Sunday, June 30, 2024

End of the Month Metzgers: Still a Mess


It's the end of the month, and what do I know better than I did thirty days ago? Hard to tell with this Metzger goal.

Last winter when I selected my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024, one of the three ancestors of my mother-in-law I chose to work on—again!—was Michael Metzger, her second great-grandfather. Since he had died in 1843, of course she had never met him. I doubt she even had any recollections of older relatives talking about his memory. All I knew what that he and his wife Apollonia had arrived in this country before 1819, when they welcomed their first American-born son, Joseph.

Where the family came from, I had no idea, thought some census records—and even an editorially-riddled history book entry on one of their sons—stated this immigrant family's homeland was Germany. Still, others asserted—with no documentation, mind you—that the Metzger family was really from Switzerland. Were they? I haven't been able to find any records of that, either, and until I do find documentation, I can't really say anything for sure, other than that other people seem to know something I don't know...yet.

In the meantime, I did learn much more about the many descendants of Michael and Apollonia, mostly for DNA purposes. At least eighty one of those descendants have tested at along with my own husband, according to Ancestry's ThruLines tool. Who knows how many more are yet to be discovered as matches at the other four DNA companies where he has also tested. I am almost through checking each of those first eighty one at Ancestry, but still have a long way to go to confirm the rest of those Metzger matches.

With the close of this month's research project, I'll compose my to-do list for a future year's revisit of this Metzger question. As we move on to July, we'll shift from examining research questions concerning my mother-in-law's ancestors to delving into my father-in-law's equally mystifying Irish immigrant ancestors. Beginning tomorrow, our focus will turn to a relative who popped up on my research radar long enough to assure me he had arrived in America, then disappeared completely. For one last time, I'm going to try my best to see if anything else can be found on the man this July.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

A Sense of Place


I just spent the night in a hundred year old hotel downtown in the city we're currently visiting. Somebody with lots of investable money and sharp business sense repurposed what would otherwise have disintegrated into a city eyesore, by providing a sense of place which combines the elegant ambience of the hotel's 1920s birthright with delightfully modern conveniences. Added bonus: the hotel was originally the brainchild of a local businesswoman, for whom the hotel was originally named, and her inspiration was carried forward in this reincarnation by respected design firm Stonehill Taylor.

You can easily glean a sense of place for this storied building in the writing of those who've stayed at this hotel perched on the well-known route of New Year's Rose Parade. Granted, recounting the history of a place—how it came into being, and who was behind the metamorphosis—is a type of handling we'd more likely expect for well-known destinations, and by entities skilled in crafting that type of public relations outreach. But what about the farm where your great-grandfather grew up? Or the shop your family managed during the Civil War? 

When we are pursuing the story of an ancestor, it helps to develop a sense of place concerning where that family member once lived and worked. Especially when the building is no longer in existence, it can be challenging to recreate the sense of place that ancestor might quickly have recognized: the sights, the sounds, even the smell of the rooms or during a special time of year.

It is now so much easier to gain access to pictures of those special family places than it was in pre-Internet times. I remember, during the earliest years of online genealogy forums, mentioning that I was traveling to Chicago to visit family, and receiving requests to drive by an ancestor's home to grab a photo to email to a forum member. Now, if you're lucky, a county governmental office might have put such files up on their website for anyone to see. Or a local historical society might have a picture in their archives.

Pictures, however, are just the start, if you want to paint the scene in a way that helps others gain that sense of place for your ancestor's home. Some agricultural records—schedules from censuses, for instance—or tax records can help gain a sense of just what that ancestor's daily routine might have included. Building from there, local history books—many which are now uploaded to Internet Archive, for instance—can give a more general sense. And don't forget the reminder of what we call the "F.A.N. Club": your ancestors' neighbors and associates may have information tucked away in archives which would tell much the same story, an ingredient you can blend in with your own family's information.

I remember older relatives sharing stories from their childhood, another glimpse into the past that, while sometimes prone to mistaken assumptions, can also be helpful in gaining that sense of place. My mother would share stories about hearing her elders mention that the floor of their Tennessee ancestors' home was only a dirt floor, for instance, or how those elders on the Florida side of the family would spend lazy summer evenings out on the front porch, droning on about politics. When I looked into the facts which I could glean from documentation, the records did support those recollections—and gave me a fuller sense of the place where those ancestors' once lived, and the sense of the lifestyle they kept.

We often focus so carefully on the details required in a pedigree chart—the complete names, dates of birth and death—and introduce the same for spouses, in the case of a family marriage. But when we're done, what else can we discover about a relative? What can we learn about those ancestors so we can bring their story to life in a memorable way and pass that story down to future generations. While the newspaper reporter's rule of thumb—the who, what, where, when, and how or why—can be helpful, I also like to rely on those five senses we all respond to. Being able to incorporate sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings to the story of the ancestor you want to remember can go a long way in bringing that ancestor's story to life. And allow it to become memorable.  

Friday, June 28, 2024

Rubber Meets Road, Genealogy Style


When the ripple effect of copied family trees widens, what's the end result? Well, to borrow another couple images, here's where the rubber meets the road: when I have to untangle the spaghetti bowl of DNA matches which Ancestry's ThruLines tool attributed to only one of the two Metzger brothers we've been examining.

We talked yesterday about an editorial error in a hundred year old history book which caused one Metzger brother to be mis-identified as the other brother. It really only takes a very few people posting that error online for it to multiply to unexpected proportions.

Here's an example. Since my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather was those Metzger brothers' father, Michael, I used her son's DNA test to see what matches he had for the lines of all Michael's children. There are currently eighty one Metzger matches in all for my husband. But when ThruLines breaks down the results by each specific child of Michael, there are no results showing for descendants of his youngest son Henry. However, there are twenty matches listed for descendants of Jacob.

Really? Let's take a closer look. I went through that list of Jacob's supposed descendants, one by one. Since Ancestry's ThruLines shows the breakdown, generation by generation, from jointly-shared ancestor to test-taking descendant of that collateral line, I followed the trail for each one of those twenty.

Now, according to census records, I've been able to spot ten children of Henry Metzger and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Snider: Manaleta, Laura, Michael, Thomas, Mary, Robert, Charles, William, Hugh, and Bertram—enough to help me track which of those DNA matches attributed to Jacob might actually have belonged to Henry.

And guess what? Exactly ten of our DNA matches did belong to descendants of Jacob Metzger. But ten did not; according to documentation, they were actually descendants of his brother Henry Metzger. And the list didn't get redistributed in any even manner. Taking the list of my husband's DNA Metzger matches from the top—with the highest centiMorgan count shared—the first two results should have belonged to Henry, not Jacob as listed. But then, match numbers three through nine did belong to Jacob's line. Then everything switched back to Henry with matches number ten through fifteen. Then it alternated back to Jacob's line for sixteen and seventeen, put in one more for Henry with match number eighteen, then back to Jacob for one more, and ended with number twenty switched to Henry.

Bottom line: ThruLines, as we know, is only as good as subscribers' trees are accurate, which isn't always the case. But it is a tool—and a helpful one, at that. Where the rubber meets the road with this tool is in remembering to always check your work—and everyone else's, too. You never know when a hundred year old editorial mistake may otherwise catch you unawares. 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Ripple Effect, Genealogy Style


Have you ever spent a lazy summer afternoon down by the lake, throwing stones into the water and watching the ripples move ever outward? That has become the inspiration for likening that effect to other observations in life, from economics and sociology to even naming episodes from television series, movies, and video games.

