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.