Gustave’s Prussian War Commendations

A few months back, when searching through my old family photos, I came across four fragile documents with Gustave’s name on them.

They were all in German and appeared to be from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71. Unfortunately, google translate didn’t help much. After having them scanned at a high resolution, I sent them off to an old college friend who was born and raised in Germany and here’s what I found.

The first and second, although somewhat illegible due to the handwriting, look like a testament to his service in the field and a certificate of commendation from the major of regional command.

The third states:

“After his royal highness, the great herzog [that’s the next royalty level below a king, like a senior duke] has rested, in order to execute the orders of 1st of April 1871 which call for the issuance of an award for military services with weapons on the field, it is hereby issued to 

Oberst (equal to colonel) Gustav Seidenspinner of Sonndorf
which gives him the right to permenently remember his work and view it as an honorable sign for his services provided in the field under the circumstances, carried and displayed in accordance to the rules described for field service medals/awards. So, to confirm the issuance of said award, this document is issued.
Karlsruhe, 1st of April 1871
Great Dukely Badische War Ministry”


The fourth certificate states:
“On orders of his Majesty, the Kaiser and king, this highly valued war commemorative medal, cast from the bronze of captured cannons, is issued to 
Oberst Gustav Seidenspinner of Sonndorf
In recognition of his dutiful participation in the successful battle of 1870 – 1871,  awarded by the undersigned.
Aschaffenburg, 31st of December 1971″


Pretty neat. Apparently the coin mentioned above was issued to several troops who saw combat and looked something like this:


1871 Medal


Unfortunately, by this point, Gustave’s coin has either been lost, or is with another member of the family, who may not even know where it came from. The certificates do help explain why the names of Gustave and his brother Karl appear on this monument in Wolfach though.


This was one of those random things that makes genealogy fun. It seems like everyone has some kind of interesting story behind them.


Sarah Campbell

I was recently contacted via Ancestry regarding Sarah Campbell’s (my 3rd GGM) gravestone. Someone was asking why James Harbridge was buried with her. To be honest, I’d never even noticed that there was second name on her headstone.


James Dunn was her husband, and Sarah, George and Rubina were the only children I knew of. Who was James Harbridge? As it turns out, it looks like Sarah may have been married previously, prior to marrying James Dunn. According to an 1893 article forwarded to me from the DePeres journal, Sarah Tibbitts (Sarah Campbell’s daughter) is mentioned as being the aunt of a James Harbridge (III). James Harbridge (III) is the son of the James Harbridge who appears to be buried with Sarah Campbell. I did some searching, and was unable to track down a marriage certificate, but it seems likely Sarah Campbell had a previous marriage. Sarah didn’t wed James Dunn until the age of 32, relatively late in life for the 1830’s. It’s entirely likely she had a previous husband who passed on and remarried my 3rd GGF James Dunn. Hopefully this additional information will eventually lead me to her parents. I’ve currently identified 56 of my 64 – 4th great-grandparents, and this would put me close to completing that section of my tree.

Samuel Kirk

Samuel Kirk - Back Was of Scotch ParentageSamuel Kirk (1813 – 1876) – 3rd Great Grandfather

It’s been a long time since I added any updates. Life happens. Fortunately, I’ve still been making progress on my family tree. Most recently I uncovered a letter written by Samuel Kirk to his parents back in England after he arrived in America. It was dated 1844 and copied by his granddaughter Elsie Schultz, likely around the early 1900’s. Using this letter, it looks like I finally uncovered the names of his parents.

pdf. of Samuel’s letter: Samuel Kirk – Death

In this letter, Samuel Kirk mentions leaving Fairfield via a train to Manchester. Then taking another train from Manchester to Liverpool and traveling on a ship called the Tallahassee to New York. Doing some on-line searching, I was able to track down a small community called Fairfield located in Bury, just north of Manchester. According to church records, a Samuel Kirk was christened in the Lancashire cathedral, nearby, on Jan. 22, 1813. His parents were Benjamin Kirk and Margaret Read. According to the 1870 Wisconsin census, Samuel Kirk was born in 1813. Putting these facts together, it’s likely that these Samuel Kirk’s are the same person.