I see things a little bit differently. When I consider the ripple effect, my mind goes rather to genealogy and how the effect makes its appearance there. And there is no better example I can think of than the very brothers I want to discuss in today's post: Jacob and Henry Metzger.

Jacob and Henry were the two youngest sons of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather Michael Metzger. One son was born in 1831 and the other in 1833—only you couldn't really tell which one was which, judging solely by what you could find online in other Metzger descendants' family trees.

I think I've found the root cause for the discrepancy, too: a genealogical ripple effect, thanks to an editorial error in a hundred and forty one year old history book about Perry County, Ohio. The book, History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio, included biographical sketches of some of each county's leading citizens.

For the section on Perry County, one of those sketches was supposedly about Jacob Metzger—only the one paragraph about the man included the name of his brother's wife and children. Yes, Mary Elizabeth Snider did marry a Metzger man, but the one she married was not named Jacob; her husband was Jacob's younger brother Henry. The birth date provided in the history book, incidentally, also belonged to Henry—as did the name of each child attributed to Jacob. The only reason the last two sons of Henry weren't mentioned in the book was that they were born after the book's 1883 publication date.

So, what can we find about the real Jacob Metzger? His marriage was to a woman named Martha Ann Hersberger on September 9, 1852. Together, they raised sons William, John, and Francis, and daughters Mary, Florence, and Rose, up until her death in 1878. Following that, he had a son named Brice from his subsequent marriage to another wife who died in 1890, named Lizzie Welch. By the time of the 1900 census, Jacob's household included only that last son Brice, plus third wife Mary.

A story like that might not neatly fit within one paragraph of the 1,218 pages of the History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio. Nor might one want to read of the misfortunes of this thrice-married Metzger man. But somehow his name got affixed to the story of his brother's far less tragedy-ridden life. And oddly enough, I've seen that same report echoed down through the umpteen copied family trees easily found in online genealogical websites—a ripple effect, genealogy style, thanks to what was at first simply an editorial error. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Catching Clues from Collateral Lines


If it weren't for curiosity about collateral lines—the descendants of siblings of our great-greats—there would be a lot of useful information I'd miss entirely. Now that we've set aside time to explore a sibling of my mother-in-law's Metzger ancestors, I'm gathering a few encouraging clues pointing toward answers concerning those mystery relatives who had otherwise simply seemed to disappear.

Looking at Elizabeth Metzger, the youngest sister of my mother-in-law's great-grandfather Michael Metzger, we've already seen that she was married in 1852 in the same county in which she had been born: Perry County, Ohio. Digging a bit deeper into her family life, the very next census enumeration reveals the start of her eventually-large family—which included, by 1860, her three oldest children, Vincent, Cecelia, and Raymond—but it also helped tie that same Elizabeth Metzger Clouse with another Metzger relative.

In Bernard and Elizabeth Clouse's 1860 household was a fourteen year old boy named Charles "Metzgar." While Elizabeth had no brothers by that name, I wondered whether the connection between Elizabeth and Charles might have been one of aunt and nephew. After all, Elizabeth's older brother Joseph, whom we reviewed earlier this month, had a son by that name, who would have been about that age.

Charles' circumstances, by the time of the 1860 census, might have been somewhat like that of an orphaned child whose grandparents had also died: after the loss of his mother, by 1857 Charles' father had remarried. Long before that, he had lost both Metzger grandparents. Perhaps it was perceived as better for everyone if the youngest children in Joseph's family were cared for in other households. Thus, Charles showed up in Bernard and Elizabeth Clouse's household in 1860, and his siblings Henry and Catherine were raised by Elizabeth's older sisters, Joanna and Mary Ann in their unmarried brother Gregory's household.

All those would have been details missed if it hadn't been for expanding research to include collateral lines. And since it is impossible to know, ahead of time, just which important discoveries we would have missed by bypassing those collateral lines, I make the effort to pursue the lines of all siblings of direct ancestors.

There is another reason for that relentless pursuit: connecting DNA matches to the correct ancestor. In Elizabeth's case, my husband has seven DNA matches so far with her descendants. Four of those matches descend from Elizabeth's namesake daughter, and three others from daughter Cecelia. The challenge in working with those DNA matches is that both of Elizabeth's daughters married Snider men: brothers George and Richard. Because my mother-in-law also had Snider ancestors, you can see how those DNA matches become even more tangled—all the more reason to trace those collateral lines.

Speaking of collateral lines, this Metzger family had two more sons we've yet to review. We'll turn to them next as we wrap up this month's research project.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

About the Daughters


We've spent a month exploring what can be discovered about my mother-in-law's Metzger roots, yet not mentioning much about the daughters of immigrant ancestors Michael and Apollonia Metzger. You'd think from all this that the Metzger family was comprised solely of sons, but there were actually three daughters: Joanna, Mary Ann, and Elizabeth. Each was born in a different location, and each can be said to represent a different stage of their parents' traveling life.

Joanna, the eldest, was born about 1813, back in the Metzgers' country of origin, wherever that turns out to be. There are some records asserting that the family's homeland was in Switzerland. Some census records label the family as coming from Germany. I have yet to find any verification of the young Metzger family's passage to America, but whenever the family arrived, Joanna was with them.

Mary Ann joined the immigrant family after their arrival in America, but apparently before the Metzgers settled in Perry County, Ohio, where they eventually raised their family. Mary Ann's entry in census records alerts us to the fact that the traveling family made a stop in Pennsylvania long enough to welcome her birth at the end of 1822.

Neither Joanna nor Mary Ann married. Along with their younger siblings after their parents' death, Joanna and Mary Ann likely lived with their eldest brother Gregory on the Metzger family farm in Jackson Township of Perry County, Ohio. Each lived a fairly long life—Joanna was seventy two and Mary Ann was sixty seven at time of death—and the two were buried together at the Saint Joseph's Cemetery in Somerset, Ohio.

Unlike her older sisters, third daughter Elizabeth married and raised a large family of her own. She likely lived her entire life in the same place where she was born, despite losing her father when she was barely fifteen years of age—and her mother only a year after that. Her 1852 marriage to Bernard Clouse tied her to an immigrant who was alternately said to have been born in either Germany or France—causing me to wonder whether that might signify the oft-war torn Alsace region for both Elizabeth's husband and her parents.

With a family as large as the Clouse family, it is no surprise to see some of their descendants showing up in my husband's DNA matches. Of course, with marriage, a wife's maiden name can become lost to time, and those focusing on Metzger roots may not remember to include the married daughters from the family. However, we can't lose sight of such connections when applying DNA test results to genealogy. I'm convinced it is from those ancestral daughters that some of our many puzzling matches may arise, so I want to keep an eye on these seven DNA matches who descended from Elizabeth, with a brief check tomorrow.

Monday, June 24, 2024

That One Certain Thing


Benjamin Franklin's pithy remark that "in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes" has come to mind lately. Sometimes, we make a family history search such a struggle that perhaps we omit the one certain thing that could provide the answer we seek. After all, despite my quandary about the identity of one Clinton Metzger—one and the same as Cornelius, or a different sibling?—there was one sure thing I could do to determine Clinton's connection to my mother-in-law's Metzger family. Son of Joseph Metzger or not, I could check for his death certificate.

Of course, going solely by the information provided on the Metzger family from census records, the name Clinton never appeared as a son of Joseph and Rachel Walker Metzger. It was only working from the other direction—from DNA matches backwards in time to their parents, then grandparents and beyond—that I encountered the assertion that there was a son named Clinton Metzger.

