Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hess Family: Brick Wall Demolished

About a month ago I decided to try to act on a little notation I had found among information online, mentioning that my ancestor Louis Hess had married Theresia Kaiser at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Chicago. Louis has been a brick wall for me for several years because no document I had been able to locate for him, ever listed where he was born. His death record mentioned he had been born in Alsace-Lorraine, and also mentioned that his father's name was Killian Hess. No mother's name had been listed.

Beyond that, I had no other hints as to where he was from. I had located the civil marriage record for Louis and Theresia and that gave no information. Their daughter Rose's birth record, similarly, gave no information. His naturalization information gave no information as to his birthplace, nor did his obituary. I had not been able to definitively locate immigration information such as a passenger's list. I had found a list for a ship called the "Denmark" which had a 22 year old Louis Hess on board, arriving in New York on 10 Sep 1872. On this ship were a Charles Hess, aged 18, and an Oscar Hess, aged 17. I had thought that if this was my Louis Hess, perhaps Charles and Oscar were siblings. But I had not been able to locate information on these other two men to prove any sort of connection.

So, just about a month ago now, I started digging into the Chicago Catholic church records on to see if I could find the marriage based on that random tidbit of information... a marriage at St. Anthony's Catholic Church. This was essentially a last resort after failing to find what I needed in every other record for Louis, so I did not have high expectations. I at first struggled to find the correct parish, but with the help of some folks on the Chicago Genealogy facebook group, I was able to find it (actually St. Anthony of Padua, and it was combined with another church in the records, which explains why it had been difficult for me to find the correct parish)..

And then I found the marriage record....

Wow. Interestingly-- and I never knew this until I found this record-- this was a double wedding! Theresia's sister, Anna Maria Kaiser, married a man named Jacob Michels on this same day at the same church. A good lead, since I knew that all of Theresia's sisters had immigrated, but had no idea what happened to them after they arrived, other than her oldest sister, Adelheid, who moved to Kansas.

Anyway, the marriage record above states that Louis was from "Niederneh, Elsass." Theresia's origin is listed as "Lingen, Hanover." This would be Kreis Lingen, and she was born in the town of Listrup, which is within Kreis Lingen in Hanover. Having that correct information on this record helped validate the new piece of information regarding Louis. 

So, what is "Niederneh?" I started Googling the name and determined that it may be an abbreviation for a town called Niederehnheim (in German) or Niedernai (in French) [Niedernai Wikipedia page]. This town exists in the Alsace region and changed back and forth between Germany and France, hence the two different names for the town. Nowadays the town is in France and is called Niedernai permanently.

This was good news for me, because the Alsace records are all online free here, including the civil and Catholic church records for Niedernai. I signed in to the site and in the Niedernai records immediately started seeing records for Hesses, which was a good sign. And then, I found it.. the civil birth record for my ancestor Louis Hess (named Francois Louis Hess on this record.. thanks to the French). I had known his middle initial was "F." so this fit. His family was German living in French-ruled Niedernai at the time of his birth, which is why the record is in French. His German name would be Franz Ludwig Hess, and his Rufname was Ludwig/Louis  (Rufname explanation).

I could not believe it when I first saw this record. I admit that I had a nerdy-emotional moment. I had searched so long that I had not thought it was possible for me to break down this brick wall. But, here I was, looking at his birth record, and seeing the name of his mother for the first time: Maria Elisabeth Lutz.

Since I discovered this record, I have been slowly filling in my family tree for this branch of the family, as time has allowed with a busy work schedule. It turns out that the Hess family (and associated ancestors) had been in Niedernai for over 150 years before Louis left in 1872. I have been working on getting the tree back as far as I can and so far have most lines to at least 1700 if not further back. It's still a work in progress as I work to interpret more records. Some records are missing so there are a few lines that may not extend as far back as the others.

I found that Louis did have a brother named Charles, and he was two and a half years younger than Louis. I believe now that the passenger list I had found is of Louis and his brother Charles immigrating, but I have not figured out yet who Oscar Hess is.

I'm very excited to see how much further back I can trace these lines! This also give me hope that someday I will figure out where in Alsace my ancestor Johann Diebold came from..

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