It's like that ~ more often than not. And it's a good thing, too.
Genealogy and family history research is constantly changing, and some would say at neck-breaking speed. Funny that. Researching history, the past, something not changing is changing. Hey, I don't make the rules. I just play by them. [Sorta.]
One thing is for sure, though, you have to be ready.
So what does this have to do with a family story, particularly one of mine? Everything. [Of course, why else would I mention it?]
My big Paw Paw's [my dad's dad's] family story is relatively new to me. My family really knew nothing about where he came from, and who is family was. Nothing. Zilch. [A common theme in my family.] In fact, this was the first thing that I decided to tackle when I started researching my family's history. Despite keeping secrets that he probably thought he took to the grave, I eventually found that he, indeed, came from somewhere. I chronciled this first research effort of mine in a 6-part series starting here.
To summarize it though, he was born on Galveston Island, Texas in 1893 to John and Emma (Schleicher) Marschall. His mother, Emma, is a ghost for me [Well, at least her name isn't Mary, right? However, "Emma" is a pretty popular female German given name. *rolling eyes heavenward*]. She's actually a separate secret family story, and when I finally discover it, I'll let you know. John and his family is who I've done the most work on and have been successful with. In my search, I discovered his U.S. Passport application on Ancestry.com. He applied and was approved for his passport in Mar 1910. This was a phenomenal find because it pulled together several clues that had helped to point me in the right direction as to the origins of John Marschall.
I cannot tell you how excited I was with this find at the time. I mean, have you seen these applications? Questions on there include birth date, birth place, ship's name, and on and on. The genealogical information available on these documents is incredible. However, I had one eensy, bitsy problem with his application. Remember back in the day of typewriters, when you'd replace a dried-out ribbon with a fresh one and you'd discover that "quality control" had a long way to go? Specifically, the new ribbon would be "over-inked," leaving black splotches of ink across your document with only a hint of the letters legible. Yeah, well apparently this particular phenomenon had been occurring for a while because this is what happened with this application. Not totally unreadable if you're already familiar with the information, but the information that you're not familiar with? You know, the information you've been looking for and praying for? Not so much. A perfect example of "almost, but not quite," which happens to be a common theme for me in genealogy, and I'm sure with others as well. [And if not, just lie to me to make me feel better. ;) ]
There were two particular answers on this application that I could not, for the life of me, figure out, but, oh, how desperately I wanted to. I cannot tell you how many times and how many ways I've looked at the print out of this application trying to figure out the name of the ship he sailed on and the name of the town or village in Prussia that he was born in. I've contorted my body in numerous ways in order to figure out what these letters were and what they spelled. With magnifying glass in hand in the car line to pick up my kids from school, I have studied this copy of the document ~ from the front, from the back, up against the light coming through my sun roof, etc. All to no avail.
Because it was reported in the 1880 census in Galveston Co., Texas that John was born in Posen and in subsequent census it was reported he was born in Prussia, Poland, and Germany, I had come to the conclusion that he was probably born in the region or province of Posen and not the city of Posen which is located in the Posen Province. [Confusing, I know.] And this passport application had listed a village that started with the letters "Go-" and ended with the sound "wice". Also on his Declaration of Intent to become an American citizen that was filled out upon his arrival to Galveston, the village name was listed as "Gersenwace," which I had looked up and was unable to find any town or village with this spelling, or near it, either online or in the European atlas that I have. [Sigh.]
Additionally, in that same car line and in my office I've spent untold amounts of time sitting with my eyes closed sounding out this village's name. Trying to come up with alternate spellings to hopefully find this village, if it even still existed. In order to do anymore research further back, I had to identify this village and the county [a.k.a. kreis] in order to find the parish of the church that he may have attended where his vital information as well as his parents' names might be recorded.
So, I let it go after a while. Not permanently, just until the time was right. I figured the genea-gods would let me know when the time was right. I'm sure they had a good laugh the day I stood on my head looking at the copy of the application. I'm know they were entertained by me "sounding out the name" over and over and over again to myself.
Just when I was knee-deep into some other genealogy conundrum, the genea-gods struck me senseless with some "genea-gold." My daughter is in 7th grade, and here in Texas all 7th graders study Texas History for a full school year. She is in a "Pre-Advanced Placement" class, which, from what I can tell, means she has bunches of small projects and large projects all year long. [Good thing we like school projects.] Anywho, her latest one is genealogy-related. [Could we get any luckier?] Specifically, she has to pick a family line that came to Texas and complete genealogy-related reports, such as a pedigree chart, family group sheet, etc.; an interview with a family member; and a presentation. The presentation can include photos and artifacts, and can be presented in a traditional manner, as a PowerPoint presentation, or as a movie.
My daughter chose John Marschall to do her project on because he came through Galveston, he and his family survived the Storm of 1900, we [the kids and I] have discovered where they lived and where they're buried on Galveston Island, and we have a copy of the manuscript listing the family having survived the storm. Additionally, my grandfather [John's son] Joseph, was in World War I, and we have one of his medals and we have tons of photos of him. And knowing that I have the software to make a DVD movie presentation, she chose that option.
Needless to say, I now really wanted to find that village. I thought it'd be cool to try to find photos of it or near there to start the family history movie with. So last week, I Twittered what I knew to see if any one had any ideas. And Regina [ @Kinfolknews ] suggested a link [Thank You! Thank You!] that had some other links, and I ended up on a website called Kartenmeister that is a database of Gazetteer information of provinces in East Prussia including Posen and it allowed wild card searching. BONUS! And I found a village with two different spellings: German- "Gorschewice" & Polish- "Gorszewice" with the Polish spelling looking like it matches the spelling on the passport application. It listed the Lutheran and Catholic parishes so I now can order film from the Family History Library. So, why wasn't I able to find it before on atlases? Because it's a wee village that in 1905 had a population of 150. On Google Maps, you have to zoom-in a whole lot before it comes up. It's still there today and is the center of archeological research in the area. It's also 3.8km from Kazmierz. I've not been able to find any photos of it, but I did find some photos of Kazmierz, some of which are looking over into the countryside. If he was Catholic there like he was here in Texas, then he would've attended Catholic mass in Kazmierz. [Pictured below is Gorszewice on a Google map. You can use the the Zoom-out button to get a better idea where it's located in Poland.]
View Overview of Poland in a larger map
And the ship's name? I'm still working on that. Of course, passenger lists are not available for the years 1872-1895 for the Port of Galveston, and his arrival was in 1878. I've taken lists of ships' names for that time period, and tried to match them up with the ink blob ~a.k.a. the recorded ship's name~ on the passport application, but with no success. My next avenue for researching the ship's name is in the passenger lists in the German newspapers that were printed in the German communities here in Texas at the time the ships arrived in Galveston. I also have to keep in mind he may have been on a ship whose first stop wasn't Galveston, but another American port.
You know, it's not like I didn't look for a website and/or database at the time that could help me with this. I just never found this one, if it even existed when I was looking for it. I also was more concerned at the time with finding more information on him and his family here in Texas than I was with "going back to Prussia." Not to mention, learning more on how to research German/Polish records. Certainly it's been on my "to-do" list. I guess I just wasn't ready.
Sometimes genealogy is like making soup. You add all the ingredients into a pot, bring it to a boil, then put it on one of the back burners, and let it simmer.
Till the genea-gods think you're ready.
It's like that ~ more often than not.
And it's a good thing too. To be ready, that is.