Learning from Personal Research Stories: Forming a Bond
ACPL Genealogy Center
Friday, Jun 29, 2012
We have been discussing favorite ancestors, and I can't say I have a particular "chosen one." There are some I have gotten to know better than others, largely because of the "sweat equity" I have invested in attempting to locate their parents, overcome brick walls, or develop stories for genealogical books. One example involves the story of how I got to know one of my great-great grandmothers, Caroline (Karp) Stobb. Born in West Prussia in 1843, Caroline immigrated to Detroit with her husband, Wilhelm Stobbe (later shortened to Stobb), and two older children in 1872. She died in Detroit in 1921. Our family knew where Wilhelm was born (the town of Garnsee in West Prussia), but we couldn't locate Caroline's German baptism or place of birth. The only clue we had was a cryptic note in an old family Bible, written by one of her daughters, stating that she was born on 30 September 1843 in "Kaldef." A search of German gazetteers showed no such place, and it soon became evident that the place name, as written, was wrong.
Finding Caroline involved the proverbial "search for a needle in a haystack." I looked first at the IGI for Karp, and while some were from West Prussia, none of the entries offered clues. I considered German phonetics, keeping the "Kal-" but considering that the d could easily be a t and the place could be a tiny village, not a parish. I fanned out from Garnsee, poring over German maps and online gazetteers, ordering dozens of Lutheran parish registers on microfilm from the Family History Library, and examining those for a wide radius around Garnsee. At last I found a possibility: Kaltenhof, a tiny village in the parish of Riesenburg in the Kreis of Rosenberg, West Prussia. A search of the Riesenburg index confirmed by hunch, and there, at long last, was Caroline's baptism. Kaltenhof had been corrupted as "Kaldef."
The process took about 20 years of intermittent work, during which I took time out to work on many other lines. Still, I kept coming back to Caroline. In studying her old photograph and that cryptic Bible entry, I came to feel that I knew her quite well. She did nothing famous or heroic. From the few stories I had from my grandmother, her granddaughter, I knew that she had spoken only German, would spend her days with a Bible spread out on her lap, and would often reach into her deep petticoats to give coins to her grandchildren while wearing a broad smile. Due to deaths and a number of childless children and grandchildren, Caroline ended up having very few surviving descendants - only my own family, that of my brother, and those of my three first cousins. Unlike other branches of my family where there are many extended relations, her progeny, at least at one time, was in danger of becoming extinct.
I have to say I am a skeptic about the paranormal and the belief that our ancestors are out there somehow leading us to lost records from their past (even though I've recorded several ancestral ghost stories told as family traditions). But I do feel a special closeness to Caroline in ways that I can't explain, and somehow I feel that she would have been pleased that one of her very few great-great grandchildren took great pains to find and tell her story. Looking back at my life as a genealogist, I continue to feel good about that.