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 Ancestry.com. 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 Ancestry.com (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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, the result of selecting "Family Trees" for the search term, "Clinton Metzger."

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