Author Archive

Brick Wall: Arnestus Dietz

Posted by on Thursday, 26 June, 2014

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Arnestus Dietz is my paternal great-great-great grandfather via my great-grandmother Helen Louise Dietz. I have quite a bit of information on Arnestus:

  • He was born on March 18th, 1818 in Pennsylvania.
  • He had a brother named Jeremiah.
  • Sometime around 1846, he married Elizabeth Brown Smith of Ceres, McKean, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Smith’s obituary mentions the age she was married. I have a photo of Elizabeth, pictured here: 26572_392637912856_601265_n
  • He appears in the 1850 Federal Census in Sharon, Potter, Pennsylvania. Along with him are listed:
    • Elizabeth (Spouse, age 25)
    • Mary J. (Daughter, age  3)
    • Clinton (Son, age 1)
  • He appears in the 1860 Federal Census in Washington, Jefferson, Pennsylvania. The last name is spelled as “Deets” in this census record. Along with him are listed:
    • Elizabeth (Spouse, age 35)
    • Mary (Daughter, age 13)
    • Clinton (Son, age 11)
    • Allen (Son, age 9)
    • Clara (Daugher, age 6)
    • Lucinda (Daughter, age 4)
    • George (Son, age 10/11 mo.)
  • Sometime in the mid 1860s, the Dietz family moved to La Crosse Wisconsin. Arnestus was in his mid 40s at the time.
  • He appears in the La Crosse Directory for 1866-1867 as living in La Crosse.
  • He died 12 August 1868 in La Crosse. He is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in La Crosse, which gives exact dates of birth and death.

Some information can be gleaned from the book The history of Ceres and its near vicinity, from its early Settlement in 1798 to the present.” Arnestus, along with his brother and wife, are mentioned in the book: 

ceres
Later he removed to Friendship [PA], and Jeremiah Deitz, who had a blacksmith shop near, lived in the house for several years. Arnestus Deitz, his brother, who lived with him for a time, married Elizabeth Smith, second daughter of Harry Smith. They lived on the Phelp's place for a time, but removed to Ohio, and later to Wisconsin, where Mr. Deitz died, after a long and lingering illness, leaving his wife and six children.

That is the extent of the information I have on Arnestus. What I do not have is the name of his father, which makes any further research of my Dietz lineage impossible. I would love to further this research, if you have any thoughts on this, I would be very grateful!

Reverend John Samuel Huggins, Inventor

Posted by on Thursday, 5 June, 2014

John Samuel Huggins is my paternal great-great-great-grandfather. He was born in  Darlington, South Carolina in March of 1810. Sometime around 1829 he married Zylphia Ham. They had six sons and seven daughters between 1829 and 1850. He died on April 3, 1879, in Williamsburg, South Carolina, at the age of 69. I know from research that John was an ordained minister of  the Methodist Church. He served as the pastor of the Methodist Church at Muddy Creek, South Carolina until his death.

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One thing that caught my eye about John: among his accomplishments was the invention of the first mechanical cotton planter. According to lore, the design was used throughout the South and still influences the design of seed planters today. Some refer to it as a “horse” planter. When researching this fact, I wondered if John had ever filed a patent on the design. The United States Patent Office was officially formed in 1836,  well before John invented the device.

As it turns out, I was correct. A patent was filed by John and a co-patentee, Rowland Chapman! Patent Number 20,432, “Improvement in cotton seed planters” was issued in June of 1858. In it, John and Rowland lay out the design and rationale for the invention. Included are schematics, which I thought were cool enough to display in my post. 

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The patent in its entirety is available here. Sometimes you find family history data in the most unexpected places.

Sources:
  • John Huggins I of Sea Wee Bay by Otis Prince 1965.
  • J. S. HUGGINS AND R. CHAPMAN, IMPROVEMENT IN COTTON-SEED PLANTERS. No. 20,432. Patented June 1, 1858.

The Bichrest Family

Posted by on Friday, 11 November, 2011

A brick wall has been shattered!

My maternal grandfather’s line is a part of my family history that I didn’t really have a lot of information on. My maternal great-grandfather, Janos BICHREST, came to the United States around the turn of the century. His Ellis Island records pinpoint his place of origin as Parno, Austria-Hungary. Parno is modern day Parchovany, Slovakia. During my research into my great-grandfather, I had observed that there are a large concentration of BICHRESTS in Maine, near the Lisbon Falls area. From my research, I know that it was a popular destination for Slovaks from Austria-Hungary. In particular, it was a destination for those from the area near Parno. Many of the BICHREST records I had come across, but could not connect into my line, listed Lisbon Falls. I have long suspected my family was connected to the many BICHRESTS of Maine, given the rarity of the name in the grand scheme of genealogy.

