The First Wernsdorfer

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

I absolutely love genealogy.

So, in addition to researching my own family tree, I’ve naturally done quite a bit of research on my wife’s tree as well. In many respects, I’ve actually been more successful researching my wife’s family tree than my own. And because of that, I feel like I’ve connected with her ancestors in a way as if they were my own ancestors.

For me, finding an American progenitor is an awesome accomplishment. A progenitor is the first of your family name. So, in this regard, we are looking for the very first of your name in America. In my tree, I have found all of my progenitors and all of them are European immigrants that came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

My wife’s tree is very different. A number of her branches have deep American roots dating back to the 1600s. However, in this post, I am going to focus on our trip to visit The First Wernsdorfer – George – who like many of my ancestors was the first one of his name to come to America from Germany.

George, according to his death certificate, was born on July 22, 1859 in Germany. His life story is an interesting one and definitely one characterized by hard work and determination.

On August 1, 1885, George left his homeland of Germany, where he was a farmer, to come to America.

immigration
From The Germans To America Index

From what I am able to tell, the first job that George took in America was as a hostler in Brooklyn. A hostler is a man employed to look after the horses of people staying at an inn. I don’t think there are too many hostlers nowadays in Brooklyn. Certainly this was a hard job and definitely not the most glamorous. However, it was the beginning of a new life in a new country for a man that would work hard every single day of his life.

1888-directory
From The 1888 Brooklyn City Directory
1889-directory
From The 1889 Brooklyn City Directory

In 1892, we see George with his first wife Elizabeth and his two daughters, Barbara and Louise.

1892-census

On January 5, 1899, something tragic happened. George’s wife, Elizabeth Wernsdorfer (nee Moser) passed away, leaving George to care for their two daughters and two sons. I have not purchased Elizabeth’s death certificate yet. Therefore, I do not know exactly what happened to her. She is listed as being buried with an infant though. So, I am assuming that she died while giving childbirth.

locate-a-loved-one

From the above screenshot of the Locate A Loved One search results, we can see that both Elizabeth and her child were buried together in 1899. The other Wernsdofers shown in the search results were children of George and Elizabeth’s son, John Wernsdorfer and his wife Dorothea.

About 8 months later on October 15, 1899, George married Barbara Thomann. In the 1900 Census, we see that George is living in Brooklyn with his second wife Barbara and his children from his marriage with his first wife Elizabeth (Barbara, Elizabeth aka Lizzie, John, and George).

1900-census
In 1900, George is listed as being a driver. I did not know what kind of driver he was at this time, but as you will see later in the post, he was an ambulance driver for a hospital for many years.

Here is the marriage certificate for George Wernsdorfer and Barbara Thomann.

marriage-certificate

In 1905, Barbara and George have had their first child together, a son named Joseph.

1905-census

In 1910, George is still listed as a Coach Driver. His eldest child Barbara has moved out and is probably married by this time. His second daughter Lizzie is working as a book binder. His eldest son John is working at a gas company and both George and Joseph are in school.

1910-census

By 1915, George is listed as a hospital driver. John has moved out and is now married to Dorothea. George and Elizabeth still have the same professions and Joseph is still in school.

1915-census

Through the 20s and 30s, George and Elizabeth eventually moved out, getting married, and starting their own families. Elizabeth (1890-1964) married a Peter Joseph Bogensberger (1891-1944) in 1921 and had two children. George (1896-1966) married Augusta S. Luckner (1902-1983) and had five children.

The elder George Wernsdorfer continued working as an ambulance driver for St. Catherine’s Hospital for many years. One significant highlight that happened during his career was his efforts in trying to put out a blazing fire at St. Catherine’s Hospital. See article below.

newspaper-article
From The Brooklyn Standard Union, Wednesday, October 28, 1925, Page 1

From farming in Germany, to picking up after horses during turn of the century New York City, to driving an ambulance for St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn for decades, George Wernsdorfer worked hard every single day of his life. He literally worked until the day that he died, which also happened to be at St. Catherine’s Hospital.

death-certificate

As you can see, at the age of 78, George Wernsdorfer who was still working at St. Catherine’s Hospital, died at 9:30 in the morning on September 9, 1937, at St. Catherine’s Hospital. Now, obviously much older, it appears he had made a transition from ambulance driver to the much less stressful job of gardener at some point in the 1930s.

What a remarkable journey. George, the First Wernsdorfer, worked hard to make it in this country. He literally died working, which I am confident is something he loved. Who works until their 78? Not many.

George without a doubt gave his family members more than he had and he taught them the value of hard work. Without his dedication and work ethic, I am confident that things would have been much different for the generations that came after. Thank God for George! It was a pleasure visiting you.

wernsdorfer-1

wernsdorfer-3

George is buried at St. John’s Cemetery with both of his wives Elizabeth and Barbara. Barbara passed away on December 8, 1937, about 3 months after George.

As you can see, there are only 3 names inscribed on their headstone. However, they have children and grandchildren that were buried there as well with them.

One of my main goals with Flat Tire Genealogy as I have expressed in many of my other posts is to make sure that all of our ancestors are remembered. Please support this page and share it with others because all of the money that I make from these efforts is going to go towards adding the names of those that have been forgotten to their headstones.

