One of my perennial brick walls has been the point of origin and/or means and method of immigration of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh (b. 1804 somewhere in Bohemia or Austria or Germany).
Yesterday I had a breakthrough using a technique called “FANs” or friends-associates-neighbors. The concept is to look to your ancestor’s associates as possible links to information about your ancestor. They like your ancestor created records – maybe records which reference your ancestor. And those records may get you over that infernal brick wall.
Let me tell you what happened.
The Brick Wall
Vincent Smarsh settled in Elizabethtown, Lancaster, Pennsylvania not long after he immigrated in 1853. Interestingly, I have the year of immigration because in the 1900 Census, he lists his son, Chris’s place of birth as “ocean,” 1853. Imagine that – having a child en route and on shipboard to America. But his place of origin has been very fuzzy at best. He has listed “Austria,” “Bohemia,” “Germany,” and even “Switzerland” on various documents. Given the fluid nature of the State boundaries in Europe at the time, it’s not terribly surprising.
And this is where my research has been stuck for at least 10 years.
Dateline c. 1850s, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Vincent, and his wife Maria, had several children while in Elizabethtown. And they duly had each one of them baptized at the Catholic Church. A year or so ago, I wrote to the church and asked for the baptismal records. While they couldn’t send copies, presumably because the records were too frail, the secretary was kind enough to transcribe them for me. Not only did this give me the baptismal (birth) dates of the children and the location – I now know the family stayed in Elizabethtown for almost a decade before moving West – I have the names of the godparents.
Which leads us to our FANs. The Smarshes, still pretty new to America, enlisted the help of Joseph Harchenrader, Anthony Harchenrader, and Joseph & Maria Strousse to be the godparents of their children. If you were new to America – or any community – who would you ask to be the godparents of your children? Maybe people who migrated with you? Maybe people from “the old country?”
If I can’t find the golden passenger record for Vincent Smarsh, maybe I can find one for one of the godparents, which may at least point me to the right country of origin.
I dug in and did the research on the Harchenraders and Strousses pulling census records, find-a-grave records, etc.. As it turns out both families are from “Bohemia.” Ah ha! Maybe that’s Vincent & Maria’s home country?
Then I stumbled on a naturalization record for Anthony Harchenrader on a family tree built in Ancestry. Anthony Harchenrader in this declaration of intent disavowed his allegiances to King Maximillion II of the KINGDOM OF BOHEMIA. Fabulous, we’re getting somewhere. Vincent’s presumed friend, Anthony, is from Bohemia. Unfortunately, the researcher didn’t list his source and it was a fuzzy copy. But, fortunately, at the top of the document it read “To the Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas…”
Lancaster County Court Offices
I wanted to write to the Court and ask for a better copy. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to do that or who exactly to write to, so I did a little fishing. I found the Lancaster County Court Website, which was awash with links to things 21st Century people need from a courthouse. And I just felt certain that a call to the office asking for a 150 year-old document would be met with, well, tried patience. So, I took a chance and used the search box on the site and searched “naturalization records.”
Unbelievably, the good people at the courthouse have indexed the old naturalization records and put that index in pdf form online. God Bless the courthouse staff. And all you have to do is pick out your ancestor from the list, write down the indexed page numbers and email the magic “archives@” email address. I say it again, is this a wonderful country or what?
So, I held my breath and started to scroll down the list looking for Anthony Harchenrader. Yes! He was there.
Okay, I thought this is too good to be true. I’ll look for Joseph Strausse. Bingo! He was there, too!
All right, I’ll cover my eyes and hold my breath and scroll around to see if Vincent Smarsh could possibly, possibly be there. A negative find wouldn’t surprise me as elusive as this rascal ancestor has been.
But, YES! He was there! His Declaration of Intent AND his Naturalization Files were just waiting for me.
I couldn’t type fast enough my email request to my new best friends at “firstname.lastname@example.org.” I ordered the papers for Anthony, Joseph, and Vincent, then sat back pleased as punch and braced for a several week wait as is not uncommon with government offices.
Then no more than 15 minutes later my phone went “ding.” Greg at the Archives had already found my papers, made copies and politely asked for my mailing address to mail the copies and inform me that it will be about $3.00 for copies and postage.
THREE BUCKS! ONLY THREE BUCKS!
(Don’t tell Greg, but I would have paid a lot more for that. LOL)
So there you have it. I don’t know the answer to my question, yet. Maybe Vincent isn’t from Bohemia as I suspect. In fact, in the index he is listed with “Austria” as his home of origin. So maybe my theory that he came from whence his associates came proves false, BUT, but the research into his associates pointed me to a document I would never have found otherwise.
I’ll keep you posted, and let you know what happens when the documents my friend, Greg from the Lancaster County Courthouse, arrives!