 

In 2009 I was able to enlist the help of a very gracious genealogist in Maine. He had written about some BICHRESTS on his website.  He was able to share with me some research he had done through the Family History Library (FHL) of the 1869 Hungarian Census.  The 1869 Hungarian Census was conducted by the Hungarian government to enumerate all individuals living in the empire, regardless of religion or property ownership. The census includes the town of Parno and it listed a family of BICHRESTS on page 68 of the microfilm copy. The head of the household is an Andrej Bichrest, born 1818. Among their family is listed a Pal (a Slovak variant of Paul), born 1859. As I mentioned before, the SS-5 for my great-grandfather Janos listed his father as a Paul BICHREST. Since Janos was born in 1891, it would put this Paul at the correct age range to be his father. However, I had very little to back up this assertion.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I usually Google surnames every so often to see if anything new has popped up. In this case, I came across some old posts (circa 2001) to a genealogy forum about some BICHRESTS. I had not seen these posts before. One mentioned a Roman Catholic priest. I remembered my mother telling me of a Roman Catholic priest, a BICHREST, that used to visit my grandmother. My mother said his name was John,  but could not offer much information beyond that. Among my grandmothers documents was a photo of who I believe is the priest.

 

I took a shot and emailed the author of the post, a BICHREST.  I fully expected the email to bounce considering the age of the post. To my elation it did not bounce! A few days later I had a reply from the author of the post. He mentioned that his great-grandfather Paul Michael BICHREST (b 1884) also came from Parno, Austria-Hungary. This great-grandfather Paul Michael had three siblings. Two sisters, Maria and Anna, and a brother, Jan. He mentioned that Maria had a married name of PAPIN, and that Anna had a married name of TOPOLOVSKY. He also mentioned his great-grandfather’s parents names were Pavel BICHREST and Zuzanna CIZMAR. Look closely at the names. Pavel is also a Slovak variant of Paul, and Zuzanna is a Slovak variant of Susan. These names matched very closely to the parents listed on my great-grandfather’s SS-5.  If you had previously read any of my posts about the Bichrest family, you might recognize the name PAPIN. I have seen the name associated with my family before. My great-grandfather listed a Pal Papin as his contact in the United States on his immigration records.

Connecting all the dots, I believe that Paul Michael BICHREST and my great-grandfather Janos BICHREST (a.k.a John Joseph BICHREST) were brothers.  I believe the final piece of the puzzle lies in the 1910 Federal Census. Previously, I could never find my great-grandfather in that census. Armed with all of the above information I discovered two BECHRISTS, John and Paul, boarding in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They are listed as rooming with a Michael PAPIN.  The reason I could not previously locate him was what appears to be a transcription error (Bichrest to Bechrest).

I believe all of this is sufficient proof that our line of BICHRESTs is indeed connected to the BICHRESTs of Maine, and that we are descendants of the family of BICHRESTs listed in the 1869 Hungarian Census.  A whole new line of research has been opened up for me, pushing my tree back 2 more generations. and I’m in the process of adding many more BICHRESTs to my tree. I hope to share the complete tree soon.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Inspiration

Posted by on Thursday, 3 June, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday is a blogging theme suggested by the site Geneabloggers. You’re supposed to discuss a family heirloom type of item that is important to you. I am taking a slightly different approach – an email I received from a Slovakian research mailing list, SLOVAK-ROOTS. The email was in relation to a discussion on the general lack of interest in family history, that many genealogists encounter while doing research. The email was written by Bill Tarkulich, the moderator of SLOVAK-ROOTS. I have quoted it in its entirety:

I’ve reformulated this discussion because the title quite a bit off the original topic Re: [S-R] SURNAMES-Wachtenheim-Szolyva/Svaliava and I’d like to draw attention to the hundreds of readers who may have elected to ignore the thread.

What Helene says rings true, I’ll add one more story. I stayed in my villages of Zboj and Nova Sedlica for two weeks, spending the days and nights meeting and speaking with dozens and dozens of family and “relatives” of one sort or another.

What struck me at first, was that I seemed to know A LOT more about the family than anyone I met.

After about a week, I politely asked one of the elders why they never wrote these things down or knew much about their family history. The answer was quite telling. “Because we are surrounded by our family and our history. There is no need.”

I left behind a small stack of paper including photographs which included family trees, history, and copies of church books. Never since that time did I receive any inquiry or comment on this material.

Only the photographs were of interest. “Yes, I can see we are related – look at that face.”

Coming back to the US, that kind of bothered me, but I assumed they were too busy working to engage in such idle-time frivolity. Since that time, I’ve slightly adjusted my perspective. It seems, that regardless what country we live in, history of most sorts is disregarded. The essential question seems to be, “How can this information help me live my life today?” And, for the most part, it does not.

