On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Your Uncertain Fate"

Berta Jickeli, Lisi Ebner's
employer and mentor in
We think of our grandparents as venerable and wise, unlikely to be impulsive, reckless, or spontaneous as youth is wont to be. But what if we could see them as they were viewed by the generation older than they -- if we could see them as they really were in their younger days, not the way they present themselves through the foggy, faulty lens of memory.

As I’ve written before, I was stunned to learn of my grandfather’s impatient, risk-laden determination to get to America (See Terror atop the Train). His letters exposed his surprising romanticism and desperate love for my grandmother, Lisi, pulling out all the stops to persuade her to join him in America-- another eye-popper! (see If you love me)

But what about my grandmother, Lisi? I always saw her as a powerful, no-nonsense woman, the antithesis of spontaneity. The opposite of ill-considered action.

But that’s not the way her former employer, Mrs. Jickeli viewed her decision to join Josef in America. Forty-five years old at the time twenty-three-year-old Lisi left, Mrs. Jickeli’s first letters to her peg my grandmother as a foolish girl who acted too impulsively in rushing off to America to join her equally reckless husband. You can feel Berta Jickeli's frustration -- like a mother for her wayward daughter, hoping for the best, but harboring serious doubts that things will work out.

December 10, 1911

Dear Lisi!

I received your letter and the picture, and I am glad that everything goes well for you. With great anxiety, I let you go to your uncertain fate in such a foreign place, and it is good that up to now everything has gone better that we thought.

Nevertheless, the fear and worry about you, who were my greatest problem child, has not lessened. When I see the picture, it proves to me that you are now a wife and so will be the victim of the painful and changing nature of life. From my entire heart, I wish that fate intends for you a gentle future and brings you nothing bad, and if you can write me over the next ten years that you still are satisfied, I will be truly happy and be glad that I was wrong.

The circumstances in America are certainly very different and in many instances they will be difficult to get used to; in other cases, easy. The culture of the wide [world] is certainly an enlightenment, and when you look around you and think of home, everything here will seem small to you.

Above all you must beware that you don’t let yourself become homesick. Because if that happens to you, you are lost. The best would be to strive to forget your old home town and only think about the future. When you next write me, write me what you do the entire day.

What kind of food you cook? Who is your boss, and how she is? How is Mr. Gärtz? His heart will be satisfied because he has you there, where he wanted you. Does the American climate suit him well? And how is he making out with his military duty? Does he want to report for it in March or be forever divorced from his homeland? (See Drafted 100 years ago. It's not clear to me if Josef ignored his draft summons, or signed up but left before he performed his duty)

I often wonder, why [your departure] all had to be so outside the law [or proper way] and form, when in a half year everything could have been worked out in the right and easy way. If now it would only come to good!

Here no one has called you or Gärtz --or have they? Because if [your marriage] hasn’t been announced here, your marriage is not according to law, and you must either marry here again or you must abandon any rights to each other’s families.*

*[Note: In Neppendorf or Großpold the pastor announced an upcoming wedding in the week(s) before the event so community members had a chance to object for any reason. Without the announcement, it wouldn’t be entered into the family book and not been considered legitimate, as Mrs. Jickeli describes.]
I am often with you in my thoughts and we also speak often of you. Our girls were completely crazy with joy when they saw your beautiful picture [undoubtedly the wedding photo].

Berta Jickeli

Of course, Mrs. Jickeli didn’t realize that World War I was just around the bend, that Josef likely would have died in that horrid war, as did Lisi's younger brother, and that the life she knew in Siebenbürgen would soon come to an end. In this case, impetuous youth had made the wise, forward-looking decision.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Celebrating 100 Years in America 9/26/1911-9/26/2011

"This is my ship which brought me to America in the year 1911.
Landing in NY- Disembarked  7:00 pm 26th September " written on the
back of this post card by Elisabetha Ebner
A century ago this evening, at approximately 7:00 p.m., Elisabetha Ebner, aka Lisi or Eliess, my grandmother, disembarked from her ship, Kaiser Wilhelm II, in New York and started her life in America.

I can see her searching for the train station to make her way to Cleveland, Ohio, where she would meet up with her step sister and brother-in-law before going on to marry Josef in Chicago. 

I love to think of these dates in cosmological terms. Just rewind the earth's orbit around the sun 100 times, and there she is: stepping off onto Ellis Island, submitting to the probing and eye-lid lifting health inspections, mailing a postcard of Central Park to her sweetheart, my grandfather, Josef Gartz, to let him know she's arrived safely.

