Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial to William R. Hill 1834-1863, A Casualty of War

My wife, Robin and I have been searching our family history to find a direct ancestor that died in the service of our country.  Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America.  This blog will illustrate a technique for analysis of a Civil War Pension file and serve as a tribute to an ancestor who died at the age of 29 while in service to the USA.

Soldiers and sailors who die while serving in the military are usually young and single and often do not have any descendants.  My wife does have a direct ancestor that died while serving the Union in the Civil War.  His name is William Roland Hill and he died on the 23rd of May 1863 while on furlough from his service with Company A, 103rd Illinois Infantry regiment. He was married to Mary Hedge on 22 October 1857 in Fulton County, Illinois.  They had two daughters: Flora Ann Hill born 3 Dec 1860 and Laura Hill born 20 July 1863.

One of my goals is to digitize all of the documents that I have accumulated about our ancestors and attach them to our family trees at and  In December of 1992, I submitted the "Order for Copies of Veterans Records" to the National Archives for William Roland Hill.  I was able to glean several facts from those records 23 years ago.  I found it especially revealing to give those documents another review so let me tell you about my technique for analysis.

First, I used my Fujitsu Scan Snap s1500 Sheet Feed Scanner to make a PDF file of the copies received from the National Archives.  The sheet feed feature is very handy as it speeds the process of scanning.  Using my Adobe PDF software I was able to save the entire file of 17 pages as individual JPG image files.  I find that JPG files are much easier to use when analyzing and transcribing original records.  The JPGs are easier to zoom in and out and move around than the PDFs.  A technique that I recommend is to look at each page of a pension file and give each page a file name that describes the date and the content of the document page.  For example here is a chronological list of all of the documents that were contained in the Pension File:

1857-10-19 Hill-Wm Marriage Cert 1
1857-10-19 Hill-Wm Marriage Cert 2
1860-12-03 Hill-Flora Birth Cert
1862-08-12 Hill-Wm Enrollment Co A 103 IL Inf
1863-05-15 Hill-Wm Officer's Cert to Disability
1863-05-23 Hill-Wm Army Death Report
1863-05-23 Hill-Wm Death Cert by Doctor
1863-05-23 Hill-Wm Medical Record
1863-08-13 Hedge-Mary Widow's Declaration
1864-12-01 Hedge-Mary Marriage to Henry Woods
1865-07-01 Hedge-Mary Letter of Guardianship 1
1865-07-01 Hedge-Mary Letter of Guardianship 2
1865-11-17 Hedge-Mary Guardian's Declaration for Pension
1910-03-19 Hedge-Mary Neighbor Declaration
1917-01-27 Hedge-Mary Increase of Pension

There is something magical about putting genealogical information in chronological order.  I find that chronological order helps to show the sequence of events as a process with a purpose.  You can see that I used the four digit year, two digit month and two digit day as the first elements of my file name.  This puts the JPGs in chronological order so that I can browse them in succession.  I used the surname followed by the given name as the next elements of the file name.  I used the maiden name Mary Hedge rather than Mary Hill or Mary Woods to keep the name consistent.  I then created a description of the document title.  Sometimes that was easy because the document already had a title.  In the other cases, I created a document description based on the event being described.

Now let's take a look at the actual documents to see why they were needed for Mary Hedge Hill Woods to receive a Widow's Pension.