On both sides of the ocean, I slam into privacy concerns all the time. It seems to fall into two camps. The first is that it’s going to get into sinister hands that will use the lineage information against them. The second is that “He must want something. Why is this guy fishing around about me? Does he want to take the family farm?”

Then comes the inevitable family gathering and some chit chat about family history. It’s polite, it’s cursory, old stories are told, and it ends.

I wish I could be as optimistic as Debbie. I don’t think anything is changing. While access to records has become light speed, human interest in family history remains in the dark ages.

YOU are the family historian, like it or not. There is always one person in a generation of a family group who becomes the familyhistorian. People come to me occasionally for information, but usually only to obtain a “sound byte” or a piece of trivia. Nobody asks, “what was life like?” “why did they come?” “How did they work?”

I take my unofficial role as family historian quite seriously. My work may be flawed, but it’s all my family has. I’ve bundled up all sorts of material and sent it to relatives I believe most likely to hang onto it. My hope and wish is that my little “bundle” will inspire someone someday to pick up the torch and carry it. No need for them to start from scratch – take it to the next level. As each generation departs, we lose so much richness.

I found this email very inspiring, and I often go back and read it when I am feeling daunted and want to re-energize my desire for family knowledge. If you come across this blog post Bill, thanks.

(Not So) Wordless Wednesday: Unidentified Soldier

Posted by on Wednesday, 2 June, 2010

This is a photo I received from my uncle. It was among the possessions of my grandmother, Margaret Laverne (Mackin) Bickerest.

The photo depicts a young man wearing what appears to be a soldier uniform. My mother believes it may be of my great-grandfather John Joseph Bichrest (a.k.a. Janos Bichrest), who immigrated to the United States from Parno, Austria/Hungary (modern day Parchovany, Slovakia) in 1907.

The photo has a few interesting features. First, the man is wearing a medal on his jacket. The top has appears to have a white outline with black stripe, and bars going across the top. The medal itself appears to have a humanoid form on it holding a spear. I believe it may be the World War I Victory Medal.  I’ve blown it up and sharpened it:

Second, the man has a rank on his sleeve. It appears to have four chevrons. I have blown up and sharpened that as well:

Last, the man has interesting looking boots and helmet, as seen below.

I wonder if from these features can his country of origin be identified? Is he American? Any help would be appreciated.

Tombstone Tuesday: Cox Family Plots

Posted by on Tuesday, 1 June, 2010

There are many Cox ancestors buried at Old Johnsonville Methodist Church Cemetery. The cemetery is located south of Johnsonville, South Carolina, off of South Georgetown Highway.

Here is a photo of Johnsonville Methodist Church itself. The church was founded in 1915.

The first plot I will cover is that of my great-grandparents. Another Cox family plot, much older, exists in the cemetery. I will cover it in a later post. My great-grandparents were:

  • Robert Dudley Cox, Sr. (b: 27 Jan 1885, d: 9 Dec 1967)
  • Helen Louise Dietz (b: 29 Jun 1889, d: 6 Aug 1981)

Their plot is about 8 feet by 6 feet rectangular, marked by marble stones. In the center is a bench style headstone, which I believe mark Robert and Helen. The reason I say “believe”, is that I could not find the names on the headstone, but there were two depressions in front of it. It is possible the markers with their names have sunken and grown over. I did not try to feel around on the ground for them. On the headstone is a quote from the Song of Solomon, 2:17: “Until the day break and the shadows flee away…”

The headstone of Robert and Helen is in proximity to another headstone, that of a son:

  • Horace Harlow Cox (b: 1 Jan 1917, d: 1 Jan 1945)

Horace’s headstone is within the confines of the plot’s marble markers.

No other closely related Cox members are within the plot.

Madness Monday: The Queen Of South Carolina

Posted by on Monday, 31 May, 2010

My great-great-grandmother’s name was Frances Cox, and her maiden name was Huggins. She married my great-great-grandfather Robert Franklin Cox some time around 1866, probably near Darlington, South Carolina. I knew very little about her until recently when I decided to look more into the Huggins family. Finding information on her before 1880 was difficult, but after a long search I was able to find an 1850 federal census record that looked interesting. Look closely at row 30:

What you see is correct: “Frances C. A. O. S. R. J. J. V. Q. of S. C.” What is that? Is that really a full name? What was the census taker smoking that day? It had me stumped for awhile. Luckily, a researcher on Ancestry.com had posted a related story which I only recently came across. The story references the mother of Frances, Zilphia Hamm. I’ve quoted it in its entirety:

Zilphia Hamm Huggins, by Ruth (Dorrill) Thomas

Zilphia Hamm Huggins rode her horse sidesaddle to church, even though she was pregnant. While returning home, her horse became frightened, threw her off, and broke her hip. Competent medical help was unavailable and without proper treatment, her hip did not heal correctly. Frances Huggins was born while her mother was still bedridden.