Welcome to America, Grandma!

To learn more about this well-documented immigrant journey, arrival, and the process experienced by immigrants entering in New York, check out the following posts: 
You can follow her diary entries of her 5,000 mile trip from Hungary to New York, see:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Interview with Lynette Benton

Because of blogging, I've had a great time getting to know more people interested not only in genealogy and family history, but also in writing memoir and family stories, which is the ultimate goal of my research through my family archives.

So I was so thrilled when one of the most active memoir bloggers, Lynette Benton, (See Lynette Benton On Writing)  asked if she could interview me about my interest in family history and memoir. If you haven't seen Lynette's blog, check it out. She offers all sorts of savvy advice, from the basics like finding the time to write, and providing writing prompts to get the juices flowing, to analyzing just what makes a memoir resonate for her.

The direct links to the interview in two parts are here (part I)  Family History Writing

and here: Family History Writing Part II 

Memoirs worth reading (among many) that I recommended include some that were mentioned on Lynette's blog. Here's the list of some of my favorites:

  • Growing Up by Russell Baker
  • The Color of Water by James McBride
  • Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • The Road from Coorain by Jill Kerr Conway
  • Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
  • Oh, the Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey
  • Dry: A Memoir  by Augusten Burroughs
  • Lit by Mary Carr
  • Lifesaving by Judith Barrington
  • Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
  • The Glass Castle  by Jeannette Walls
  • Oh, Beautiful  by John Godges
  • Family by Ian Frazier
The latter two are family histories, which are more comprehensive than memoir, which is intended to focus on a specific time period or theme.

Lynette also asked me to recommend books to guide you through the process of writing your life story, memoir, or family history. Here are some that I've found helpful:

Lynette regularly has guest bloggers, published authors who share how they crafted their prose, created their characters, or kept going despite coming to hate their books! We all know that feeling.

Her book, Polish and Publish offers advice on the tools, tactics, and strategies to take your writing to the next level and ultimately get published.  Take a look!

Thanks, Lynette. You can follow Lynette on twitter: @lynettebenton

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Free Sandwich with that Beer!

Josef Gartz (rear) working as Sandwich Man in Joe Nelson's Saloon,
Northeast corner of Crawford [now Pulaski] and Madison Street, Chicago
Mr. Offelke put an ad in the Abendpost, a German language paper. The title literally means the “Evening Post.” Josef Gartz, along with several other men, applied. Mr. Offelke picked my grandfather out of a line-up of applicants and gave him the job of “sandwich man,” in this saloon.

In the close-up below you can see the calendar, (I was able to see the whole page in the mirror reflection in full photo above. It was October, 1912. The clock in the background (above his head in the wide shot) shows it’s 2:30. I'm pretty sure that would be in the afternoon).  Plenty of men (no women) are drinking. Much of the signage around the place is in German, and they are literal “signs” of the times.

Detail: Josef Gartz with October, 1912 calendar behind him.
One sign says: “First Class Barber Shop and Bath," with an arrow pointing down the stairs in the back. One of the most important aspects of this job for my grandfather was that he could eat all day long, cutting way down on his food expense. It’s also because of this job that he eventually moved his family to Chicago’s West Side, to the neighborhood called West Garfield Park, where my dad, and eventually all his children, grew up.

Here’s how my grandmother described the job:

A year later [after her arrival in Chicago in 1911], my husband got a much better job in a fine place where one could get a glass of beer for 5 cents and with it got a meat or cheese sandwich for free. That was my husband’s job -- to cut the bread and lay ham, beef, or cheese on it and give it to the men with their beer. He earned $15 a week. Then we got a four-room apartment for $12 per month. Now we could save money.

Wow! Josef was earning twice what he made working at his previous job buffet. They were on their way to putting money aside, which became a central value in their lives. Work hard. Save money. It would serve them well as they began to raise a family in tough times.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unraveling the Michael Mystery

The first Görz to arrive in my grandparents’ homeland of Siebenbürgen/Transylvania made the 1,000 mile trek from Gerstheim in Alsace in May, 1770,  but to Grosspold, not Neppendorf as the Lutheran church records there had stated. It was the baby on this journey that ended up being the first Görz, later Gärtz to populate Neppendorf,  my grandfather's home town.

