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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 11/18/1999


The Search for the Parents of Franciska Trautvetter Continues

For all the information obtained on Barbara Siefert Beiger Fennan Haase, precious little is known about her Germanic origins. Even less was known about her first husband, Peter Bieger who died in Illinois in 1855. Peter died too early for death records and even his year of birth was just an approximation.

However, the obituary of Barbara in the 10 April 1903 Warsaw [Illinois] Bulletin contained one clue. "The deceased was born in Darmstadt, Germany, May 11, 1826, and came to this country as a young girl, first locating in Cincinnati." Maybe the answer to my quest for Barbara and Peter was in Cincinnati.

An e-mail correspondent sent me a reference from the "Restored Hamilton County Marriage Records 1808-1849" indicating Peter Biger and Barbara Seifert were married 18 September 1849 in St. John's Unitarian Church. I quickly obtained the microfilm of these church records to verify the names and the date. Sure enough there it was. After nearly fifteen years of searching, my eyes were looking at their names in a marriage record! The records on microfilm are extremely difficult to read and are in German. I am slowly making my way through them in an attempt to locate further Biger or Seifert references.

The location of this marriage was crucial for another reason. All post-1850 records in Illinois gave Barbara's maiden name as Siphery. While I may wish to keep this spelling as an alternate one, it appears that Seifert and Siefert are the names I need to focus on while researching Barbara's family.

Time passed and life intervened and the search was put on hold. I began thinking and posted a query about this family to the Hamilton County, Ohio, genealogy mailing list. I was hoping to locate Seifert relatives. That was not to happen.

My Post:

    Subject: SEIFERT-BIEGER Hamilton County

    Message: I am looking for information on Barbara SEIFERT and Peter BIEGER who married in 1849 in Cincinnati. I believe Barbara had family who remained in the Hamilton County, OH area, but am not certain of Peter's family. This couple were both German natives.

I received one response. It was not even from a relative. Instead, the very helpful individual gave me the marriage date and place (which should have been mentioned in my query) and indicated that Peter Bigger appeared in the Hamilton County Citizenship Record Abstracts as: Peter Bigger aged 21, origin Wurttemberg[sic], departed Harve, landed in New York City 4 July 1847, declaration dated 19 March 1850. The age is as of the date of arrival, making Peter born circa 1826.

While I'm ecstatic about this information, I need to verify it with original records if possible. Verification is always necessary in and of itself. However, the reward can be two-fold: making certain that the information obtained is correct, and making certain there is not more information in the original record.

A search for Peter Biger in the online census index at Ancestry.com located a likely match, a Peter Bigger on page 101 in Cincinnati's second ward. This search was conducted by searching for Peter Biger in Hamilton County, Ohio, in 1850 with the soundex option turned on to locate the most likely alternate spellings of the surname.

Another research goal is to obtain the complete census entry for this Peter. If this Peter Bigger is 70 years of age and born in Kentucky, he's not likely my man. Only by getting the actual census entry will I be better equipped to determine if the individual in the 1850 Ohio Census is a likely fit. If he's not, then I should expand my search to adjacent areas and other alternate surname spellings in the census index. If this fails, a manual search of the records may be warranted.

Just as important as locating new information is, it is imperative to correlate the recently obtained information with what was already known about this family. Little was known about Peter and his family pre-1850. Before the Ohio information was located, Peter's first "proof of existence" was a 4 October 1850 mortgage for property in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois. The 1855 Illinois State Census indicates he is between 20 and 30 years of age. This is consistent with the age listed in the Hamilton County Citizenship Record Abstract, which would make Peter circa 29 in 1855. Of course, one instance of consistency does not constitute proof. Ages from records, especially census records, can easily be off.

It is known that Peter and Barbara's oldest child was Franciska, born in January of 1851 in Hancock County, Illinois. This would typically indicate the couple most likely married in 1850 or 1849.

It should be noted while dates fit together, more work still needs to be done. The current abbreviated chronology for Peter Bieger is:

    July 1847 lands in New York
    September 1849 marries Barbara Seifert in Cincinnati
    March 1850 files a declaration of intention in Cincinnati
    Oct 1850 mortgages property in Illinois
    Jan 1851 daughter Franciska born in Illinois
    Nov 1855 dies in Hancock County, Illinois

Unfortunately, Peter was barely in the United States for eight years before he died. While he did leave records behind, the records created for him in Illinois were not forthcoming with a place of origin other than Germany. Had Peter died a normal death (avid readers will remember he accidentally shot himself), there would have been little chance of a record listing his place origin. There are no extant church records applicable in this case and Illinois death records do not start at the county level until typically 1877. The account of his 1855 death lists him as a "German" and is only in the paper due to the accidental nature of his demise.

What about the Seiferts?

Again more work needs to be done. While one hates to put too much credence in an obituary, research on the Seifert family at this point should focus on Cincinnati, not Darmstadt, Germany. There are three main reasons for this:

1) It is not uncommon for individuals to be from a small village outlying a larger city and to list the larger city as their birthplace. People may know where Darmstadt is, but they likely will be unfamiliar with all the outlying villages. Darmstadt may not be Barbara's actual place of birth.

2) Darmstadt is a big place. There will be multiple churches to search; Darmstadt is not a one church town. While I have Barbara's name and a date of birth, the date could easily be off. Knowing more about Barbara would facilitate the search in Germany and reduce the chance I look in the wrong place.

3) I really do not know much about Barbara's Germanic origins and sources in the United States (especially those in the Ohio area). In this case, research overseas before I have exhausted more American sources is premature.

Learning more about Barbara's life in the United States will facilitate researching her Germanic origins, and minimize the chance that I go barking up the wrong tree, wasting time and money. Barbara's obituary indicates she came to "this country as a young girl." Unless I get information to the contrary, I'll research under the assumption that her parents immigrated with her, although it is possible she came by with other relatives (or by herself). The only surname on Barbara's family I have to work with is Seifert. I should look for Seifert families in the 1850 Ohio Census and in the Cincinnati city directories for the same time period. I should also look across the state border in Covington, Kentucky, as well, just in case.

The Hamilton County, Ohio GenWeb page was particularly helpful in researching this family. It was there I learned that the St. John's Unitarian records were available on microfilm. There was also a great deal of other information on the Web site as well. The history of the Germanic churches in Cincinnati was particularly interesting. Always make it a point to reference the county GenWeb pages for those areas where your ancestors lived.

I've posted a query on FamilyHistory.com's Seifert site, hoping to locate other interested researchers. (read the post). I should also read and post to boards with similar spellings of the surname.

Thanks to the editor for her article on effective queries. Now I've got even more leads to follow up. Hopefully they don't interfere with deadlines.

Good luck!

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing.


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