Shot Myself in the Foot

The following article was written by my friend, Thomas Fiske. Enjoy…

Tom Fiske Somehow I let my genealogy activities cool a bit. Must have been due to my new Amateur Radio license, AA6TF. And then I got this email, which turned my world upside down. It began:

I found your postings from 4+ years ago seeking information on Adam Sebastian of Louisville.  I believe that is he my g-g-grandfather.

Well, my great-grandfather, a Bavarian immigrant, arrived in Louisville, KY, about 1856. He met and married a young lady from Wittenberg, and they began a family. There were four children, but one died. Adam, Theresa, and Barbara survived. But then their mom died. Adam, a busy entrepreneur with three jobs and only a few English words in his vocabulary, was left to care for three small children.

As I put together Adam’s history, I was sabotaged by my own life experiences. Those three kids disappeared from all records and all I could think was that they died or went back to Bavaria, or that they changed their names. What actually happened to them was outside my understanding. Therefore, I struggled with the search for them for seven or eight years.

Adam re-married and had another bunch of kids. One of them was my grandmother. Since my Southern Protestant family was not proud of its low class Bavarian Catholic members, nothing was ever said about them. What I found I had to find by myself.

And then I got that email. I knew the writer was wrong. There were many Sebastians of English ancestry in Virginia and Kentucky, so I assumed the writer, a man named Freeman, was one of them. Yet, I was curious and responded.

Bang! Freeman dumped a load of evidence on me that was inescapable.

I often cite what I call Fiske’s law of genealogy: “Genealogy is finding the person who has done all the research.” Freeman was that person.

So I did what I often do in such circumstances. I sent an email to a friend named Barb who is the list mom of the Rootsweb Drake list. Barb can find just about anything on the Internet, if it is genealogical. With Freeman’s work as a guide, Barb went to work.

Soon Barb had found more than Freeman and I had, and was instructing both of us about our common ancestor, Adam Sebastian.

How did I shoot myself in the foot? This way: based on my own life experience I would never do what Adam did when his wife died and he had to care for his three little kids. Adam farmed the kids out to another family or families. They moved away. At least two of the kids wound up in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, 107 miles from Louisville. Furthermore, they became Protestants instead of Catholics.

Now, when I decided to continue my education at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, my wife went to work to help support our small family. (I worked also, but was no longer an engineer at General Electric.) What should we do with our two kids? I found a way to care for them, myself. Friends offered to take them on, but I felt it was my job. It would never occur to me to give them up.

Maybe Adam Sebastian had no choice back in Louisville in 1868. I don’t know. But he gave up his kids. It seems likely that Adam never saw his kids again. I never considered this action. If I had I might have found them. Barb did.

So now I wonder—how many other searches have I botched because of my own prejudices? How many times have I shot myself in the foot because I was blind to the realities of the times in which my ancestors lived? Genealogy is getting harder and harder.

Maybe I should check my radio transmitter.

Thomas S. Fiske

Fullerton, CA

July 26, 2009

3 thoughts on “Shot Myself in the Foot”

  1. Tom didn’t “shoot himself in the foot” as he seems to think. What he is forgetting is that I have access to resources that neither of us had 8 years ago when he last worked on this family. If it hadn’t been for and Family Search Record Search,,

    I wouldn’t have found anything else either. Both sites add new databases regularly. From Ancestry, I found Kentucky Death Records, 1852-1953, census and marriage records. The older death records have the actual images.

    Family Search Record Search has images of Ohio Death Certificates (plus lots more). Both sites have census data and the Social Security Death Index.

    Using all of these resources, I was able to trace Adam Sebastian, his wife and children and their descendants down to living generations. The rest is up to Tom.

    As for Adam Sr giving up his kids we may never know the full story, but we can’t judge our ancestors by today’s standards. We can only be grateful that times are different.

    Barb Paulus-Marshall

  2. This was very interesting. I am going crazy trying to find information about my grandfather. I know where he was in the 20s & 30s when he was with my grandmother but that is all. Even though I have where he was born and the date, I cannot get a birth certificate as he was adopted. Do not even know for sure the name of his birth parents except by word of mouth and cannot be sure if it is a first name or a last name. Then I just know he died in a hotel alone in Portland (state?) during WWII. Just try to find something when you have a 3 year time period from anyone. Tried to get his SS5 and they refused unless I can prove his death. I informed them that if he was still living at 119 as he was born in 1889 in Iowa everyone in the US would have read about him by now. So I have been sitting here patiently (??) waiting for the 1940 Census to come on line to see if I can find anything else on him short of flying all over the country to various Portland cities in the US to look through 3 years of newspapers and/or court houses for death records. Barb, does this sound like something you could help me with or lead me to someone that could? I have only been into genealogy about 3 years so still consider myself as a “newbie”. Thanks, CeCe

  3. Here’s a few things to try:

    Oregon Death Index, 1903-98
    Social Security Death Index
    World War I & II Draft Cards
    World War II Enlistment Records
    Oregon Passenger & Crew Lists
    City Directories

    You can search these yourself, or I can do it for you. My fee is $10.00 per hour, payable in advance. If I find nothing, I’ll return the fee.

    Barb Marshall

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