About two years ago I asked my mother about my great-grandfather, Herman Haass. He had an interesting family legend. According to the legend, he embezzled money from the Chicago bank that employed him. The story gets more interesting: He did it for his mistress, a burlesque dancer. When he refused to continue with the embezzling, she became enraged and publicly whipped him from her horse carriage. My great-great grandfather, Herman’s father-in-law, was on the board of directors of that same bank. Herman was eventually sentenced to prison and spent several years there. Because of the shame he cast upon his family, he was written out of the family history. My grandmother didn’t even know where her own father was buried.
In trying to tell me what she knew of Herman, my mother pulled out a large framed photo from the attic (shown at right). She could only identify Herman. There were 15 people in the photo. We thought about the photo and posed various possibilities as to who they were and how they were all related. I thought with that many people in one photo, there must be others who also had a copy. My mother and I decided to have a negative and new photograph made of the group shot. I then made photocopies of the new photo.
I went on the Internet and looked up addresses for everyone in the US with the surname of Haass. Thankfully there were under 150. I wrote a form letter with the story I knew and a few other details we’d been told. I picked 20 addresses from the list, concentrating on the areas of the country where the family had connections. I mailed the letter with a photocopy of the photograph.
I received many interesting responses, but the best was an e-mail with the heading, “You hit the jackpot.” A woman in Florida had the same photo! She turned out to be a half second cousin once removed. She was able to identify all the people in the photo, and her brother was a genealogy buff who had the family traced back to 16th century Germany. The older couple in the photo tuned out to be husband and wife. The matriarch in the photo was the second wife and mother to seven of the people in the photo. The patriarch of the group was father to 13 of the brood.
My newly found cousins were able to confirm the embezzlement story but not the adulterous burlesque dancer part of the story. I still have more research to do, but I have found some wonderful family members and a little more insight into the life of my elusive great-grandfather.
NEVER ON SUNDAY
One of my paternal great-grandfathers (five back) held a surprising story for me. His name was Abraham Rice and he lived in Framingham, Mass. One Sunday morning in June 1777, he and a neighbor discussed the purchase of a horse. Their bargain was made and, as they shook hands on the purchase price, a sudden thunderstorm struck. A great bolt of lightning flashed down from the sky and killed both men and the horse.
This event was written up in a poem about their punishment for the folly of conducting a sale on the Lord’s Day:
My trembling Heart with Grief o’erflows While I record the life of those Who died by Thunder sent from Heaven In Seventeen hundred J seventy seven. Let all prepare for Judgement Day As we may be Called out of Time And in a sudden and awful way While in our youth and in our Prime.
My ancestor, Abraham Rice, lived 1697-1777. His unfortunate neighbor was John Cloyes, 1735-1777. The two men share a common headstone and were buried together in the Old Cemetery in Framingham. I don’t know where they buried the horse.
Jumping into Marriage
I’ve always loved to listen to Mom tell stories, especially those that make her laugh when she tells them. The older we grow, the richer her Appalachian stories become to us both.
During a recent telephone call Mom told me a story about a childhood friend, Victoria Miller. “Vickie” and Mom’s younger sister, Sarah, were best friends. When Sarah died at age 14, their common loss bonded them in friendship — the kind that endures hardship.
During World War II, when Mom and Vickie were young women, Appalachian Kentucky severely felt the hard times. Mountain roads and a poor economy prevented the flow of household goods from city to country. Food was scarce and clothing was a rare commodity. A new dress was out of the question.
But Vickie’s boyfriend was returning from the war and she was planning a wedding. What was she going to do without money to buy material for her wedding dress?
In a stroke of invention and inspiration, Vickie and Mom unfolded the nylon parachute her boyfriend had mailed her from his wartime post. Vickie’s little house looked like her lover had landed in the living room! It took some ingenuity and a great deal of perseverance to pin the pattern to the slippery fabric. They cut the parachute into pieces and sewed them together. The finished product was a lovely dress.
Mom continued this “use what you have” model during the costly and demanding years of raising her five daughters, producing our prom dresses from almost nothing.
THE KING AND THE PRESIDENT
Genealogy makes strange bedfellows — Elvis Presley and Jimmy Carter, for instance. The fascinating free e-zine Roots Web Review <www.rootsweb.com/~review/> recently observed that the rock legend and the former president seemingly share a 17th-century German ancestor, making them sixth cousins once removed.
According to the experts cited by the e-zine, Presley’s family first came to the United States with the immigration of Valentine Preslar and his wife, Anna Christina Framse, from Germany in 1709. They had two daughters and three sons, including Andreas Preslar, who was born in Germany in 1701 and died in North Carolina in 1759. Former president Carter turns out to be a descendant of Andreas and his wife, Anne (Antje) Wells.