribed in the US GenWeb archives, so I took a look. While the history provided was informative, the time frame for any mention of Metzgers far post-dated our Michael's exodus for Ohio.

I moved on next to the FamilySearch catalog, where I found mention of a promising collection of baptisms and burials in a book compiled in 1986 by Barbara Brady O'Keefe. Once again, a tantalizing lead which led nowhere—unless I wanted to hop on a flight to Salt Lake City. I looked at the catalog entry closer to see the option to "view this catalog record in WorldCat." For me in my little outpost in California, the options were even farther than Salt Lake City. 

But I scrolled down that entry a bit farther, too, to the "Details" section, which noted that the 1986 book was excerpted from a different book published in 1899. Given the title, I was off to check whether Internet Archive might have a digitized version.

It did.

The Internet Archive noted, however, that the version acquired was copied helter-skelter, with text extending off pages, and some pages copied upside down. Nevertheless, I persevered. The search engine, normally a go-to tool for me at Internet Archive, let me down: no entries for Metzger. No entries for Metzgar, either. In fact, just checking, I ran the word "baptism" and the result came back, "no entries" for that, either.

Having come so far, I decided to give this check one more try. After all, the entry which got me started on this search was the claim that the book would include "baptisms and burials." I wanted to hold these annotators to their word.

Thus I began the grunt method of reading through the volume, page by page. I did discover a section which seemed to be a listing of marriages, and scrolled to a nearby section in hopes of finding baptisms. Reorienting myself as I read along, I realized every entry was jumbled together, but was sorted in alphabetical order. Quick: to the Ms!

I was elated to see, after scrolling past pages of sideways entries for "Mc" families, that among those continuing the section was a transcription which noted simply:

Metzger Michael and Apollonia—.
Joseph, Mary Ann. (1819-1821.)

Granted, this is not the original entry. It is only a transcription of the original baptismal record from Saint Michael's Catholic Church in Loretto, Pennsylvania, according to the 1899 publication, Souvenir of Loretto Centenary.

After the Centenary's publication, the Saint Michael's parish which was founded in 1799 by Prince Gallitzin was rebuilt with gifts both modest and magnificent—including major funding by none other than steel magnate Charles Schwab, who spent his younger years in Loretto, and Andrew Carnegie, who donated the pipe organ—and eventually was designated as a Basilica.

As for our Metzger family, by that point, they had long since moved on to Perry County, Ohio—and, in the case of their now-documented son Joseph, further on to Knox County, Ohio. Granted, what I really need is to acquire a record of the actual baptisms, in case the transcription was made in error. Additional confirmation of the family's presence in Cambria County would be helpful as well, in case there was another family by the same name.

For now, considering the DNA matches with descendants of Joseph Metzger as well as this transcription of the Loretto parish records, I think it is safe to say Joseph was part of our Michael's Metzger family. Added bonus: confirmation that Mary Ann was part of the family as well.

Image above: Baptismal transcription from digitized copy of 1899 publication, Souvenir of Loretto Centenary, as obtained online from Internet Archive.


  1. Woo-hoo! Perseverance pays off

    1. Yes! And a little help from my way-back genie friends, too!

  2. Some awesome research and remembrances!

    1. Charlie, sometimes genealogy seems like such a challenge because we can't really know it all. We can specialize, and learn a lot about a specific sub-topic. But it does help to have been at it for a long time, and to be able to remember little details from a long time ago!

  3. Yay!!! Exciting!! What a find!!

    1. Miss Merry, I just knew you'd be there to celebrate that genealogy happy dance with me!

  4. Wow, I have not ever seen or read something like this. It is doctorate level for me but I'm sure thanking you for your perseverance and documentation discoveries. Thanks for sharing and your encouragement and the value of baptismal and church records are very important. We own a former church house with records how do I add them to a place where people can find them?


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