Clinton, whoever he might have been, was said to have died in 1933. I may have my doubts about the dual entities claiming that 1860 approximate date of birth, but I know where to find instant gratification on my desire to locate his death record: his entry on

Sure enough, just like his Find A Grave entry indicated, Clinton Metzger had died on September 15, 1933, in Delaware County, Ohio. It was so easy to find, I wondered why it didn't occur to me to reach for it sooner. The clincher: his parents were listed as Joseph Metzger and Rachel Walker, just as those DNA cousins had already predicted. Never mind that the closest of those Clinton-descended DNA matches only share twenty one centiMorgans or less with my husband, the document settles that question. He's from the same Metzger family as my mother-in-law.

I may never be able to determine what became of Cornelius Metzger. It could be that this was merely a case of a careless census enumerator—though yes, I know, Cornelius would have been a more fitting name than Clinton for the child of a devout Catholic. And don't forget that, even in the early 1900s, his mother named him in her will—and was strangely silent about any child named Clinton—so not only was there such a person as Cornelius, but he was not one of those unfortunate children who die young and leave barely a trace. Despite whatever may have happened to the disappearing Cornelius, I can still proceed with more confidence in adding Clinton to the family tree—and thus, all his descendants so I can link those three more DNA matches to my mother-in-law's tree.

For now, we'll set aside that question about Cornelius for another year. There are more Metzger siblings to explore before this month's research project is completed.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Minding Many Metzgers


Focusing on one ancestral surname plus adding DNA matches to the search can mean lots of research progress for a month's results. As usual, for my biweekly count, the progress continues at about the same clip. This month's focus on my mother-in-law's Metzger family has been productive, despite being challenging. Even though we began with her second great-grandfather, immigrant Michael Metzger, and are now looking at fourth cousin DNA connections, the count steadily moves up.

Ancestry's ThruLines now has our Metzger DNA connections up to eighty one matches, and I am still attempting to chart them all—even that as-yet undocumented Clinton Metzger. For the past two weeks, I was able to document 244 more Metzger collateral connections. That brings my mother-in-law's tree up to 35,590 individuals. Minding these Metzgers has indeed been a productive endeavor, despite our mysterious Clinton Metzger.

I've also managed to add three names to my own family's tree, due to changes in the family that came to my attention in the past two weeks. While my focus for the past three months has been away from my own family's lines, whenever there's news of births, marriages—or even realization that I inadvertently left someone out of the family—adding the information in a timely manner helps keep track of everyone better. After all, it can take a bit of effort to keep track of 38,369 family members.

We've got barely a week remaining to untangle the puzzle of Clinton Metzger, as well as wrap up what else can be found on founding immigrant ancestor Michael Metzger and his descendants in Ohio and beyond. At this point, I doubt I'll have any eureka moments pinpointing Michael Metzger's origin, but at least we have enough time to untie some lesser genealogical knots.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

From Generation to Generation

Every now and then, I'll hear talk about intergenerational wealth, those gifts passed from parent to child—or in some cases, passed on down from grandparents—that help young struggling families to obtain key purchases they might otherwise not have been able to afford for years to come. Help with paying for a grandchild's college education, for instance, or providing a down payment on a starter home would be examples from our current era, though anyone who has read an ancestor's will can realize the help such gifts represented for those in the distant past.

This week, though, I ran across another example of passing gifts from generation to generation. The other day, our local genealogical society held their annual potluck in the park. We often encourage members to bring a friend to this social event, so one of our longstanding members invited her daughter, who was visiting from out of town.

What we discovered, as this member introduced her guest to others at the meeting, was that the daughter is also an avid genealogical researcher. Unlike the many stories people share of family members rolling their eyes at yet another family history story—a symptom I suspect is a main incentive for people to join genealogy societies so like-minded friends can share in those "happy dance" research victories—this member has a daughter who is just as consumed with this research passion as her mother is. In this case, at least, the genealogy "gene" has successfully been passed from generation to generation.

It is always refreshing to learn of researchers who have been able to share their family findings with others. Usually, though, those family members with whom we share our discoveries are distant cousins. Many are contacts we've made online, when we meet those who also are pursuing the stories of our mutual great-great-greats. It was quite refreshing to meet someone who likely gained this passion not from a distant relative in a one-off passing of pages gathering dust in a closet or attic, but from the day to day example of a parent who consistently pursued those elusive roots.  

Friday, June 21, 2024

"Blended" Families: Tracing the Names


When it comes to "blended" families—his, hers, and theirs, in the 1800s often thanks to early deaths and remarriages—it is important, but sometimes difficult, to trace the names descended from each spouse. In our case, reckoning the two sets of children, each by their mother's name, it turns out that a small insertion in the legal notices of The Mount Vernon Republican may help us at least confirm that both sets of children belonged to the same father.

The case in question was a result of Joseph Metzger dying intestate in 1885 in Knox County, Ohio. The county court appointed Joseph's namesake son as administrator of his estate. The younger Joseph, as we've already seen, decided to put in a claim for work he had done on his father's farm. The legal notification was addressed specifically to four men, all of the same surname and presumably all of the same family. Let's take a look at how those four names seem to connect—and, at the same time, see how the list brings together the two sides of the deceased Joseph Metzger's family.

The first man named in the legal notice was Henry Metzger, said to be resident of Terre Haute, Indiana. Looking at the Metzger family's entry in the 1850 census, we can see the household included a five year old boy by that same name. By the time of the 1870 census, there was indeed a resident of Terre Haute by that same name. Though the name morphed to Harry for the 1880 census, that same family was still in Indiana for the census closest to the 1886 legal notice back in Knox County, Ohio.

The second man listed in that 1886 legal notice, Charles Metzgar, was then said to have lived in Grand Forks in Dakota Territory. While that information was something I didn't know about Charles before, I can see that the senior Joseph Metzger and his first wife did have a son they named Charles, according to that 1850 census.

Thus with those first two names in the 1886 legal notice concerning the administration of Joseph Metzger's estate, we see a list tying together sons from his first marriage with that of his second, for the third name in the list, James, did not make his appearance in census records for the Metzger household until the 1870 enumeration.

But Clinton? If the names presented in that legal notice went in birth order, then Clinton would be younger than James, and along with him, a son of the second wife, Rachel.

If our assumption that these names represent a listing of the sons of the deceased Joseph, they provide us with a rough outline of age order, as well as a guide to finding the missing Charles, geographically. As for Clinton, I still want to look further before deciding whether he was indeed a son of Joseph. We've got more work ahead of us before we reach that point.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Saint Clinton?


Clinton Metzger may have finally made his appearance somewhere within the radar of Joseph Metzger's family circle, but just how was he connected to that family? Just because he was mentioned in a legal document naming him along with others concerning the estate of the late Joseph Metzger doesn't necessarily mean he was Joseph's son. He could have been a legatee for other reasons—or perhaps merely a creditor who coincidentally possessed the same surname. To try to resolve this question, let's return to the census records for both Clinton Metzger and his supposed father, Joseph Metzger.

Keeping in mind that Joseph Metzger's second wife, Rachel, was a devout Catholic—at least judging by the care she took to specifically set aside a gift in her will for Saint Paul's Catholic Church of Mount Vernon, Ohio—it is no surprise to see that she named each of her children after saints. Thus, it would be expected to see names like James or Joseph, or even an otherwise unusual given name like Cornelius, who was indeed considered a saint. But Clinton? Saint Clinton? Never heard of him.

We can see from the 1880 census the ages of each child of Joseph and Rachel Metzger. Switching our attention to the earliest census in which I can find Clinton Metzger, his statement in that 1900 census declared his birth to have been in June of 1860. Despite there never having been a Saint Clinton—at least that I can find—what are the chances that a son of Joseph and Rachel might have been born at the same time?