Mary Hedge needed to prove  her relationship to William Hill by providing evidence of their marriage.  The County Clerk of Fulton County, Illinois provided a transcript of his Registry of Marriages which attested as follows:

  • Date of License: 19 October 1857
  • Registry Number: 258
  • Names of Parties: William Hill to Mary Hedge
  • By Whom Married: O.L. Lillie, J.P.
  • Date of marriage: 22 October 1857
  • Certification date: 13 August 1865

1857-10-19 Hill-Wm Marriage Certificate 1

1857-10-19 Hill-Wm Marriage Certificate 2
 Mary also obtained a certification from Dr. Thaddeus Nott for the birth of her daughter, Flora on 3 December 1860 in Fulton County, Illinois.
1860-12-03 Hill-Flora Birth Certificate
 The Adjutant General's Office provided a proof of the enrollment of William Hill in Company A, 103rd Illinois Infantry.  The key facts in this document are:
Enrollment Date: 12 August 1862
Enrollment Place: Lewistown, Illinois
Unit: Company A, 103rd Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers
Length of Enlistment: 3 years
Mustered into service as a Private on the 2nd day of October 1862 at Peoria, Ill.
On the Muster Rolls of Co. A of that Regiment for the months of May and June 1863, he is reported "Died of disease, while at home on furlough on the 23rd of May 1863, a private.

1862-08-12 Hill-Wm Enrollment Company A 103 Illinois Infantry
 The Officer's Certificate to Disability of Soldier was written by Howard Willison, 2nd Lieutenant of Company A, 103rd Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry from Scottsboro, Alabama on April 11, 1864.  Lieutenant Willison certified that he was acquainted with William Hill who was a member of his company.  When he enlisted in the service of the United States he was in good health.  "To my knowledge he was disabled while in the service of the United States and in the line of duty at LaGrange, Tennessee on or about the 15th day  of May 1863 by General Debility caused by cold and exposure.
1863-05-15 Hill-Wm Officer's Certificate to Disability of Soldier
 A second copy of the Adjutant General's Report of Service was included which was a virtual duplicate of the first copy except for the this additional phrase: "Cause of death not stated."

1863-05-23 Hill-Wm Army Death Report
COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT: State of New York, Oswego County

George D. McManus being duly sworn says that he is a practicing physician now in the City of Oswego, Oswego Co., State of New York, but for several years and during the last sickness of William Hill, Private of Co. A. 103d Reg. Illinois Volunteers, I was a resident of Lewistown, Fulton County, Illinois and further that I attended the aforesaid William Hill in his last sickness at his residence in the town of Liverpool, Co. of Fulton, state of Illinois, and that he William Hill, died on the 23d day of May A.D. 1863- of Phthisis Pulmonalis } George D. McManus.

Subscribed and sworn before me this 16th day of May in the year 1864 and I hereby certify that the said George D. Mc Manus is a physician in good standing in his profession of good credit and entitled to full credit as a witness and that I have no interest whatsoever in the prosecution of this claim. } Robt. H. Martin, Notary Public

NOTE: Phthisis Pulmonalis is an old name for Tuberculosis.
1863-05-23 Hill-Wm Death Certificate by Doctor

1863-05-23 Hill-Wm Medical Record

1863-08-13 Hedge-Mary Widow's Declaration- Army Pension

1864-12-01 Hedge-Mary Marriage to Henry Woods

1865-07-01 Hedge-Mary Letter of Guardianship 1

1865-07-01 Hedge-Mary Letter of Guardianship 2

1865-11-17 Hedge-Mary Guardian's Declaration for Pension

1910-03-19 Hedge-Mary Neighbor Declaration

1917-01-27 Hedge-Mary Increase of Pension

Monday, May 18, 2015

German Ancestors Part 3- Lost in Translation?

The third presentation in my series on German family history research was presented this last Saturday.  I want to thank my partners at the Bay Area Genealogical Society (BAGS) who have helped me present this series of programs.  I especially want to thank Kim Zrubek, BAGS Program VP and Bob Wegner, BAGS Registrar who have been instrumental in organizing this Special Interest Group.  We will be offering more German programs in the fall.

If you are interested in more of my presentations and blogs on German genealogy, type the word German in the search box in the right hand column and you will see a list of all of my German topics.

This presentation gives a few tips on how to translate German records when you do not actually speak German.  One of the attendees told me that she had a cousin in Germany that was unable to read the old German records.  That is because prior to the 1940s the Germans used a unique alphabet that varies somewhat from the Roman alphabet used in Western Europe and the Americas.

