Crossing the sea in a crowded ship, storms forging frothing, frenzied waves. Disembarking in a foreign port, not even the language familiar. Traversing prairies under duress – wind whipping, supplies short.
Migration stories. They captivate the imagination.
Wherever your ancestors come from, you’ve no doubt speculated on their journey to this land – and the land left behind. The challenge: Documenting migrations and ancient homelands can be difficult given the leaps and omissions in family records.
Such was the case for Carol Rice and Terri O’Connell, who both hoped to discover where in Europe their ancestors migrated from.
Enjoy the genealogy breakthroughs of these two family historians – then take time to preserve your family memories so future generations can know the journeys, loves, and lives of ancestors.
Upon A Virginia Wall
“My dad never talked much about his family,” he said as he arose, walking over to the wall and taking down a framed document. “I don’t really know what this is, but it is very old and must be important because it has been handed down from father to son for many generations. You can see it is written in German. I tried to have it translated once, but it is written in the old script and my German friends could not read it.”
I couldn’t read it either, not only because I couldn’t translate the Old German, but because quickly, my eyes were filling with tears; such a journey, and so many miracles brought me to this place. Instinctively, and because of the few words I could read, I knew this document would help unlock important family mysteries.
Family folklore told of three German brothers who came to America. One of them “jumped ship.” We knew of two of brothers, but we could never find proof that the third brother who “jumped ship” actually existed. But the story, passed down through generations, kept us looking.
We knew the family were German Dunkards, so we corresponded with the Mennonite Genealogical Library and researched naturalization records, ship lists, histories, and biographies – all to no avail. We even hired an accredited researcher in the European section of the LDS Genealogical Library to discover where the brothers had come from in Germany. After his own detailed attempts in both German and U.S. records, it was finally recommended that we find some other living descendent who might have the clue in their family records. It was suggested we visit the State Archives in Richmond, Virginia.
A Trip to Virginia
Visits to the county courthouse in Richmond were successful. We were able to confirm many things we believed about the family, but still missing: the German town of origin and proof of the third brother.
My last day in Virginia, I was feeling tired and discouraged. I decided to drive to the county seat to review documents there. While there, it occurred to me to check the local telephone directory, which I had already done in the other county, but with no results.
There was, in this directory, two listings with the surname I was researching. I first spoke with a woman at one of the residences, who told me she was divorced from the person I would likely want to talk with. She encouraged me to keep trying to reach him.
I called many times with no answer. Finally, I got a map and decided to drive to his home. He wasn’t there, but a neighbor told me he would come back later that day. By the time dusk arrived, I felt a little apprehensive. Calling on a stranger, all alone, didn’t seem wise. But too many things had brought me to this place, so, I gathered courage and knocked at the door.
I met a man who treated me hospitably and courteously. He invited me in and shared as much knowledge about the family as he could remember.
And then he stood, pointing to a wall decoration, “a family heirloom,” as he explained. There, upon his wall was an old certificate beautifully inscribed and colorfully engraved with flowers and birds . . . and the information I desperately needed.
The discovery of this crucial family document validated the family story of the lost third brother. From that information, and with the help of Mr. Hegyessy, our German researcher, that document has given us a beautiful genealogical record extending to the 12th generation, born in 1559. And beyond the vast amount of genealogical data uncovered in the process, we learned many other interesting things.
For instance, but for two exceptions, through 12 generations, my husband’s direct line ancestors had the same given name as my husband, John (or Johann), and we unknowingly carried on this tradition in the naming of our own son, John David, 10 years earlier.
We found the beautiful ancestral town of our forefathers, a rich 12-generation legacy, and all three brothers, because of what hung upon a Virginia wall.
A photo of a tile painted of the ancestral town of Carol’s family, Korb - Steinreinach, West Germany
When I started researching my family in the 1990s, there were many questions I wanted answers to, but the one most important to me: Where in Ireland did my family come from?
I did not know this question would take about 15 years to answer. The document that gave me the greatest sense of excitement when I discovered it was the index of a baptism for John Connell.
The index entry providing Terri with a major family history breakthrough
The index was on IrishGenealogy.ie. It did not offer a lot of information for me, and I was not 100 percent certain that the record was for my ancestor. It took me a few months to decide what to do with the information, because I knew I could not add it to my family tree without knowing for certain that it belonged to my family.
I decided that the best thing I could do was create a family tree with just the information from the index to see if it would help me find anything else. Once I entered the information, I clicked on the search button and the first thing that popped up was a Vermont death certificate for a John O’Connell. It was very probable that this could be my ancestor, but there was some conflict with the mother’s name being different than the one on the baptismal index.
I then reached out through a few message boards looking for someone to pull the obituary that went along with this death certificate. I was lucky enough to have a reply within days of the request. The obituary listed the parents of John, a stepsibling, and all of his children. The listing of children gave me what I needed, the connecting link that told me I had the correct death certificate and the correct baptismal index for my second great-grandfather John.
The baptismal register featuring John Connell
The reason the baptismal index – luckily, the full register is now available – gave me such excitement is because it gave me enough information to figure out my family came from Garravesoig, County Cork.
St. John’s Church in Dromagh, Cork, where John Connell was baptized
Preserve Family Memories by Sharing Genealogy Artifacts
Carol Rice and Terri O’Connell were fortunate to make major family history finds that allowed them to solve ancestry mysteries. Will your future generations have the genealogy clues they need to know ancestors? Help to make sure by sharing valuable family memories on FamilySearch’s Memories page!