Back at that point in 1880, the closest in ages in the Metzger family would have been either son Joseph, aged twenty one, or Cornelius, aged nineteen. Of course, ages in census records were often rounded to the next year, depending on both the month of birth and the month of enumeration. Indeed, Joseph's age in the much later 1910 census suggests a birth in 1859, and his 1926 headstone bears out that date. As for Cornelius though, after the 1880 census he simply disappears. Could Cornelius have become "Clinton"?

Before we settle such an unsupported conjecture, let's first look at all the other names listed in that legal notice published in the 1886 Mount Vernon Republican. It would be helpful to know the relationships—if any—of the other Metzgers named in that claim. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A Namesake Puts in his Claim


Do you enjoy reading through pages after pages of legal documents and court records? If it weren't for an insatiable curiosity about my ancestors, I certainly would have to answer: "No." However, researching with the motto "no page left unturned" came with a payout for all that dull reading, at least in answer to my question about Clinton Metzger. There was a claim filed in court in Knox County, Ohio, by Joseph Metzger's namesake son which may provide an explanation.

Before we discuss that claim, let's first go back to the senior Joseph Metzger, son of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather, Michael Metzger. Supposedly, Joseph was father of this Clinton Metzger, at least according to three DNA matches of my husband's account at Yet, I couldn't find any record to affirm that Joseph had a son by that name.

Joseph complicated matters by dying in 1885—before drawing up a will. That left his wife Rachel and all his surviving children without any legal guidance as to how to divide up his property. Dying intestate presented a further problem for this family, for Joseph had been married twice and there were signs that the blended family might not have been on the best of terms.

Joseph's namesake son was appointed as administrator of his estate. In addition to his duties in that role, the younger Joseph apparently had second thoughts about the agreement set out in the court ruling, for he filed a claim, notarized on May 15, 1886, stating that, prior to his father's death, the senior Joseph had had his son tend to duties around the family farm, for which he ought to have been paid, over and above his portion in the inheritance.

It is in reading the names listed in the suit that I begin to see a clear path to answering my question about Joseph's children. Though the newspaper insertion is hard to read, check the names in the transcription below. We'll need to deconstruct this list further.

HENRY METZGER, resident of Terre Haute, Indiana; Charles Metzgar, of Grand Forks, Dakota; and James Metzger and Clinton N. Metzger, of Kingston Center, Delaware County, Ohio, and all creditors interested in the estate of Joseph Metzger, deceased, late of Knox County, Ohio, as heirs or creditors, will take notice, that I have presented to the Probate Court of Knox County, Ohio, for allowance to me against the said estate, certain claims, one of $36.00 and interest from April 1, 1885, and one of $147.32, in all $183.32, for work and labor done by me for said decedent during his lifetime, &c., at his request, and that the testimony concerning said claims will be heard by said Court, on the 24th day of June A.D. 1886, at 10 o'clock, a.m., or as soon thereafter as the same can be heard.

Newspaper clipping above from the Ohio newspaper, The Mount Vernon Republican, published 26 May 1886; image courtesy (see image #2025 for notarized claim dated 15 May 1886, and image #2030 for newspaper insertion and publisher's statement).

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Rachel's Poison Pill


It is my will if any...of my said children shall attempt by resorting to the courts of law to set aside or change any of the provisions of this will, they...shall be...cut off from receiving any part or parcel of my estate and the share or shares of the one or ones who shall attempt to destroy this will or any of its provisions shall go to the one or ones who do not in equal proportions share and share alike.

When Rachel Metzger drew up her will in 1893, she had a delicate balance to maintain. While she was mother of seven of Joseph Metzger's children—six of whom were still living—she was also the mother of an older child by her first marriage. That older half-sister of the Metzger siblings was Mary Houck, by then married to William Bell and a mother in her own right. Perhaps hoping to protect the interests of this only half-sibling of the Metzger household, Rachel felt the need to add what in legal parlance is sometimes dubbed a "poison pill."

In her will, Rachel had originally bequeathed one thousand dollars cash to her eldest child, Mary—an amount equivalent to nearly $35,000 in today's money. Perhaps after the Panic of 1893 and the Depression it ushered in to the American economy, Rachel changed her mind about what she wished to leave as a legacy to her firstborn child. Two years afterwards, as the Depression still wore on, she added a codicil to her original testament, modifying what she was granting to Mary. The new provision granted Mary one half of one share in her mother's estate—which included a three hundred acre farm in Knox County, Ohio—rather than a simple cash payout.

There are likely many ways to read between the lines of this one vignette in the ongoing saga of the Metzger family. Of course, every one of those legatees are now long gone, so there is no way to ask them what the dynamics might have been between Mary and the rest of Rachel's children. But it is quite evident that Rachel sensed some uneasiness in the relationship between some members of her blended family, and sought to diffuse such tensions in case they played out in a battle for the inheritance after her passing.

This uneasiness set the stage for me when I turned to consider what became of Rachel's husband's property after his passing in 1885. Unlike Rachel, Joseph apparently had not prepared a will which included provisions to quell any sibling squabbles. In fact, he didn't prepare any will at all. That, however, doesn't leave us without any guidance in determining what became of Joseph's property. And it is in those other court records that we may spot a prequel to the scene Rachel anticipated at the reading of her own will. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what shreds of information can be found about Joseph's property after his death.

Monday, June 17, 2024

To Complicate Matters Further


We've been on the hunt to find an explanation why an Ohio man named Clinton Metzger would have descendants whose DNA matches that of my husband. Granted, Metzger is a surname in my mother-in-law's family. The drawback is that for the man claimed to be Clinton Metzger's father—a Pennsylvania-born son of immigrants by the name of Joseph Metzger—we can find no documents to connect him with his supposed son. Now what?

Well, by now, I'm sure you've concluded that before we can get to our answer, we'll stumble upon other details which are sure to complicate matters further. Nothing is ever easy, it seems, when in pursuit of ancestors from the early and mid-1800s. Certainly for Joseph Metzger and his missing connection to Clinton Metzger, that is turning out to be the case.

Consider this one other sticky detail: Joseph Metzger may have been married more than once. If you had wondered, last week when we viewed his 1880 census entry, why a sixty year old man like Joseph would have had an eldest son who was only in his early twenties—or a wife thirteen years younger than he was—this might be the reasonable answer you were expecting.

Turning to an earlier stage in Joseph Metzger's life, this may have been his entry in the 1850 census. Still in Knox County where we had found him in the 1880 census, Joseph's family constellation was comprised of far different names than what we found in the later census record. More to the point, his wife's name was not Rachel, but Mary Ann—likely the unmarried Mary Ann Bechtol of Muskingum County for whom Joseph had made application to marry in October of 1842.

Theirs was a young family in the 1850 census, which can be seen on the continuation page showing six year old John, five year old Henry, three year old Charles, two year old Mary, and baby Catherine. None of those names, of course, represent the supposed son Clinton who is still taunting us with his absence. But having these names as a reference to the possible earlier life of Joseph Metzger will—as you might have suspected—help us out as we continue this search for the explanation of just who Clinton Metzger might have been.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Silence on the Y-DNA Line


Since today is reserved for honoring fathers—at least in the United States—my thoughts have turned to wondering about my own dad. Although he has been long gone, the mystery he left behind still lingers. Just like his father before him, he remains an enigma, even to the people who lived with him.

Though she never got the opportunity to meet him, let alone get to know him, my daughter calls my father "the chameleon." A business man with lots of acquaintances—the type of guy "everyone" knew—I doubt many truly knew him. He seemed to blend in effortlessly with his surroundings, an enigma that no one even noticed.