The name for this unique alphabet is Kurrenschrift.  The following page from the FamilySearch Wiki includes links to several helpful videos and some word lists that simplify the process of translation of old German records.

The German lower case letters are pretty similar to our Roman alphabet.  The lowercase letter chart has 27 letters with the addition of the Eszett or Sharp S.  These charts were obtained from the Paleography Tutorials at the Brigham Young University website.  This website offers guidance in the deciphering of documents written in handwriting styles or alphabets no longer in general use.
It concentrates on alphabets used between 1500 and 1800 in western Europe.  Currently it offers instruction in English, German, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese; Latin and eastern European languages will be added in the future.

Kurrentschrift has four special characters including three umlauted vowels and the Eszett or Sharp S that are in addition to the 26 letters that we know.

The capital letters are the most problematic for me.  Take a look at this chart of uppercase letters.  You will notice that the differences between the "A" and the "U" are very subtle.  It takes a little practice to discern the uppercase letters.  It is complicated by the fact there were various forms of "Gothic script" used by different publishers.

For example, a dictionary of German placenames known in English as Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire requires a translating guide all of its own.  I have one written by Fay S. Dearden entitled "Understanding Meyers Orts" which I used to translate the various jurisdictions for the village of Zemmin in Pommerania.  See the example below.

This baptismal certificate was written in German by the Rev. Phillip Stemple of the Westside German Protestant Church in Cleveland, Ohio and references the original church book from which it was taken.  German immigrants attended German speaking churches in the United States.  The records of these churches often hold the key to the German hometown of your immigrant ancestors.  This baptismal certificate was preserved and indexed by the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland.  Church records for our immigrant ancestors sometimes have been microfilmed and can be accessed through a Family History Center.  Often you will be required to search for these records in archives or historical societies of cities, counties and churches.

 One good approach is to look for the capitalized names and places first.  For example, you can see Gottlieb Emil Prasse in the first and second lines and Brooklyn, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio in the third and fourth lines.  The keyword "geboren" or "born" is prior to the date of 14 November 1865.

Another approach to translation of German records is to make a transcript of the German and use Google translate to get the English version.  This results in a literal translation that can be somewhat awkward but for genealogical purposes you get the essential facts as you can see in this example below.

If you prefer to get help with translations, I recommend that you visit the website of the Association of Professional Genealogists.  You can find a professional with expertise in reading German records that will be happy to help you.  Send the genealogist a copy of the record that you are attempting to translate and ask for an estimate to translate the document for you.  I call upon my peers in APG quite often when I am researching in a distant locale or am having difficulty with a specialized record.

My full presentation offers many more tips on how to translate and find resources to assist you in discovering your German heritage.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Assassin of Bob Sloan Convicted!

If you have read my post about the "Mysterious Bob Sloan" you know that he was "assassinated" in Stafford, Texas on October 21, 1916.  If you don't know the story you may want to read the first post before going any further.

I have had incredible success in discovering Bob Sloan's exploits in Washington County, Texas.  This success is due to the fact that the Portal to Texas History has digitized a very large collection of newspapers from Brenham, Texas.  Researching newspapers on microfilm can be incredibly time consuming.  Digital newspapers can open the door to so many stories about our ancestors.  All you need are a few carefully crafted search terms.  Digital newspapers are such a boon to the armchair genealogist because searches can be done from anywhere in the world without the time and expense of locating microfilms and traveling to the library that holds the films.  Inter-library loan is one way to get around this time and expense of going to a distant library.   But when you can find the right digital newspaper it is the genealogists equivalent of manna from heaven.

Unfortunately the newspapers for Fort Bend County, Texas have not yet been digitized.  The good news is that, some of the events of Fort Bend County have been reported in the Houston Post.  After several weeks of searching for information on the murder trial of Sherman Allen, I finally found out why there was no further mention of him.  His case was dismissed!

