The following article was written by my friend, Thomas Fiske. Enjoy…
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
July 26, 2009