Monday, December 19, 2022

Answers and Questions


Isn't it always the way things turn out, when we chase after the mysteries in our family's history: once we finally arrive at the answer to our question, our research reward is to be confronted by another question. In this case, finding Dominic Eggert's original 1864 will (and all its codicils of the ensuing years before his 1872 death) gave me the answer I needed—that he was father of my uncle DeMilt's grandfather, John—but conjured up yet another question.

From that discovery, I could now connect my uncle to his father (George Dominic Eggert), to his father (John Eggert), then to the man at the helm of the watch and chronometer business known as D. Eggert and Son. Those collectibles bearing the labels which include variations on the "D. Eggert" name, I now know, were made under the auspices of my uncle's great-grandfather.

If we remember correctly, though, Dominic Eggert acquired that business from another family, of three brothers surnamed Demilt, after Dominic arrived in New York City from his apprenticeship in England. Before that, at least according to watch and clock collectors' histories, Dominic came from somewhere in Germany. But where?

One online discussion forum for such collectors mentioned that Dominic had come from "Hosskirch, Baden, Wurtemburg" in Germany. As it turns out—at least according to modern geography—that would be a town in the district of Ravensburg, part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. But was that actually true? There was no explanation for how the members of that online discussion forum knew that detail.

Since Dominic ended up residing in a city as large as New York, relying on such documents as immigration or naturalization records might not assure us that we had the right individual. I couldn't help but notice, however, an 1833 oath of allegiance for one watchmaker, "Dominick" Eggert, forswearing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria.

Taking this question to documented reports of what Dominic claimed, himself—or at least someone in the family reporting on his behalf—the 1850 census noted that he was from, simply, Germany. Not much help there, as that country-only entry was usually the case for foreign-born American residents entered in census records. The 1870 census was a bit more specific, identifying Hamburg as Dominic's place of origin.

Sandwiched in the middle of those two dates was the 1860 census. At first, I could not read the entry given for Dominic's place of birth in that census. It certainly didn't read Germany, nor did it look like Austria. The handwriting scrawl ended with what looked merely like a doodle, and the first few letters didn't spell any place name I could recognize. Somehow, though, poking around the many reports I could find online of the occupational history of the Eggert company, I ran across an entry for a name I had never heard before: Swabia.

Googling the word, I realized there was a historic region by that name, existing for centuries in the southwestern portion of what is now Germany. I rushed back to the 1860 census to see if I could decipher the handwriting on that record enough to see if it lined up with that name, Swabia. As far as I could see, it sure looked like a possibility.

Better yet, though checking maps made it highly obvious that Hamburg would not be in the running as Dominic's location of birth—though it might have been the port city from which he sailed to England—the other, unsupported, assertion that he was from that small town in the Ravensburg district of Baden-Württemberg might have been spot on, at least according to maps of both the district and the entry for the historic location known as Swabia. Finding the support for that discussion forum statement might be one research approach now, but checking for baptismal records in that specific location might be more profitable for anyone wanting to pursue this Eggert genealogy.

If nothing else, this becomes a reminder that not all geographic names which are currently in use were the same as those names our ancestors might have called home. Nor did all those old names continue in use up through our own time. While maps have always been a genealogist's friend, in our research, we will sometimes also find ourselves in need of lessons on geographic name changes of previous ages. 


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