Another man ended up being convicted of the crime and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.  Here is the printout from the Portal to Texas History:

Frank Robinson Convicted of Killing the Rev. Robert S. Sloan

Why didn't I find this article earlier?  When you read the article closely, you will see why a search for Sloan did not find this particular article, his name is not mentioned.  WAIT A MINUTE! I know I had already searched for articles related to Sherman Allen.  Why did this article not show up earlier?   This overview page about the Texas Digital Newspaper Program helps to answer my persistent question;

The University of North Texas has been in the process of adding the Houston Post to the digital newspaper collection.  The most recent additions of the Houston Post on the Texas newspaper portal were added on April 22, 2015.  So this article was not there when I searched for Sherman Allen a few weeks ago!  The lesson for me was that you need to keep checking back with the newspaper portals to see if there are any recently added titles of interest.

So now we can try to answer the obvious question: Why did Frank Robinson kill Bob Sloan?

I contacted Daniel Sample at the George Memorial Library in  Richmond, Texas and let him know of my most recent discovery of the conviction of Frank Robinson for the Sloan murder.  He provided me with a copy of the Robinson indictment:

There were many familiar names on this list of witnesses that were also on the list from the Sherman Allen case.  These family names will be immediately recognizable to anyone with an interest in the African American families of Stafford, Texas: Gibbs, Ferguson, Marshall, Patterson, Reed, Tucker, Toliver and others.  These are also names that are found in abundance at the New Hope Cemetery in Stafford.

What evidence did Fort Bend County have to convict Frank Robinson of the murder of Robert Sloan?  What was the motive?  Why was it called an "assassination"?

Mr. Sample at the George Memorial Library went through the district court minutes and was able to locate a case number for Robinson, 4524.  Unfortunately the usual red envelope was missing and the only item in that spot was the indictment for Robinson.  The indictment lists his name as "Robertson."  Mr. Sample also searched the Rosenberg Herald, April to the end of May 1917 and did not find any mention of Mr. Robertson [Robinson] or the murder case.   So it appears that the motive for this crime will remain a mystery.

If you do not have access to digital newspapers for your locality of research, you should always contact the nearest local library.  The local library probably has the newspapers on microfilm and many librarians are willing to assist you if you have a specific item that you are trying to find.

I was able to find a Texas Prison record for Frank Robinson at

Here is a transcript of the prison record for Frank Robinson:

Convict Record of Frank Robinson
Texas State Penitentiaries
Page 201
Registered No.: 41011
Name: Frank Robinson
Age: 41
Height: 6' 7/8"
Weight: 167
Complexion: Black
Eyes: Black
Hair: Black
Marks on Person: Cut scar pollex [thumb]: ball; cut scar on bridge of nose; small cut scar center of left cheek; Shoes #10
Marital Relations: Yes
Use of Tobacco: Yes
Habits: Intemperate
Education: Poor
Able to Read: Yes
Able to Write: Yes
No. of Years in School: 0
Date of Birth: 1876
Birthplace: Texas
Birthplace of Father: Kentucky
Birthplace of Mother: Kentucky
TIME OF CONVICTION: April 20, 1917
TERM OF IMPRISONMENT: 5 to 45; 45 years
COUNTY: Fort Bend
RESIDENCE: Stafford, Texas
PLEA: Not Guilty
WHEN RECEIVED: April 26, 1917
REMARKS: Pardoned December 8, 1926

Prior to the murder we find Frank Robinson residing in Fort Bend County in the 1910 census:

Name: Frank Robinson
Age in 1910: 35
Birth Year: abt 1875
Birthplace: Texas
Home in 1910: Justice Precinct 3, Fort Bend, Texas
Race: Black
Gender: Male
Relation to Head of House: Head
Marital Status: Married
Spouse's Name: Clara Robinson
Father's name: Winter Robinson
Occupation: Farmer on a rented farm
Household Members:
Name Age
Frank Robinson 35
Clara Robinson 30
Winter Robinson 65

Neighbors: These names are the heads of the households only. All are black except where noted. Austin Gibbs 31, Jim Washington 64, Tony Price 38 [Mulatto], Sam Paulkil 36, Reese Packer 40 [White], Nick Walter 39 [White], Charlotte Stringfellow 35, Dan Griffin 78.

