When researching, have you ever found someone in your family tree whose information seems a bit off? Something doesn’t quite fit? A thin thread of nothing, which must be explored?
Happens all the time to me.
George Studier, son of Wilhelm and Dorothea (née Bohnsack) Studier, has been a source of interest for me for awhile. Dorothea is the twin sister of my gg-grandfather, Carl Bohnsack (or specifically, my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather).
When I started writing my family history book (waaaaaaaaaay back in the early 2000s), it became clear (at least to me) that George’s background was not quite what it seemed after reading my grandmother’s family worksheet listing Wilhelm and Dorothea’s children.
While reviewing it, one of the items which caught my eye was George’s age. Born in 1879, he was seven years older than his next sibling. Why was this curious? Well, from 1886-1905, Dorothea was constantly pregnant. She had babies in each of the following years: 1886, 1887, 1889, 1890, 1892, 1893, 1895, 1897, 1899, 1901, and 1905.
Since fertility was not an issue, I found it strange that no babies were born between 1880 and 1885. A long non-baby stretch followed by 20 years of constant pregnancy? Not impossible, but highly unlikely.
At that time, I didn’t know Wilhelm and Dorothea’s wedding date. Only the thought of what a highly unusual situation. To me, George’s birth date only made sense if Wilhelm was not his biological father. Otherwise, there should be more kids!
So I talked to my grandmother, which was an exercise in futility. For me, this exploration was similar to an academic exercise, researching and talking about people I didn’t know. And who are dead. For my grandmother, I was asking questions about my grandmother’s family and people she knew. No matter that they’d been dead for years.
While I may not have thought it was a big deal if George was born out of wedlock, my grandmother’s attitude was not as progressive. I didn’t really recognize at the time my grandmother didn’t want to talk to me about my hypothesis. Chalk it up to sometimes academic smarts and common sense being mutually exclusive.
The following is an abbreviated example of the conversation I had with my grandmother. It went something like this:
Me, sitting in a barstool at the kitchen counter: “Grandma, are you sure all the children are listed? If they are, I don’t think George is Wilhelm’s biological child. ”
Grandma, cooking in the kitchen: “Those are the dates.”
Me: “Was Dorothea married before?”
Grandma, still cooking: “I’m sure I don’t know…. That was the Studier family.”
Me: “Ummmm…. I know they are Studiers.”
Grandma, busy at the kitchen sink: “I have to get dinner ready. Don’t you have the worksheet?”
Me: “But Grandma, it doesn’t make sense… Seven years?…”
Grandma, cooking: “All the questions.”
Me: “Don’t you think it’s odd?”
Grandma: “Set the table.”
Never before was my grandmother incapable of having a conversation and preparing dinner at the same time.
At the time I was frustrated by my grandmother’s lack of conversational engagement. Of course, I felt there’s more to the story and I had to explore it. So, intrigued, I continued my research. However, I didn’t bring the subject up again with my grandmother. Instead I went to my mother, who would at least listen to my hypothesis.
Well, this thinnest of threads eventually lead to confirmation of my supposition many, many years later.
What I learned in summary:
- Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Bohnsack (later known as George Studier) was born in Germany in 1879.
- George’s German birth record lists his father as unknown.
- George immigrated to the U.S. in 1884 with his mother, uncle, aunts, and grandfather.
- On the immigration manifesto, his name is listed as George Bohnsack not George Studier.
- George’s uncle, Carl Bohnsack, is listed as his father —clearly a mistake, but by accident or a deliberate choice?
- Dorothea and Wilhelm married in the United States in 1885.
I’ll share more information on George, so stay tuned!
3 Comments Add yours
When I read the opening line of your post, “When researching, have you ever found someone in your family tree whose information seems a bit off?”, I thought: “Oh yeah… All the time!” I am amazed at how many people have tried to reinvent themselves or how many purposely disappeared from history.
And the evasive conversation you had with your grandmother… that has happened in my family too with a couple of family members who would prefer that the past stay in the past. Discussing genealogy with them is always a bit like corralling cats.
Best wishes as you try to learn more about your “mysterious” ancestors!
One of my aunts told me she thinks genealogy is a waste of time, but there were worst things I could do with my spare time. Was I supposed to say… thanks?….
Another was irritated that I dig up things that are better left buried. I’m like, have you heard of social media? Nothing is private today.
Sounds familiar… Isn’t family great? Although, the supportive ones and the ones who provide insights are true treasures. Thank the heavens for them!