We, however, thought differently. When I, along with several cousins and siblings, learned that my father's father was not the Irish immigrant he purported to be, we began to suspect—and dig for—another story.

It was almost exactly eleven years ago this week when my brother agreed to meet me at a genealogy conference in southern California—my annual go-to place every June, and a ten-minute drive from his house—to become the willing subject of a specialized DNA test to examine the deep history of something called the patriline. This would tell us the truth about our father's father's father's...well, you get the idea.

We were pretty sure the answer wouldn't be the Irish story my much-older brother had heard his grandfather tell him. Though the signs had been well-hidden, our generation of that family had begun to point to a possible Polish heritage, just by sharing vague memories of what our parents had let slip, and what the older siblings and cousins could remember of their grandparents. That helped, of course, but being so generic, we wanted something pointing us in a more reliably specific direction.

When my brother's Y-DNA test results came back (he kindly appointed me as administrator of his test), we weren't surprised to learn that the great majority of men sharing his haplogroup descend from Polish ancestors. And yet, as far as matches go, my brother only had two at his testing level of sixty-seven markers. One was at a genetic distance of seven; the closer one was still at a far distance of three. No exact matches.

Match results have stayed that way since my brother tested in 2013. If there are any other men out there who connect at any closer range to this patriline, they certainly haven't decided to spring for a Y-DNA test. Granted, this information, combined with the more common autosomal DNA test and a lot of dedicated traditional genealogical detective work have taught me much about my father, but I am still learning more every day. DNA has been an excellent teacher, even though the original subject has remained silent to his students.

As I look over the many DNA matches I've found, both in my brother's test results and through my own at multiple testing companies, I realize not only how much DNA has taught me about my family, but how powerful DNA is, itself, in shaping who a person is.

I sometimes can't help noticing how, when I do or say something or make a particular choice, how it seems to echo one or other of my parents or, for those grandparents I did know, show me the connection to my relatives, and in turn, how those relatives were connected to their parents and grandparents. The DNA, though recombining in multiple ways, still passes down to us small signatures of what made each of those people who they were. DNA becomes their gift to us.

I sometimes wonder if the people who are most likely to take a DNA test are those for whom their parents—and their ancestors—are a mystery. They test because they don't know. That certainly was the driving force behind our family's collective attempt to discover the hidden story of our patriline.

While my brother's Y-DNA test results may seem to have yielded a deafening silence, on the flip side, that DNA is still speaking quite loudly. Every time I exhibit a tendency that reminds me of my father, it is as if he was still there with me—an eternal reminder of our connection. We are the way we are, in large part, because of our parents' DNA. And despite the frustrating silence from those specialized DNA test results, at least for one day this year, I can celebrate the person we're seeking through that Y-DNA test with a "happy Father's Day" thought.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Are We a Dying Breed?


The other day, I did dog-sitting duties for my daughter's recently acquired puppy while she attended an out-of-town training. Her new canine companion is a Briard, a French breed known for its sheep-herding and protecting tendencies. The Briard comes with a long and fascinating history, depicted in tapestries during the time of Charlemagne, admired by even the dog-hating Napoleon, and recorded in the journals of Thomas Jefferson, who imported Briards from France on his return home from service there as ambassador from the fledgling United States. The French so admired the capabilities of the breed that the Briard was named the official war dog of the French army, serving on sentry duty, pulling supply carts and rescuing wounded soldiers. This had devastating effects on their numbers after both World Wars, when casualties greatly mounted for the Briards in service on the front.

Perhaps the Briard would have been a dying breed, except that certain breed advocates devoted themselves to the cause of resurrecting the Briard to its previous standing. The woman who managed the litter from which our puppy came is such a person. This takes work, just as all breeders would know, but it also takes a special dedication. The less people know about a breed—or even that there is such a breed—the less the public would want to acquire such an animal. Support and advocacy for the breed take an elevated place in such a role of breed advocate.

After a typical busy week of activities in our genealogical society, perhaps it might seem that puppy-sitting an unusual breed of dog might be a radical change of pace—and yes, I did get my workout with this active six month old—but strangely, my thoughts sought out a parallel. I don't know about your local genealogical society, but ours has recently suffered a drastic drop, year over year, in membership. Plus, those of us who remain are not getting any younger—yet the world around us, including those who are curious about their ancestors, keeps changing and doing almost everything differently. Learning to keep up with changes to be vitally relevant to those potential new members around us will be the key to avoid slipping from most popular to most pathetic.

Thinking of this newly-learned lesson of the Briards' history causes me to ask about our genealogical societies: are we a dying breed? What can we do to introduce those around us to the vitality of knowing one's own family's story? How can we better become advocates for this process we enjoy? 

Answering questions like these isn't just about coming up with a quick gimmick that sounds trendy, but digging deeper to discover what resonates with people at specific stages in their lives: newly-weds, new parents, intermediaries helping others in life-changing stages such as parents' downsizing, or even stepping into retirement for themselves. What to do with the time now? Or the now-inherited resources of family memorabilia?

These are life stages in which people may have the kinds of questions for which we as local genealogical societies might provide answers. But we need to know who might be asking. And how they would best receive our answers. Listening to an hour-long lecture in a meeting hall might not be the best venue for giving them the answers they seek.

If the hour-long-lecture model is a dying breed, let it go. But helping people find the story they've been seeking on their family, I'm convinced, will never go out of style. Like the Briard in life after war, that's the kind of rekindled interest we should seek. Our "breed" isn't seeking listeners to sit in rapt muteness before a talking head—no matter how knowledgeable—but a far more compelling journey of personal discovery to find answers concerning our own families. 

Friday, June 14, 2024

So Much More to This Story


Do you ever look for clues when you are stumped on a stubbornly-hidden ancestor in your family tree? Sometimes when I do that, I run into unexpected details that tell me there may be so much more to the ancestor's story than what I was expecting. When it comes to Clinton Metzger, the supposed son of Joseph Metzger, that is exactly what I'm beginning to think.

For one thing, census records for Joseph's household do not support the notion that Clinton was his son. Take the 1880 census entry for then-sixty year old Joseph and his family in Knox County, Ohio. Joseph, born in Pennsylvania to immigrant parents—as we already know, since Joseph's father was my mother-in-law's ancestor—was by then raising five children along with his wife, Rachel. Also in the household was his step-daughter, Mary Houck, whose very appearance in that census tells me that her mother's entry in the 1857 Knox County Metzger marriage record was incorrect in labeling her as "Miss" Rachel Houck. See? There's always more to the story than what appears in one single document.

Those entries in the 1880 census for the five Metzger children—Joseph, Cornelius, George, Joanna, and Albert—provide ages, therefore approximate years of birth to guide us. Thus, we can figure that the junior Joseph was born approximately in 1859, Cornelius in 1861, George in 1863, Joanna in 1866, and Albert in 1871.

Notice, however, that there was no mention of any son named Clinton. Could he have been a son born after the 1880 census? Possibly. Or a son born right after the Metzger marriage and out of the house by 1880? Perhaps. But at this point, there is no sign of any Clinton in this Metzger household.

Incidentally, flipping to the 1900 census where Clinton Metzger appears with his own family, the record shows that he was born about June of 1860, giving enough wiggle room to fit within the approximate birth years of the five in the 1880 Metzger household.

There are, however, other concerning signs popping up when we look on the Clinton side of the equation. Take, for instance, Clinton's own marriage license application in 1881. Scrawled across the header containing his name and that of his bride, Ida Bell, was the admonishment, "Don't publish for 3 weeks." Why? There's surely a story there, as well.