In 1920 Frank Robinson was listed in the census at the Harlan State Prison Farm in Fort Bend County.  We know from his prison record that he was pardoned in 1926.  By 1930 he is back in Fort Bend County residing alone in Precinct 3 on the Blue Ridge Road.  His marital status was listed as widowed.  In 1940 he is still living alone working as a farm laborer. On this census his marital status is divorced.

The last record we have of Frank Robinson is his death certificate.  

Name: Frank Robinson
Birth Date: abt 1877
Birth Place: Fort Bend, Texas
Gender: Male
Race: Negro (Black)
Residence: Dewalt, Fort Bend, Texas
Father: Winter Robinson, born Baltimore, Maryland
Mother: Jane Cox, born Virginia
Age at Death: 72
Death Date: 11 Oct 1949
Death Place: Dewalt, Fort Bend, Texas, USA
Burial Place:   Dewalt Cemetery [now located in Missouri City, Texas]
Informant: Viola Davis

The following pages tell us a little about the history of Dewalt and its cemetery.
The Robinson family was integrally involved in the history of Dewalt.

There are no memorials to Frank Robinson at either or so it may be an unmarked grave.  There were no children listed with Frank Robinson and his wife, Clara so apparently there are no descendants to track down.  There was no obituary in the online obituary database at the George Memorial Library.

Perhaps we will never know why Frank Robinson shot the Rev. Robert S. Sloan but we will never stop wondering.


Johnston, R. M. The Houston Post. (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 32, No. 18, Ed. 1 Sunday, April 22, 1917. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 3, 2015. Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Image 205 of 258. United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc.

  • Year: 1910; Census Place: Justice Precinct 3, Fort Bend, Texas; Roll: T624_1553; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0020; FHL microfilm: 1375566
  • Year: 1920; Census Place: Justice Precinct 4, Fort Bend, Texas; Roll: T625_1804; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 7; Image: 911
  • Year: 1930; Census Place: Precinct 3, Fort Bend, Texas; Roll: 2333; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0008; Image: 786.0; FHL microfilm: 2342067
  • Year: 1940; Census Place: Precinct 3, Fort Bend, Texas; Roll: T627_4034; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 79-8

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Poignant Farewell from Germany

Sometimes in my genealogical journeys, I run across a document that I have never seen before.  I recently discovered a very unique document in my research on the Prasse Family of Cleveland, Ohio.

It all started at the website of the Western Reserve Historical Society.  After a bit of searching I located the WRHS Genealogy Index:

I entered the surname PRASSE and came up with the following matches:

These records were described as Bible records but when they finally arrived, I learned that this was a slight misnomer.  What I actually received was an original baptismal record for Emil Prasse from a German language church in Cleveland and a farewell poem from Emil's maternal aunt that remained behind in Germany.

The farewell poem was one of the most mystifying documents that I had ever read.  The document was transcribed from the original German and then translated to English.

The tone of the poem made it sound like an obituary or a eulogy:

In The Name of Jesus,

Dearly loved sister, I give you my last farewell and press you to my breast filled with pain of separation; however, in the hope though we will not see each other again in this life, we will surely see each other again in eternity...

But when I looked at the date at the bottom of the poem, 10 May 1855, I realized that this eulogy was written prior to the departure of the Prasse family from Germany.  It was mournful because Aunt Johanne knew that she would never see her sister again.