In the last post we found out that my cousin Maria obtained copies of four microfilmed entries from the Gerstheim Evangelical Lutheran Church in Alsace, whence came Johannes Görz my grandpa Josef’s great, great grandfather (my g-g-g-g-grandfather).

19th Century church records from Grosspold. Easy to
read compared to older church records from
Gerstheim in Alsace (see below) 
But these documents were much more challenging to make out than the church family books, such as shown at right, which we saw in Lisi Ebner's Grosspold church, laying out birth (der Geburt), marriage (der Trauung), and death (des Todes) in nice neat columns.

Instead, Gerstheim church documents are divided into separate books labeled:

“Births/Baptisms” [Recorded together as baptism occurred as soon after birth as possible to preclude immediate baby damnation!]

Each life event was worthy of at least a paragraph of indecipherable handwriting -- not just a dated entry, which makes them rich sources of family information--if you can find someone to de-code the writing.

First off, Görz, Goerz, Goerz, and Görz all seem to have been accepted spelling of this family’s surname in the Gerstheim records, and all would be pronounced identically. (I never knew about this varied spelling before my trip to Romania in 2007).

Among the four records cousin Maria had received from the Gerstheim, was the marriage, with all the details written out in longhand. Here’s the most important information, as deciphered from the unreadable German script by Meta, my Rosetta Stone in Germany:


In the upper left corner is the identification, separated from the paragraph of information so one can quickly scan the documents to find a name, it states:

Johannes Görz
Maria, born Meyerin

On Tuesday, January 30th, after two prior announcements [a marriage had to be announced ahead of time to allow anyone to object] Johannes Görz, the unmarried son of citizen and inhabitant here, married Maria [Actually Anna Maria], daughter of Martin Meyers, now dead, from Eckbolsheim. God bless them.

Johanness Görz, the groom
Maria Meyerin, the bride
Michel Görz, the groom’s father 
Bartel Gehl, the bride’s stepfather [her birthfather is dead and her mother remarried]

M.Jo. Andreas Wagner P. L. (Pastor loci = pastor of the area)

There’s an important note made on the side:

NOTATION: In May, 1770, this married couple, together with their children, emigrated to Siebenbürgen after they sold their home and grave* and paid all their debts.

Eureka! This information confirms what I had seen in another genealogical reference, which states that "Johann Görtz with 5 Persons left Gerstheim and emigrated to Grosspold" (coincidentally, my grandmother's town, more than a century later,  in Siebenbürgen/Transylvania).

*Note: Meta said that people would buy a grave ahead of time, holding on to it for 15-25 years for any family members. When they leave the area, they can sell the grave plot.

Next came another new piece of family history:


Tuesday, September 27th at 8:30 pm Anna Maria, born Meyerin, bore her husband, Johannes Görz, a small farmer [one with little land], a little boy, who was baptized on Wednesday and named “Johannes.” May God keep this child in his grace into eternal life.

[note: Anna Maria’s father was “Meyer,” but the “in” ending is added for a woman--feminizing it!]

Little Johannes didn’t last long. Already by 1764, he’s listed in the:


Johannes Görz

Tuesday, June 19, [1764] at 9:30 a.m. Johannes Görz, born to small farmers Johannes and Anna Maria, born Meyerin, died and was buried in the Christian manner toward evening. Rest in Peace. Age 8 months, 3 weeks, 2 days.

Johannes and Maria had two other children, whose records I found: Anna Maria Görzin, (again feminine ending, "in" added to end of Görz name)  born 12/14/1758 and Johann Georg Görz, born 4/5/1766). But the one that interested me most was our direct ancestor, called Michael in the Neppendorf records. This entry explains why:


Tuesday, October 10, 1769 at daybreak, Anna Maria, born Meierin (a phonetic spelling of Meyerin) bore for her husband, Johnannes Goerz, [the spelling changes-but pronounced the same] citizen and small farmer, a little boy, who was brought to baptism on the same day at 2 pm and named Johann[es] Michael. God hold this child in his grace to eternal life.

In both births, notice how the mother “bears [the child] for her husband!” It seems she was given little credit for doing all the work!

Then the witnesses all sign, including the father, the baby’s grandfather, so my g-g-g-g-g grandpa, and little Johannes Michael’s Godmother. [The mother of the child isn't asked to sign!]

With this additional information a lot is cleared up:

The Neppendorf Church record states (remember Gerz, Görz, Goerz, and Gärtz are phonetically identical)

From this Michael Gerz  from Alsace, who married in Neppendorf, originate all the inhabitants of Neppendorf with the family name “Gerz” [later spelled Gärtz].

