If you like genealogy success stories, READ ON! I lived on this weekend!
A couple of weeks ago, not long after first starting this blog, I found a website that transcribed newspaper stories from the “County News” column in the Belleville, Illinois, Weekly Advocate from 1880-1894. My great-great-great grandparents lived in Millstadt, St. Clair County, Illinois, from 1850 to at least 1880. Their names were Christian Stern and Anna Maria Jan.
When I found this website, I did a search for the word “Stern”. I didn’t find any mention of my GGG Grandfather, but I did find several references to a flour mill in town called Becker & Stern, or Backer & Stern. After running across the mill several times, it suddenly struck me that the 1880 census lists my ancestor’s occupation as “miller”. When I double-checked the census, I noticed that the Stern family lived next door to the Becker family. That was pretty good evidence for me to say that my GGG Grandfather owned the Becker & Stern mill with Mr. Becker, his neighbor. I love little bits of history like that! It makes the names and numbers on census records real people with real lives.
This past weekend, I was trolling some genealogy blogs that I look at, and found a story on DearMYRTLE about a relatively new genealogy database called GenealogyBank . GenealogyBank is a searchable database of historical newspaper articles, obituaries and other documents. It is a subscription site (about $20/month, or $80 for an annual subscription), but you can still do free searches with a teaser bit of the scanned newspaper article–you just can’t see the full article without a subscription. I did a quick search for some of my family names, and one of the names I searched for was “Christian Stern”. Wouldn’t you know it, but I get a hit from the Belleville News Democrat dated 9 January 1901. Fortunately for me, the teaser bit just happened to have all the information I needed–“Christian Stern, formerly of the firm of Becker & Stern, died in St. Louis last Monday.”
I couldn’t believe my luck!! Not only had I only recently heard of the Becker & Stern mill, now I had a definite connection with the mill and a Christian Stern. While I was pretty sure that this was my GGG Grandfather, I wasn’t positive. He had a son named Christian as well, and the paper could be talking about him. It could also be a completely different person altogether. (I like to be absolutely positive about things before making the leap–I’ve been wrong before. In fact, I assumed that this had to be his son’s death because I had found bits of circumstantial evidence that said that my GGG Grandfather died before 1889.)
I didn’t take too long to satisfy myself. A little more searching on Ancestry.com found the actual death notice–7 Jan 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri. It even gave the address–1705 Russell Ave (which Google Earth shows was at the current interchange of I-44 and I-55). Then I happened to notice that there was a second death at the same address–Magdalena Stern. Christian’s sister, Magdalena, lived with him and his family her whole life, so this was a very good sign. Still, it could have been his son.
By now, I was charged with energy and determined to find anything I could. I ended up, somehow, on the website for the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis where I did a burial search for “Christian Stern” and found him buried in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery on 7 Jan 1901. The search result has a feature that lets you see who else is buried around that person, and I ended up finding his wife, Mary Ann Stern, his son, Jacob, his sister, Magdalena, his daughter, Magdalena Miller, and two of her children.
From there it just snowballed. I found my GGG Grandparents living in St. Louis in the 1900 census (thanks to the address in the death record), living with their daughter, Magdalena Miller, and two of her children. She was a widow, but with that information, I was able to backtrack and find her in the 1880 census with her husband and more children.
It just kept going from there, and it’s far from complete. The doors/floodgates/whatever-cliche-you-care have opened wide and the information is flowing at me almost faster than I can keep up. So far, the only clue to extending the line further back is from the 1900 census–my GGG Grandparents immigrated from Germany in 1835 (although they weren’t married until 1847 in Belleville, Illinois). But that’s more information than I had last week!