Yet, on the other hand, Clinton's 1900 census entry provides the promising sign: his dad was born in Pennsylvania and his mom in Ohio, just like our Joseph and Rachel.

One sure way to settle this puzzle might be to locate Joseph Metzger's will. Unless there had been a terrible falling out between father and son, surely Clinton's name would appear among the legatees, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, it appears that when Joseph died in 1885—perhaps unexpectedly at age sixty six—he left no will.

That, however, is not the end of the story, for his widow Rachel made sure to leave a will of her own before her passing in 1912. Her will, though simple and direct, was drawn up in 1893, several years before her death, and ultimately included a codicil providing more detail on the daughter from her first marriage. In that document, we can easily glean the names of all her surviving Metzger children: James, Joseph, Cornelius, George, Joanna, and Albert.

No Clinton.

Now what?

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Quest for Clinton's Roots


Finding an unexpected member of one's family can be unsettling, especially for those of us who have spent years trying to get the details right about our ancestors. Discovering that that newfound relative has descendants who now are on our DNA match list calls for a much closer examination. That's what I'm into now, with the discovery that some descendants of a man named Clinton Metzger claim to be cousins—albeit distant ones—of my husband. Let's see what's already known about this Clinton Metzger so we can delve deeper into his roots. At some point, hopefully the nexus will appear. But first, you know the rules of genealogy: start with what you know.

Here's what I "know" about Clinton Metzger, based on some easy-to-find documentation. Buried in the same county where he made his home—Delaware County in Ohio—Clinton Metzger's headstone made it clear that the man, who died in 1933, was born in 1860. A family man, he sometimes went by the nickname "Clint"—as in the 1900 census—or simply by his initials, C. N. Metzger. Married in 1881 to the former Ida Mae Bell, he was father of six children—three sons and three daughters.

But where he came from or who his parents were, that is the questions. Some helpful researchers years ago had posted burial information for all Delaware County cemeteries on the sorely-missed old website, RootsWeb, on which list Clinton Metzger did make an appearance. But for the column labeled "father," the slot next to Clinton's name was frustratingly blank.

How, then, no less than 104 other subscribers were able to assert that Clinton's father's name was our Joseph Metzger is beyond me. I can find no substantiation for that claim. 

Perhaps, though, that simply means we'll need to dig further to find an explanation.

Image above from the search function at, the result of selecting "Family Trees" for the search term, "Clinton Metzger."

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Too Close for Comfort


What do you do when someone else's research suggests a family connection that hasn't shown up in your own records? That DNA match I've found whose tree claims an ancestor named Clinton Metzger has introduced a nagging problem. As it turns out, this may be a problem which is too close for comfort, at least if I'm assuming this is a case of mistaken identity.

First of all, I have no record of any Metzger by that name, Clinton, in my mother-in-law's tree, and yet someone—wait, make that three someones—matching my husband claims such an ancestral name. What's the explanation?

I thought the best approach to dealing with this would be to face the problem head on: look more closely at the details known about this Clinton Metzger. So today—and, who knows, maybe for the rest of the week—we'll take a look at what can be found online.

Having decided to launch into that question, I ran across some interesting details. Let's just say those details don't exactly help the situation; they may actually compound the problem. Keep in mind that in the background, I'm slowly chugging through generation after generation of Metzger descendants of my mother-in-law's founding immigrant Michael Metzger.

Right now, I'm nearly completed with the line of Michael's son Joseph. My current focus is the line of Joseph's son James. James' middle child, a daughter named Florence, married someone by the name of Delbert Ulrey, a farmer from Morrow County, Ohio. Florence's 1908 wedding took place in Delaware County, the next county over from Morrow County, the same county where she had been born. All this was easily gleaned from their marriage license application.

Though Ulrey may seem like a less-common surname, I hadn't counted on the number of times that name showed up in documents, incorrectly spelled as Ulery. Even in their own application, handwriting of the clerk who completed the form made the surname appear to be spelled that alternate way, though looking at Delbert's own signature, it was clear that the spelling should have been Ulrey, not Ulery.

Though the newly married couple, Delbert and Florence, spent the rest of their life in Morrow County, connections with Delaware County remained. I hadn't counted on just how much those connections did remain, however, until I started looking at records for Clinton Metzger, this DNA match's supposed connecting ancestor.

Just looking at Clinton Metzger's Find a Grave memorial pointed out that sticking point right away. Clinton Metzger—at least, according to Find a Grave volunteers—had a daughter named Ida May. Ida May, in turn, married someone in Delaware County by the name of Ulery.

Yes, Ulery. Check it out for yourself on the headstone for the couple. Ida May married someone named Ernest Gale Ulery.  Not Ulrey.

So now I have Florence Metzger marrying Delbert Ulrey, and Ida May Metzger marrying Ernest Ulery, all in Delaware County. Granted, the two brides were eleven years apart in age, but even in a place the size of Delaware County—twenty seven thousand people at the time—the place was small enough for some people to have noticed, and possibly confused, the two family names.

With that caution in mind, we'll proceed even more carefully as we begin to explore just who that Clinton Metzger might have been, and if—or how—that man connected with my mother-in-law's Metzger family.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Looking for the "F.A.N. Club"


Where are those family and friends, associates, and neighbors when you need them? 

I'm referring to those genealogically-supportive clues, collectively appearing as the "F.A.N. Club" of our elusive ancestors. These were the family members and other friends and associates who traveled with that hard-to-trace immigrant ancestor from their homeland to their new life in America. In the case of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather Michael Metzger, it appears that his F.A.N. Club numbered, um, zero.

I tried an experiment to see if any other family members might have traveled with him from the Old Country, wherever that might have been. Since Michael, according to later census records of his children, must have arrived in Ohio before the birth of his son John (a.k.a. Johann) in 1824, I thought I'd look for signs of other Metzgers in the subsequent census.

Try as I might, I could not find one Metzger in the 1830 census in Ohio. Not even our Michael and his own family. The reason? Apparently even in German-speaking Ohio, nobody knew just how to spell a surname like Metzger. This gives me pause to consider the supposed German "native tongue" of his son John who, if you remember, ended up moving away from family to settle in a German-speaking town in Indiana. Perhaps his wasn't such a familiar-sounding dialect of German, after all.

As it turns out, Michael was indeed in the 1830 census, under spelling that looks more like "Meichar" than Metzger. Granted, I'm looking at a digitized version of a nearly two-hundred-year-old document, faded ink and all. Some of the lighter strokes of the handwriting likely have faded into oblivion. Perhaps the original was written more like "Metchar." Granted, that was close...sort of.

But what about looking for any other Metzgers in 1830 Ohio? If we can trust that the rest of the state got the spelling right, there were seventeen other families that I could find, at least at—but none of them living close enough to Michael's Perry County for me to be confident of a connection.

Perhaps that supposed F.A.N. Club that Michael traveled with on his journey to America might have been the relatives and acquaintances that settled with him at his first stop in Pennsylvania. After all, two of Michael's children—Joseph and Mary Ann—were born somewhere in Pennsylvania before the family's final stop in Ohio.

I tried the same approach, looking at the 1820 census for mentions of Metzgers in Pennsylvania. This time, there were thirty nine Metzger possibilities according to, including one named Michael in Lancaster County—but not so fast here: this Michael remained in Pennsylvania, buried in the Mennonite Cemetery. Definitely not our Catholic Michael Metzger, for sure.

