More than a year ago, I visited my great-great-grandparents’ family cemetery plot in Cincinnati. I knew who would be buried there: besides my great-grandparents H. A. and Frances Seeger and six of their children, there were Frances’ parents, Joseph and A. Marie Ladenkotter.
But when I got there, I also found these two guys:
Who were Joseph and John Dierkes?
My search for their identities involved using online and offline clues, as Lisa Alzo suggests in our Turn Online Clues Into Ancestor Answers webinar.
Clue No. 1
I noted that a Joseph and a John Dierkes lived in the Ladenkotter household in the 1850 and 1860 census. Besides my great-great-grandmother Frances Ladenkotter (really Francisca), born in 1852, there was an Elizabeth Ladenkotter, born in 1846.
Lisa advises formulating a theory to explain a genealogical problem. After comparing the Dierkes boys’ birth years to those of the Ladenkotter girls, I theorized that the boys were A. Marie’s sons from a previous marriage. But they also could’ve been her much younger brothers, or nephews to her or Joseph Ladenkotter, or even nonrelatives.
My census searches for other Dierkes in Cincinnati turned up lots of results. I gave up looking at them; there was no way to tell if any of them were related to John and Joseph.
Clue No. 2
I put on my big-girl genealogist pants and searched the 1840 census. That census is scary because it names only heads of household. Everyone else was counted within age ranges, so it’s hard to tell if you’ve found the right family. (We have a video class about how to research in the 1840 and earlier censuses.)
I found a household for a Joseph Dierkes, containing a male aged 30-39 (that’s Joseph) and a female age 30-39. A. Marie was born in May 1812, according to her gravestone, so she would be 28 when the 1840 census was taken June 1. That and the faded census return made this not a slam dunk.
Clue No. 3
Haphazard web searches led me to the Hamilton County Genealogical Society‘s (HCGS) online marriage index, with information found in newspaper notices, church records, probate court records and reconstructed court records (there was an 1884 riot at the courthouse). An Anna Maria Dirkers and a Joseph Ladenkotter married between 1840 and 1849, according to church records.
The printed book from which the online index came gave the exact marriage date, May 4, 1845. If the Dierkes boys were A. Marie’s sons from a previous marriage, this marriage date would fall nicely into a gap between the children’s birth years.
Clue No. 4
If Dierkes (or Dirkers) was Anna Maria’s maiden name, the boys were probably her relatives, not sons. I requested the marriage record from the church.
A volunteer sent me the information from the record (the books are too old and fragile to copy)—the marriage place and date, the priest’s name, and the names of two witnesses, Herman Henrik Meyer and Maria Hinken. No name other than Dirkers for the bride, although those witnesses could be related.
Clue No. 5
I felt stuck. There was more haphazard searching. Then I found an entry for Anna Maria Ladenkötter in HCGS online death indexes from newspapers. I noticed a name several blank columns away: Weyer. I held my breath and scrolled all the way up the page. Yes, this was a maiden name column. I hadn’t thought about a death notice giving a maiden name.
The notice was from microfilmed German-language newspapers. Through the HCGS website, I found a researcher familiar with German and hired him to get a copy. Eight death notices (I got other relatives’ notices while I was at it) ended up costing about $50, worth it for something that would’ve taken me all day and maybe then some. He could have translated them, too, but I wanted to try it.
I’m still working on that, but it’s easy to tell the notice gives the name as “Anna Maria Ladenkötter geb. Weyer.” Geb. is an abbreviation of the German word for “born.”
I’m betting that male witness to her 1845 marriage is really Herman Henrik Weyer.
John and Joseph Dierkes are very likely Anna Maria Weyer’s sons from her first marriage. What would really clinch this—here’s where my strategy for turning these online clues into ancestor answers comes in—is to find her marriage record to Joseph Dierkes, death notices for Joseph Dierkes (naming his survivors) or the boys (I have scoured the HCGS index for these, to no avail), and/or baptismal records for the Dierkes boys.
… And More Questions
I also want to learn why the boys died (just a few years before Cincinnati birth and death registers began). Civil War, I thought, but I can’t find them in the Soldiers and Sailors Database or other Civil War records. That’s another genealogical problem to tackle.
The recording of our Turning Online Clues into Ancestor Answers webinar will be available soon in Family Tree Shop.
You’ll also find online genealogy research strategies in the book Discover Your Family History Online by Nancy Hendrickson.