Thursday, December 8, 2022

Connecting a Namesake
to an Unknown Past


When starting work on a family tree, you already know the drill: start with yourself, then move gradually—and with documentation!—backwards through the generations, going step by step. Since this month's exploration at A Family Tapestry concerns one of my family's "outlaws," we'll start with the one who supposedly was the namesake and descendant of the manufacturer of a historic piece of navigational equipment, my Uncle DeMilt. Our goal is to trace the Eggert family line to see who, exactly, was the one to produce the Eggert chronometer sold to the United States government in 1839.

As it turns out, my Uncle DeMilt was called by his middle name because his first name was the same as his father's: George. DeMilt's father, George D. Eggert, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1869 and remained in that city until his death in 1939. His marriage to Nellie Royael produced three children: daughters Ruth and Carolyn and their brother, DeMilt.

It wasn't until my search for George and Nellie's marriage record that I learned that the "D" in the senior George's middle name did not stand for the same name as that of his son. For the father, that "D" stood for Dominick, not DeMilt.

To complicate matters, while moving back another generation, I discovered that the senior George D. Eggert had a brother who actually was named DeMilt. However, that brother, twelve years George's senior, succumbed to heart trouble while fighting a case of influenza at the age of forty three. He died unmarried and childless.

Moving back one more generation to George's and the elder DeMilt's parents, I expected to see yet another George—or at least some configuration including the name DeMilt. But I didn't. Instead, it turned out that their father had the rather plain name of John.

Remembering that some of the marine chronometers I had read about online were listed as made by "D. Eggert and Son," seeing John as the name heading up the previous generation stumped me. Besides, George Dominick Eggert's birth in 1869 certainly did not even come close to the date of the 1839 government purchase. I couldn't yet find any documentation earlier than the itemization of the 1850 census to indicate John Eggert's siblings or parents—only the newlyweds John and Catherine, themselves, in the household of his in-laws.

I hadn't forgotten the family's conjecture about a possible name change having to do with the rights to assume the business of selling marine chronometers. This temporary research roadblock started me wondering if I had found the turning point.

There was, however, another point that caused me to ponder. When researching family lines, I like to find my target person in every decade's census enumeration. Going back to the family of George, my Uncle DeMilt's father, I had trouble locating his household in the 1900 census. There was, however, an identical family listing in Brooklyn for a George, complete with wife Nellie and their infant daughters Ruth and Carolyn, and even his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Royael. The only catch was that the family was entered under a different surname: Dominick.

Could this have been the name change my cousin was mentioning? It seemed too recent a year to have been implicated in a business deal preceding that sale in 1839. Despite the road block of census records prior to 1850 not listing every name in a family's household, there had to be another way to find an answer to connect John Eggert to whoever it was who claimed the name D. Eggert on the chronometers I had found. For that detail, we'll jump from the usual genealogical chase to a paper chase of another kind: searching through records on the history of marine chronometers.  

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