Granted, many documents from that era may not have been included in records online. Some may not even be in existence anymore. Learning more about church records in Pennsylvania will be helpful to identify just where in Pennsylvania the family had briefly settled. Perhaps, along the way, it will become clearer just who the Metzger family's traveling companions might have been—and where they all came from.

In the meantime, it will be back to building out the Metzger family lines for DNA that I'll continue working on. I've still got to figure out how our Catholic line crossed paths with that mystery Clinton Metzger of those DNA matches. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

. . . Then the Hard Work


It was supposedly the pitiable character Eeyore in A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh who advised, "Brains first, then hard work." Normally, I'd consider that sound advice. Today, after a weekend of frustrating research non-results, I think I'm now stuck on the second part: I'm on the "then hard work"—no brains included.

After stumbling upon several DNA matches who claim relationship to my mother-in-law's family through a line which includes a non-Catholic Metzger, I've been on a hunt to find where this mystery Clinton Metzger might have fallen in the family tree. Though the centiMorgan link is admittedly small, there is a possibility that the match is correctly placed in this line. But where? If Clinton Metzger was truly these DNA cousins' ancestor, his parents weren't who those cousins said they'd be.

And so, I begin speed genealogy, filling out the family tree, one Metzger at a time. While I haven't yet found the answer, I have run across one Metzger descendant who (gasp) left the faith for a wedding ceremony in a Methodist church. It is quite possible I may find more.

This search involves a routine process of moving through each line of descent, step by step. Take one child of Michael Metzger—right now, I'm working my way through the children of Michael's son Joseph Metzger—and methodically register every document where that child's name is found, then repeat the process for each of that child's children. Move down the line, step by step, from oldest to second-born and beyond. Repeat the process for each of those children, down to the present day. When that list is completed, go back to the top and advance to the next child of Joseph, beginning the downhill slide through the generations once again.

Tedious? Yep. But thorough. When I'm done—don't hold your breath; this may take a week or more—I'll have all the children of Michael Metzger's son Joseph documented in my mother-in-law's tree. And then I'll move on to the next child, who at this point has been listed as Mary Ann Metzger, born in Pennsylvania at the end of 1822, just before the family moved on to Perry County, Ohio.

I anticipate gathering another two or three hundred names through this process. This is the kind of hard work which allows me to spot DNA matches far more easily than at the first, when my husband tested back in 2014 and I sat there, stumped and awash in the flood of the thousand-plus names of strangers who were supposed to be kin. There may be brains in genetic genealogy, but for me, it's really the "hard work" part that makes DNA testing workable.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Tracking the Metzger Lines


When I've worked on my mother-in-law's Metzger line in the past, I always could count on the numbers for my biweekly count ratcheting upwards fairly quickly. Why? Almost all of her relatives were Catholic; in the past, that could mean lots of large families to track. 

Now, however, it seems a struggle to document some of the branches of her second great-grandfather Michael Metzger's tree. The documentation just doesn't seem to be there. Perhaps that is a combination of Michael's being a newly-arrived immigrant plus a time frame occurring before listing household names became the routine with the 1850 census.

Still, in the past two weeks, from records in Michael's adopted home in Perry County, Ohio, and the Indiana location of some of his descendants, I've managed to document 301 more names in my mother-in-law's tree. That means I now have 35,346 individuals connected with her, up to the sixth cousin level for DNA matching purposes.

Though I still am unable to push back another generation on this Metzger line—after all, second great-grandparents is not that far back in time—I am working on completing each line of descent while I probe for possible connections to the past. Remembering the F.A.N. Club principle, reaching out to distant cousins for clues, and inspecting all documents for overlooked information have been my next steps. So far, no leads. But we keep on researching, anyhow. The answer is out there somewhere.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Where They Came From


Anyone who is researching immigrant ancestors eventually wants to know where they came from. Naturally, since I've been working on my mother-in-law's Metzger line, I'd like to know, too. But even though Michael Metzger and his wife Apollonia were only her second great-grandparents—so close!—that detail is tantalizingly just outside my reach. And out of the reach of others, too, apparently.

Since I'm the nosy type, I thought I'd hop over to the universal-tree website to see if anyone there had come up with the magic answer which seems to evade me. There was a spot in their tree for Michael Metzger, of course, but whether that entry included any pertinent documentation was another matter.

Like my own approach, I see on the FamilySearch entry that apparently others have also depended on the information provided by Michael's children. His son Henry's death certificate—with information provided by Henry's daughter Manaleta—claims that Henry's parents were born in Switzerland. No city provided, I noted, though inexplicably, the FamilySearch tree also identifies a specific location in Switzerland: Möhlin in the canton of Aargau. No documentation is there to back up that assertion, though a quick peek at the FamilySearch catalog shows several entries for records and information from that canton.

Of course, many of those library holdings are in German, not English—but what would you expect? This might be more of a challenge to research than I was anticipating. If, that is, Michael and Apollonia really did come from the Aargau canton in Switzerland. Maybe they didn't.

Thinking of any other way to determine whether Michael Metzger and his family traveled with any others from their hometown to Ohio, I recalled that Perry County tax records were available online for the time period around their arrival. The Metzgers were in Perry County in time for the birth of their son John in the summer of 1824. The closest tax record I can find to that date is the county's listing of personal property from 1831. Michael is the only Metzger listed in that year's alphabetical entries. If he did travel with neighbors to Ohio, they did not share his surname.

While records from that early time period may be few or incomplete, I'm holding out hope that there is a way to verify those statements about Michael's ancestral home—or at least the names of his parents. His marriage and the birth of at least three of his children should also carry the marks of his origin—somewhere. It's just a matter of continuing the search in more directions.

Friday, June 7, 2024

When Batting .500 Isn't Good Enough


I know there are some family history fanatics out there who are also baseball fans. While they may agree that batting .500 might be a great statistic for a baseball player, when it comes to genealogy, I am more often disappointed when that becomes my research average.

Right now, I'm working my way through my husband's DNA match list for Metzger cousins. He stands in as proxy for my mother-in-law, whose second great-grandfather Michael Metzger links my husband to seventy four other DNA cousins. After tackling that phantom son, John (or Johann) Metzger, my next move was to look at the six matches descending from John's brother Joseph. Supposedly, there are six descendants of Joseph who share a small amount of DNA with my husband.

While I say small—barely more than twenty centiMorgans for the best of them—I realize the combination of genetics and genealogical documentation can provide a more reliable link than such small numbers alone as I saw in those six matches descended from Joseph. However, when I looked more closely at those six matches, I found three of them for whom I could rustle up not one page of paperwork. For this quest, batting .500 wasn't really helpful.

The sticking point came in the listing of the sons of Joseph Metzger. Joseph was apparently married twice, so he had many sons. But the one name asserted to belong to the line of these three DNA matches—Clinton N. Metzger—was a name I could find nowhere in documentation for Joseph's family.

Looking at the problem from the opposite direction—following the line from the match to parents, then grandparents and upwards—I attempted to sketch out possible family trees to see where the trail missed a turn. After all, I've seen several times when a man was mistaken for a brother, or even for a cousin by the same name. In this case, however, I had no luck.

Sometimes, matches at Ancestry's ThruLines appear to be attributed to one ancestral couple when the match might turn out to be through another line in that family. I tried looking for other surnames as I built that quick sketch of a family tree. As it turned out, one of the daughters of this Clinton Metzger happened to marry someone whose mother was a "Rhinehart." Since my mother-in-law also has Rineharts in her ancestry, I looked for an alternate connection through that side of the family, but no clear path emerged.