Take you the last greeting 
because now I have to bid farewell,
Thus God will accompany you,
He will not depart from you,
Will be with you on your journey,
until you will get on the ship

When you get onto the sea now,

And you feel fear and woe,
When storm and waves are raging,
And violent storms are howling,
So call then diligently on the man
Who can command the wind and waves.

Do you ask now who is this one,

Whom wind and sea obey,
When they do rage
And howl in the sails?
He is your savior Jesus Christ,
who is everyone's helper in need.

Flee speedily to him,

With him take refuge
In all your troubles.
He will soon deliver You;
Because his is this old world,
his is also that new world.

With reflection depart,

Just keep close to Him;
He will not leave you
On all your pathways.
He will always stay close to you,
Also over there in America.
So I depart from you now,
My beloved sister here,
Go with God's peace.
May happiness be granted to you.
My eyes are full of tears,

take my last farewell.

Johanne Juliane He ...

born Schuetze

10 May 1855

This poem is such a treasure, and I am so glad that it was preserved in this fashion.  The poem is also a great example of a genealogical treasure with no provenance.  The Genealogical Committee of the Western Reserve Historical Society had failed to cite the source of this document.  Even worse it appears that someone had the original image from which a transcription was made but they were unable to make out Aunt Johanne's married name.  The original image was also not included in the publication.

But as a genealogist, I must always look on the bright side.  The title page for this record did reveal the following:

DESCRIPTION: Farewell Poem from Johanne Juliene He ... born Schuetze
Tribute to her sister Christianne Elizabeth Schuetze Prasse.
Transcription in German and English.
SUBMITTED BY: Carol P. Reed, 18950 Bonnie Bank Lane, Fairview Park, Ohio 44126

AND,,, drum roll please...a phone number...... 440-331-6713.

AND...of course the number is no longer in service.

Horrors!!! I may actually have to write a snail mail letter with a self addressed stamped envelope.

It appears from this description that the original hand written poem may not have been submitted to the WRHS.

These two records when read together reveal a great deal about the Prasse family.  Here is the original image of the baptismal record.

Here is a transcript of the baptismal record:

Baptismal Certificate

The undersigned book certifies that Gottlieb Emil Prasse, born on 14th November 1865 in Brooklyn, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio, son of Gustav Prasse and his wife Christianna Elisabethe, who was born Schuetze, was on the 6th September 1866 admitted through Christian Baptism into the congregation of the Christian Church.

From the Protestant minister’s office, signed Philippe Stempell, Cleveland, the 9th September 1866.

The record is embossed with a seal that reads as follows: UNITED GERMAN EVANG[ELICAL] PROTESTANT CHURCH WEST SIDE CLEVELAND

I have written before about this church which is now known as the Westside United Church of Christ, 3800 Bridge Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113.  The church still holds its original records which apparently have not been microfilmed.  I have made a written request for a search of their records related to the Prasse family.  It appears that there may be several baptisms, marriages and burials of Prasse family members recorded in the books of this church.

The farewell poem and the baptismal certificate reveal several clues about the Prasse family.  Together the two documents confirm that Christianna Prasse's maiden name was Schuetze.  Christianna's sister was deeply religious so it seems likely that both sisters shared a Protestant faith that was instilled by their parents.  It appears that they may have been dissenters from the established Lutheran church of Germany as the United German Evangelical Protestant Church of Cleveland was a decidedly different brand of religion.  Clearly the Prasse family departed from Germany shortly after the date of 10 May 1855 on the poem.

But mostly I am struck by the mournful words of Aunt Johanne's poem.  The incredible pain and loss that she felt upon the departure of her sister from Germany to America.  She took some consolation in her faith that she would meet her sister again in heaven.  The fact that her poem was preserved by the WRHS has made it possible for all of the Schuetze and Prasse descendants to experience the joy of that reunion here on earth.

I would especially like to thank Dieter Gaupp for his work on the translation of the baptismal record.