Although alternate census  data gives a later birth date of 1830, the earlier date of 1813 is much more logical. If he were born in 1830, he would have been 14 at the time he left home, which seems much too young. He would also have been approximately 20 years old and three years younger than his wife, Mary Pennington, when they wed. Coincidentally, Mary’s dates of birth on the census forms were incorrect also. In either case, if he were born in 1813, he would have left home at 31 and married at 37, to a woman 14 years his junior, which seems much more logical. A birth date of 1813 would also put his age at 63 when he passed, not 46.

One thing I’m still unsure of is the date on the letter. Elsie had it copied as June 3rd, 1844. In the letter, Samuel is writing to living parents, as if he’d just left recently. However, Benjamin Kirk passed in 1840. I’ve checked the Tallahassee ship log from June of 1844 and there’s no Samuel Kirk listed. It’s likely that he left several years early and the date on the letter was a guess or an error. Once I track down the log with Samuel and his traveling companion Edward Carlisle, I’ll know for sure. It’s taken several years, but it’s nice to finally be so close to an answer.

Ida Oswald (Seidenspinner)

One of the things I personally find interesting is looking at photos of my ancestors as they have aged. The best series of these I have is from my 2nd great-grandmother Ida Oswald. The below sequence shows her aging from a small child, to a young lady, then a mother and ultimately an older woman. You can see the same features and expressions throughout her life. It’s also a kind of solemn reminder that time catches up with all of us eventually:

Beyond the aging illustrated in this series, there are a few other things I find personally amusing. The center top picture of she and Gustave is actually their wedding photo. She looks absolutely thrilled. This lack of enthusiasm is matched only by her expression in the photo directly underneath where she has three children (my great grandfather Alfred is on the left). Candid photos had an entirely different meaning back then…

George Friedrich Steinhaus

He’s my second great grandfather and probably had one of the hardest lives out of my most recent ancestors. He was born on May 5th in Strosswitz, Germany and it didn’t take too long for things to start going wrong for him. His mother, Johanna, died when he was only 19 months old, which in and of itself is terrible enough. In May of 1852, at the age of 10, he left the port city of Hamburg, Germany on his way to America. He spent three months in the ship’s steerage, and arrived in New York in July of that year, ultimately settling on a farm in Mosel, Wisconsin. At the age of 21, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and saw some of the bloodiest combat in the civil war. He was ultimately shot in the foot on July 1st, 1863 in the battle of Gettysburg and, after suffering an infection, lost the lower third of his right leg. Medical practices being what they were at the time, I’m sure this was a fairly horrific procedure.

He was discharged from the army in May of the following year. Three years after returning home to Wisconsin, at the age of 26, he married a German immigrant, 7 years his junior, named Marie Antoinette Wagner. They ultimately had 6 children. He worked for a while as a cigar maker before becoming a saloon keeper in Mosel, WI. He and Antonette eventually purchased 40 acres of land in the southeast corner of the township and operated a roadside hostelry and tavern on the main road between Sheboygan and Manitowoc. He died just 5 months after the birth of their last child, Walter, at the relatively young age of only 43. His death certificate lists the cause of death as a skin disease, erysipelas, also known as St. Anthony’s fire. Although easily treatable with today’s antibiotics, left unchecked this disease can lead to sepsis, which is probably what occurred with George.

76da63af-8718-4120-91c3-ba33e8ea2645   George and Marie Steinhaus3

All in all, he lived an extremely hard life. He suffered through losing his mother before he was even 2 years old, immigrating to a foreign land as a young child, losing a leg in the Civil War and ultimately dying at age 43. Thinking about the sacrifices people like him had to make often makes me much more appreciative of the life I live today.

Sophia Melahn

She’s the shortest branch on my mother’s side of the family tree. Most parts of her side of the tree extend back well over 250 years. Sophia, however, is the only person on the Faxon side for whom I’ve been unable to track down 4th great-grandparents. Part of this stems from the fact that she was a first generation immigrant, and this is where I most frequently run into a dead end. She was born on April 1st, 1830 in Germany. According to census records, she arrived in America 1854 and later married Henry (Heinrich) Suhr. They ultimately had 6 children. I’ve been able to track down pictures for most of them, including my 2nd great grandmother, Louisa Suhr (McFall), shown below.

Louis Suhr and Levi McFall

I’ve been checking every now and then for German birth records or passenger lists that may be hers, but so far nothing has come up that looks like a good match. The marriage date given by several people on is November 12th, 1855, in Milwaukee. If I were able to track down their marriage certificate, it would more than likely contain her parents names. However, the 1855 marriage date and location is suspect for a variety of reasons.