It is indeed possible for matches hovering around that twenty centiMorgan range to be a mistaken connection. But I'm not quite ready to give up on those three cases quite yet. Once confronted with that impasse, I decided to take a closer look at the many Metzger lines descending from our Michael and his wife Apollonia to build out the lines of descent for each of them. At some point, that will become handy for connecting future DNA matches. Perhaps it will even untangle this maze leading from those three DNA cousins to our most recent common ancestral match in Michael Metzger.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

From Johann to Joseph John


Though unable to find anything further on Michael Metzger's son John—or, as he was called in the German-speaking town where he settled in Indiana, Johann—we'll now turn to the rest of Michael's children to explore any clues about his origin. His possible oldest two children, Gregory and Joanna, apparently didn't marry—but then, I've found very little on them to even confirm that these were two of the foreign-born children of the founding immigrant.

The third child, Michael's namesake son, was my mother-in-law's direct ancestor. I've researched this line closely but have not yet been able to confidently push back to the previous generation through what I've found on this younger Michael's family.

Beyond that is the next-born son, Joseph John Metzger. I've already noticed that six of his descendants are DNA matches to my husband, so I've been working on how they connect to my mother-in-law's family tree. As that work unfolds, I'll share what I find here in the next few days—if, that is, there are any noteworthy discoveries. This Metzger family seems reticent to share any early memories of the homeland for our benefit.

What I do already know about Joseph John Metzger is that he was the first of the Metzger children to have been born after the family arrived in the United States. Specifically, Joseph was born in Pennsylvania, one testimony of the family's stop in that state on their way to their final destination in Ohio.

As it turns out, Joseph spent most of his life in Perry County, the same location where his parents had settled and the place where all his siblings—with the exception of Johann—remained in their adulthood. I say "most," though, because a pivot point in Joseph's life was the loss of his wife Mary Ann Bechtol after the birth of their five children.

With a young family yet to raise, Joseph Metzger did what any farmer of that era would have done: quickly found a wife to marry. That he did by 1857, when he and second wife Rachel exchanged wedding vows. The catch was that they were married a small distance removed from his parents' home, in Knox County. And it was likely in that same Knox County where Joseph raised his second, even larger, family of at least seven more children before his 1885 death.

Between all those children, I'm hoping someone researching this Metzger line will have run across some family stories on where this line originated. We'll take a closer look at Joseph John Metzger's line—and DNA matches—tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Letting Dialects Drop a Clue


Can you speak Swabian? Well, neither can I. I suspect a lot of people in the United States wouldn't even realize it if they heard someone speaking that dialect. But if a German-speaking immigrant met another immigrant who spoke Swabian, I suspect the two could somehow find a way to understand each other. Even more important, just knowing there is such a language might guide us in untangling the origin of some Metzger ancestors in my mother-in-law's heritage.

For instance, consider this question: if Johann Metzger's son remembered that the household language of his childhood was German, why was his mother said to have been born in France?

Johann Metzger—or John, as he was listed in American government records—married a woman by the name of Mary Ann Wiest. The wedding took place in Perry County, Ohio, where John Metzger's family had settled at the end of their immigrant journey. The straightforward marriage entry in the county records—in English, incidentally—showed the date of their marriage as August 24, 1852. Though I haven't yet been able to find John Metzger's entry in the previous census, his intended was easily found in the household of Theodore and Cecelia "Weast" in the 1850 census

It was in that census, though it was hard to read the handwriting, where I first gleaned the idea that the Wiest family had emigrated from France. Just to be sure, I followed the family from Ohio to Dubois County, Indiana, after John and Mary Ann's wedding, to see whether that birth designation was repeated in subsequent records. Sure enough, France was the answer for the subsequent census in Indiana, as well as for the following two decades' records. It wasn't until after John's 1896 death, when Mary Ann lived with her eldest son Frank, that he reported her birthplace as Germany.

Was that simply a matter of changing the information to the politically correct designation of the time? I don't think so. Again, reading between the lines, I believe that unexpected birth designation for a German-speaking immigrant can provide us a clue as to the family's origin: the borderland region once known as Alsace and Lorraine, now in France. Their centuries-old borderland disputes make that one location a likely candidate for such mixed messages over the decades, true, but just looking at the history of the dialects spoken in that region over the years can give us an idea of why someone said to have been born in France could actually be a native speaker of a German dialect.

Which is why I began by asking about the Swabian dialect. Years ago, many who lived in Alsace spoke a dialect similar to Swabian, which is a form of high German. Yet, Alsace is considered to be part of France, not Germany. Similarly, what is now the neighboring Lorraine also has a German-speaking population in the northeastern part of the region, known as Moselle.

Just knowing these details about the languages and dialects spoken throughout the history of these two regions can help point us to the possible homeland of the immigrating—and "German" speaking—Wiest family of France, and perhaps, the origin of the Metzger family, as well.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

When "I Don't Know" Can't be the Answer


If you ever hope to get past your brick wall ancestor, the phrase "I don't know" cannot be part of your vocabulary. If you want to find those answers, you have to know what you're looking for before you begin a successful search. That doesn't mean you already know the answers, but it does mean you at least need to find a factual toehold before you can grasp the rest of your ancestor's picture.

Thus, before we begin puzzling over the phantom relative I found in my mother-in-law's Metzger line, we need to start with an inventory of what we do know—or at least the details which seem to be most likely facts.

In today's example, that "phantom" family member was a previously unknown son of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather, immigrant Michael Metzger. In all the records I could find for him, his name was represented as John Metzger, but apparently he also went by the name Johann Metzger—especially after he surfaced far from home in a small town called Ferdinand in Dubois County, Indiana.

Just today, in laying out the facts I've already accumulated on this John (or Johann) Metzger, I learned enough background information to connect some dots in his story line which hadn't previously made much sense to me. For instance, I couldn't understand why, if the man was known in earlier years as John Metzger in records back in Perry County, Ohio, where his family had settled, he would become known as an adult as Johann rather than John. Looking up a brief entry on the town of Ferdinand helped explain, for instance, why his headstone clearly listed his name as Johann: the town was settled mostly by German-speaking immigrants from central Europe.

Since John Metzger had married in Perry County in 1852, I had expected to see his entry in the 1850 census, but so far I haven't located him listed under either given name, John or Johann. The digitized marriage entry was difficult to read on the bottom of the page in Perry County court records, but thankfully a volunteer had posted a clearer copy of that record in his Find A Grave memorial. 

After that point in 1852, John Metzger and his bride, the former Mary Ann Wiest, showed up in Dubois County records in Indiana until the point of their passing, in 1896 and 1917, respectively. Oldest child Frank was born there in 1853, followed by four more sons and one daughter. Interestingly, in all the U.S. Census records which included his name from 1860 through 1880, this mystery relative was listed not as Johann but as John Metzger.

Working from those small points which were the familiar toehold of what little I knew about the man, a picture began to emerge. It took following through on each of John and Mary Ann's children for that picture to take shape. An entry on third-born son William, long after his parents' passing, was the stroke of luck which confirmed his parents' German-speaking heritage: William happened to be included in the expanded section of the 1940 census, which provided the information that the language he remembered speaking in his childhood home was German, not English. Surely that detail echoes back to previous generations as well, reminding me that John's parents also were German speaking residents in their adopted home in Ohio.

Just reading between the lines on those few things that we do know about a supposed "brick wall" ancestor can lead to fresh understanding which, once we think about it, can lead to more clues and, eventually, answers. When we begin a search for a new ancestor, we may presume at first that we don't know anything, but even grasping for the one detail we can say is true can connect us with a corollary piece of information which will help us along our way in that research mode. Each step may indeed be a baby step, but it leads us closer to sketching in the picture of who that mystery ancestor might have been.

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