Saturday, March 2, 2013

Helen's Clues.

When I first began doing genealogy my Aunt Helen Metzner McCarthy Kramer was living in Grand Rapids.  I remember she sat down with me one day to answer questions I had about our Metzner roots.  I didn’t know quite the right questions to ask (I was young and an inexperienced researcher), but she helped a lot. 

She gave me two clues.  The first was that she was named after her grandmother Barbara Metzner (Barbara was Aunt Helen’s middle name).  And secondly, she remembered as a girl, when the family went to visit Grandma Barbara, the train stopped at a station in Utica.  I remember clearly asking her what state Utica was in but she didn’t know.  Well, as many of you know, there is a Utica in Michigan, and that big one out in New York.  What I didn’t know at the time is there is also one in Licking County, Ohio, and for some reason, that’s where I started my search – call it a hunch.

Above: Helen Barbara Metzner, 1903, at 6 years old, the age she would have been traveling to visit 
her grandmother, Barbara Metzner, in Ohio.

Licking County is almost in the dead center of Ohio.  The train station that Helen remembered was in Utica at the top of the map.  The Metzners lived in St. Louisville, about 7.5 miles south of Utica. 

In those early days of my genealogy research (1977 to be exact), I wrote lots and lots of letters to county courthouse, churches, and cemeteries, or I went to the State Library in Lansing, Michigan to look at census records (today the internet has circumvented most of that type of effort). Anyway, I was so new at this genealogy business that the first thing I did was find a genealogist in the area of Utica, Ohio     (I think I wrote a letter to the local library and they passed my letter along to John Rugg of Granville, OH).  At the time I was a poor college student so funds were shakey, but Mr. Rugg took on my request to find Metzners in the area…and boy did he find Metzners!

I knew he was on the right track because he found a Barbara Metzner and a Louis Napolean Metzner – those two names I recognized – and though the other names he provided were foreign to me, he gave me the leads I needed to move forward.  

The search for our particular line – through William Metzner* (1807-1882) – hasn’t been an easy one.  The family is not particularly well documented, but after a little bit of intensive research I was able to trace a simple family lineage beginning with William:

  • William Metzner (b. 1807 Germany; d. 1882 in Licking Co., Ohio), father of...
  • Louis Napolean Metzner (b. 1872 in Licking Co., Ohio; d. 1930 in Grand Rapids, Mich.), father of...
  • Albert Louis Metzner (b. 1902 in Ft. Wayne, Ind.; d. 1970 in Grand Rapids), father of... 
  • Gordon Louis (b. 1930 in Grand Rapids, d. 1970 in Cleveland) and Albert Junior (b. 1932, d. 1984, both in Grand Rapids)

*William is the brother of John Metzner (1805-1888) of Jay County, Indiana.

William arrived in the U.S. from Germany sometime in the late 1830s or 1840s.  He first appeared in the 1850 U.S.Census and then for the last time in 1880.  Each of those records is shown below and represents the beginning of the search for our Metzner family.

ABOVE: This difficult-to-read 1850 Census from Licking County, Ohio tells us that William Metzner, age 41, male, is working as a harness maker; he owns personal property valued at $300, and was born in Germany.  Listed with him are his wife Barbary[sic], age 31; sons William (age 2) and James (age 9 months); and a boarder George Shiely who is working as a mason.

 * * * * *
William's family has grown considerably by 1860 (BELOW) and he's moved them to Bearcreek Township in Jay County, Indiana, the home of his brother John.  Notice the family name is incorrectly recorded as Metsner.  William is 52, male, and working as a farmer.  It notes his real estate is valued at $600 and his personal property (i.e., the contents of his home, farm animals, and farming equipment) is valued at $320.  It also tells us he was born in Saxony, a region in Germany.  In the same household is his wife Barbara, 33, female, who is doing housework. And now they have five children, four boys and one girl (Lena).  The birthplaces of the children also reveal that the family moved from Ohio to Indiana sometime between the birth of John and Casper (Jasper), so approximately 1855.

* * * * *

By the 1870 census (BELOW) William Metzer[sic] and his family have returned to St. Louisville in Licking County, Ohio. The reason for their return is unknown but perhaps William didn't like farming, which  he was doing in Indiana.  By now he is about 62 years old, even though the census records his age as 55, and he has returned to harness making.  He appears to be doing quite well. His real estate is valued at $3000 and personal property at $500.  Besides his wife Barbara, who is "keeping house," eight children are listed, some with occupations of sorts... Washington, 18, is a common laborer, as are his brothers John, 16, and Jasper, 14 (the boys are most likely laboring in their father's harness-making shop). Two sisters, Mary (a.k.a. Lena), 12, and Caroline, 9, are listed as "help at home."  Six-year-old Lafayette "goes to school," while Henrietta, age 2, and William, age 3 months, are at home.  It's interesting to note that none of the children over age 6 are listed as attending school.  It's entirely possible that working at home or in the harness shop took precedence over an education -- not uncommon for 19th century American children.

* * * * *

The final census that William appears in is 1880 (BELOW). This one is chock full of interesting information.

William Metzner, white male, age 74, married, is listed as having a "Ruptured scrotal"; the little hash marks (/) tell us he is disabled and cannot write (it's presumed this means he can neither write English or German). He was born in Saxony and his mother is listed as born in Helbourgh.  The Helbourgh clue is of considerable importance if we want to find the family in Germany, and it matches published information about his brother John Metzner of Jay County, Indiana. That published information identifies their mother as Hannah Reisenberg, born in Helburg, Germany -- more on that in a later blog. 

Listed with William in the 1880 census is Barbary, white female, age 52, wife, married, keeping house.  There are hash marks and a capital "G" in the sections for "Cannot Read" and "Cannot Write" -- does this mean she cannot read and write German but is able to read and write English?  We don't know.  It also lists her birthplace, and her parents' birthplace, as Germany. 

Listed below Barbara are three of their sons who are still living at home -- James, age 30, is working as a common laborer. He was not living at home in 1870 but may have come back to help the family as father William grew increasingly disabled. Next is Laffayette, age 16, who is attending school (per the second hash mark notation) -- and lastly Lewis (or as we know him, Louis), age 10, also attending school. Lewis is our ancestral grandfather and the future father of Albert Louis Metzner (1902-1970) and Helen Barbara Metzner (1897-1984).

This is just the tip of the iceberg for this family. Many stories and interesting bits of history have been uncovered about them over the course of 34 years of research.  I hope you'll stay tuned for all the inside scoop.    

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