This "Michael" in the Neppendorf record was actually "Johannes Michael," probably called "Michael" to differentiate him from his father, also "Johannes." (As we've seen again and again, families repeated names, especially for first-borns,  from father to son and mother to daughter generation after generation.)

So...[Johannes] Michael was taken to Grosspold as an eight-month-old baby with his family in May, 1770, but then he married in Neppendorf, and became the patriarch who eventually led to my grandfather, Josef, who also chose to emigrate -- 140 years later--to a much more distant land.

Next week, 9/20, back to Chicago in 1912 -- to see how Josef, Johann Michaels' great grandson, gets a financial  footing as a recent immigrant.  I welcome your comments, but am without internet at present, but will respond after 9/16. Please email me at lindagartz@gmail.com to explain any problems you might have commenting. Thanks so much for your interest. Next 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It Takes a Village

Cousin Maria Gärtz and Linda Gartz  visiting Gerstheim
(May, 2011) a German town and our ancestral home
in Alsace. The original church no longer exists,
but its records have been microfilmed.
So who was the first bold soul who started the bloodline of “Görz/Gerz/Gärtz in Neppendorf (my grandfather, Josef's home town) after  trekking the 1,000 miles from Gerstheim in Alsace to Siebenbürgen/Transylvania, where hundreds of thousands of other ethnic Germans had made their home since the 12th century?

He was an eight-month-old baby!

It took a village to make this discovery, and I’ve been lucky enough to have “villagers” come forth to help when I least expected it.

In the last post I described how my brothers and I received a genealogy of the “Gärtz/Gerz” family when we visited my grandfather’s church in Romania (see Churches and Spilling Secrets.

Evangelical Lutheran Church Neppendorf
The Neppendorf Church's genealogy stated that “Michael Gerz,” born in 1771, emigrated from Gerstheim in Alsace and was the guy from whom all others with the name "Gerz/Gärtz -- even Görz/Goerz" in Neppendorf came from. I wanted to learn more about the family's roots in Alsace.

Enter Monica Ferrier, a specialist in emigrants from Siebenbürgen to North America, (Monica helped me find the ship that brought Josef Gärtz to New York. See Mystery of the Missing Manifest).

In an email exchange with Monica about the Gerz/Gärtz/Görz/Goerz family origins in Gerstheim, she sent me this detail from a reliable genealogical reference source known as W & K (for Wilhelm und Kallbrunner, the authors).

Translated into English, it reads:

WK 326.56 Johann Gortz 5 Persons.  Farmer left Gerstheim in or around 1770 for Grosspold.

Whoa! Something is amiss!

1.  The timing is too close to be coincidental, so some date must be off --either the date of birth of the “first Neppendorfer,” Michael Gerz (listed as 1771), OR the date of leaving Gerstheim (recorded as 1770)

2.  What about the name? The Görtz vs Gerz is a no-brainer -- varied spellings on phonetically-identical names.  But the emigrant in the above record is listed as Johann -- and he went to Grosspold -- my grandmother’s home town, not Neppendorf, where the Gärtz clan settled.

3. What about “Michael” who was supposed to be the “first” Neppendorfer? The Neppendorf church genealogy noted his father's name was “Johann,” and this record shows: "Johann Gortz - 5 people” went to Grosspold. Could that be Johann, his wife and three children? Was Michael one of the children who then later moved to Neppendorf?

Time to look at the original church records from Gerstheim.

Enter cousin Maria Gärtz who grew up in Neppendorf, in the same house in which my grandfather had lived.  Several years back, Maria had hired a researcher to retrieve some family-relevant church documents from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gerstheim, Alsace. She sent me copies of the four separate print-outs from microfilm files dating back go 1753.

Here’s what one looked like: mostly impossible to read!
Note upper left corner: 1753 Johannes Görz 

Time to get my Rosetta Stone, Meta involved. Thanks to my “village” of helpers, I was able to make sense of this mixed up genealogy, learned details of my ancestors’ lives, and discovered how an 8 month old baby became the first of the Goerz/Gärtz clan in Neppendorf, and my g-g-g grandpa.

It takes a village to find an ancestor!

I welcome your comments in the box below. However, I will not have access to the internet for a couple weeks, but I will reply after 9/16. If you have any trouble commenting (it seems some often do), please email me at lindagartz@gmail.com as to what's going on and I'll try to see if there's a pattern to the trouble. Thanks!