The ladies of the church came to see her with gifts and names for the new baby girl. Her mother was the tactful pastor’s wife and promised to use all the names. She wrote them down so that the preacher could read them all in the baptismal service. She counted them and found only eleven names, the last of which “Victoria,” who was the Queen of Englans. Zylphia wanted to choose a name of her own. Since South Carolina had no queen, she would name her “Queen of South Carolina”. Frances Huggins was baptized as follows: Frances Cornelia Emerintha Olevia Sarah Rebecca Julia Josephine Eugenia Sophronia Victoria Queen of South Carolina.

Is that the longest name you’ve ever seen? Would love to hear from you.

Sentimental Sunday: What Happened To Anna Bichrest?

Posted by on Sunday, 30 May, 2010

Pictured from left to right is my grandaunt Anna Bichrest, my maternal grandfather John Joseph Bichrest, Jr., and my grandaunt Mary Bichrest. Obviously, I have extensive information on my grandfather. I have a pretty good handle on my grandaunt Mary Bichrest. I have virtually no information at all on Anna Bichrest. She only appears in the 1930 Census as living with my great-grandparents, and from that I can date her birth to about 1917 in New Jersey.

She is listed in her mothers obituary in 1931 as a surviving daughter. After that, nothing. The real sad part is, she is not listed in her fathers obituary in 1979. I found out from family stories that she became estranged from the family and moved west, possibly to California. Many attempts to contact her were made, but it was clear she never wanted anything to do with the rest of the Bichrests/Bickerests. Did she die prior to 1979? Or had she been disowned and long forgotten? I may never know.

I hope I can one day find some trace of her.

All Roads Lead To Johnsonville

Posted by on Saturday, 29 May, 2010

All roads lead to Johnsonville, South Carolina. At least for this humble genealogist.  The areas surrounding Johnsonville are “ground zero” for my Cox family line, going back as early as the mid 1700s. So naturally, it was the destination of  my first “official” genealogy trip.

If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that genealogists are giving. I was given a guided tour of Johnsonville by a local Cox cousin, Carl B. Skinner. Carl and I share Archibald James Cox (b: 1773) as a common ancestor. Carl has done extensive research on the Coxes of the Johnsonville area. The earliest known Cox of the area is a William Cox, b:1710. According to land records researched by Carl, he can be located to the area off Sand Pit Road, near Lynch’s River.


During my trip, I snapped a photo off of Sandpit road. It’s not much to look at, but it’s where it all started. It was most likely farmland at one point, but is overgrown with trees now. With this photo comes some sadness. Cox relatives of the area say that a Cox family cemetery plot once existed, but has been lost to farming and digging in the area. What mysteries were explained there? Unfortunately we’ll probably never know. Interestingly, a Johnson family plot is not far from the ancestral Cox lands, and still stands.

During my visit, I saw many cemeteries full of my kin, and met a few more living cousins of mine. In fact, the Cox family is so strongly entrenched into the area, that many of the people still living there are distant kin to me. In a passing conversation with a gentleman at my hotel, I explained my business in the area. “Wow,” he said, “you can always go home!” Indeed.

Indexing Local History

Posted by on Friday, 12 March, 2010

I had a very interesting experience while doing some research on my paternal great grandmother, Helen Louise DIETZ. Helen’s paternal line leads to an Arnestus DIETZ of Pennsylvania. I had very little information on him other than his birth and death dates from his gravestone in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I hadn’t looked into him in some time, but I decided to do a Google search to see if anything came up. A hit I hadn’t seen previously came up, that was a link to a book indexed at archive.org, “The history of Ceres and its near vicinity, from its early Settlement in 1798 to the present.” It was worth a bit of investigation.

I was stunned to find out that the book is apparently a local history of Ceres, New York and includes detailed information about my ancestor. Some quick research showed that Ceres is very close to the southern border with Pennsylvania. The book was written near the turn of the century. The data about my ancestors was very rich, shown by this excerpt:

Later he removed to Friendship [PA], and Jeremiah Deitz, who had a blacksmith shop near, lived in the house for several years. Arnestus Deitz, his brother,
who lived with him for a time, married Elizabeth Smith, second daughter of Harry Smith. They lived on the Phelp's place for a time, but removed to Ohio,
and later to Wisconsin, where Mr. Deitz died, after a long and lingering illness, leaving his wife and six children.

It was almost surreal to read this. Could this really be my ancestor? Some deeper reading and fact checking against the information I had pretty much confirmed it. What a find!

It makes me wonder what my children will find when more and more books come online and get indexed by organizations like Google and archive.org.