  1. Milwaukee started recording marriages in 1852, and theirs does not show up in the Milwaukee database.
  2. If she were married in 1855, that would mean she immigrated, met Henry, settled in Milwaukee and married him all in one year. Possible, but not likely.
  3. Their first child was born in 1861, so if the 1855 date is true it would also mean that after the above sequence of events, they then decided to wait 6 years to start having children.

There could be likely explanations for any one of those things, but taken together, it seems more likely that they married somewhere closer to 1859-1860 in a state that was not keeping very good marriage records. Will just have to keep looking, something will turn up eventually…

Foster Family Photos

I did a little searching on ancestry on the Foster side of the family tree and came across these two:

The fellow on the left is my third great grandfather, Thomas Foster (1822-1882) and the man on the right is his father, Joshua Clay Foster (1794-1883). Both of them were farmers in the small town of Maquon, Illinois, just west of Peoria. It’s always a nice surprise to randomly find pictures of your ancestors on-line. I wasn’t able to find pictures for Thomas’s daughter, Olive, my 2nd great grandmother. Likely because she died at a relatively young age of 44. I did however find her marriage record from 1891 in the Maquon Methodist Church records, which I still thought was kind of neat:

Olive and Eddie Marriage Record

Maybe at some point something more will turn up, but that’s all that was available for right now.

The Penningtons

Do you know who these two are:

Chances are, probably not. To me, they’re two of the most frustrating people in my family tree, my fourth great-grandparents, Pennington. Based on what’s written on the back of their pictures they’re her parents:


She’s Mary Pennington (Kirk), my third great grandmother, born around 1830 and died around 1868. Somebody decided to just write, “Grandma and Grandpa Pennington” on their pictures and leave it at that. Real helpful. This is her with my 2nd great grandmother Mary Kirk, furthest on right:


Try as I may, I’ve been completely unable to track down her parents names. Usually it’s the other way around, I have names and dates but no pictures. That’s what makes her parents so irritating.

Usually a simple marriage certificate will solve something like this. She was married around 1850 in Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin to Samuel Kirk. Unfortunately, Wisconsin law didn’t require marriage events be recorded with state officials until 1852, two years later. Fon Du Lac county did start recording them in 1844, but it was spotty and after checking with the state, her marriage was not one of the ones that was recorded. Additionally, I have not been able to track down any death certificate for her. If anyone comes across this and can provide me with any additional information, it would be much appreciated. Until then, I’ll keep searching…

Frederick Royse

Every now and then I come across older ancestors and am surprised by the amount of research that has been done on them. Frederick Royse is definitely one of those people. He was born around 1750, most likely close to Bardstown, Kentucky and fought with the Frontier Rangers from 1778-1783 in the Revolutionary War. Shortly before enlisting, he married Sarah Dewitt of Hampshire, Virginia. They ultimately had 10 children and in 1815, at the age of 65, founded what is now the small town of Fredericksburg, Indiana.


In 1971, Chelsea Dinn published an entire book about his life story, “Frederick Royse, 1750-1825: Revolutionary War Militiaman“. The amount of time and energy spent researching this one person is really amazing. His relation to me is as follows:

Frederick Royse (1750 – 1825)
5th great-grandfather
Rebeckah Royse (1796 – 1831)
daughter of Frederick Royse
Harvey McFall (1815 – 1875)
son of Rebeckah Royse
Levi Augustus McFall (1863 – 1930)
son of Harvey McFall
Edna Dell Mcfall (1898 – 1989)
daughter of Levi Augustus McFall
Richard Faxon (1920 – 1999)
son of Edna Dell Mcfall
Patricia Faxon (1949 – )
daughter of Richard Louis Faxon
Benjamin Steinhaus

Wolfach, Germany

My second great grandfather, Gustave Seidenspinner, left Wolfach, Germany in 1881 to immigrate to America. Before leaving he captured an image of the family home from a nearby hillside. Several months back, I began to search the internet for images of Wolfach today and was surprised by what I found…

Seidenspinner Family Home

The Seidenspinner Family Home in Wolfbach, Germany circa 1881.


The Seidenspinner Family Home in Wolfach, Germany today.

Not only had someone captured an image from almost the exact same vantage point, but the building where Gustave had lived still appears to be completely intact. Visiting this town is one of those things that got added onto my bucket list.