I hope you enjoyed this last post in my Trip to St. John’s series. Please stay tuned for much more content in the coming weeks and months!

As always, keep on digging.

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How Many Repps?

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

As any researcher knows, some things are harder to figure out than others. In the case of genealogical research, some branches of your tree will provide you with a rushing flood of information without any issues while others are simply a giant brick wall.

In the case of the Repp side of my family, I had to do some heavy lifting in order to break through the proverbial brick wall of my family tree.

When I first started researching my family tree, I had never even heard of the name Repp.

In fact, the only thing I knew about my great-great grandmother was that her name was Lillian Burns, though sometimes she was referred to as Mary, according to my grandmother, by her husband Henry Edward Burns.

So, what was Lillian’s maiden name? Well, when I asked my grandmother she didn’t know, not because she didn’t know the name, but rather she had heard of two names – Lillian Cortland and Lillian Holland. According to my grandmother, her grandmother Lillian was not very open about her life and she spoke very sparingly about her family. From what my grandmother has told me, Lillian stated that she was raised by her grandmother and an Uncle Chris and was not close with either of her parents. My grandmother also stated that she had heard that Lillian’s mother was an opera singer or some other type of performer that kept her constantly on the road and her father was not active in her life.

Now, although this was good information to start searching to build my tree further, it didn’t produce a lot of leads. For example, Lillian lived with her grandmother and an Uncle. But were they Cortlands? Were they Hollands? Were they her paternal relatives? Were they her maternal relatives with a completely different last name? Did Lillian take on her father’s name or perhaps a stepfather’s name at birth? All questions I didn’t know the answers to.

It turns out, her name at birth was Lillie Mary Repp.

birth-certificate

You might be asking yourself how I could have managed to find this certificate. Well, after giving up on running countless searches of both Cortlands and Hollands with Lillian’s birth year, I came across a website called Fulton History, a newspaper search engine that contains many of New York’s historical newspapers.

One of the first things I found was a notification of Lillian’s marriage to Henry in 1913.

lillian-burns-marriage
From The Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, May 28, 1913

As you can see, she appears here as Lillian Cortland. But it was this next document that opened up the floodgates.

obituary-for-margaret-holland
From The Daily Star Newspaper, January 28, 1929

On January 28, 1929, Lillian’s mother Margaret Holland passed away. As you can see from the obituary, she is survived by her daughter, and her brothers Christopher and Joseph Repp. I had found Uncle Chris and apparently Uncle Joe too.

This document was really the key to breaking through that brick wall. From there, I found more and more records and I was able to figure out the entire make-up of Lillian’s family (with the exception of her father). As you will notice, it is more than evident that Lillian was right when she said she was raised by her grandmother Catherine Repp and her Uncle Chris.

1900-census
In 1900, Catherine Repp is living in Manhattan at 610 East 17th Street with her daughter Margaret, her sons Joseph and Christopher, and her granddaughter Lillian.
1910-census
In 1910, Catherine, Margaret, Chris, and Lillian are living in Brooklyn at 218 Monitor Street.
1915-census
By 1915, Lillian has moved into a new residence with her husband Henry. Uncle Chris and her mother Margaret are still living with their mother, this time at 187 Moffat Street in Brooklyn.

Again using the Locate A Loved One search engine, I was able to find the exact gravesite of where Catherine Repp and Margaret Holland were buried. Catherine’s son and Margaret’s brother, Joseph A. Repp, is also buried with them. Here is their headstone.

catherine-repp

Unfortunately, it appears as if Catherine’s name was the only one that got inscribed.

“In Loving Memory of Our Beloved Mother”

I hope to one day add the rest of their names.

Catherine Elizabeth Repp (nee Bochmann)

1841-1918

Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66

Margaret Philomena Holland (nee Repp)

1866-1929

Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66

Joseph A. Repp

1873-1938

Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66

There’s certainly more Repps out there. I look forward to finding them!

A Tale of Two Rosalies – Part One

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

Before I got the flat tire, I visited St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, New York. The staff there was incredibly helpful in assisting me with finding the final resting places of the many ancestors of me and my fiancé that are buried there. In fact, there were only two people that I needed them to look up because I came in already knowing the exact spots of where many of our ancestors were.

This was thanks to their online tool called Locate A Loved One. This search engine offered by Catholic Cemeteries gives you the exact location of where your ancestor is buried. It covers St. John’s Cemetery, Mount St. Mary in Flushing, Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, and St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. Not all records have been uploaded to the website though. So, don’t assume that just because one of your ancestors doesn’t appear in the search results that they aren’t actually buried there. The best way to confirm where your ancestor is buried is to obtain their death certificate.

For those that died in New York City before 1949, you can purchase their death certificate online from the New York City Municipal Archives. Some people opt to actually visit the archives and take photos of the records in order to save some money. However, if you do not have the capability to travel to New York City, then you will have to pay the $15 fee to obtain a copy of each record. I always make my records available on Ancestry.com because to me it just doesn’t make sense to make people continue paying for the same information. I wish New York State made their vital records publicly available but for now hopefully you have a cousin out there that has made it available instead.

If you have not a clue where to begin to locate a death record in New York City, the NYC Death Index provided by the Italian Genealogical Group is a good place to start. I have had a lot of success using this tool and the ancestors I am about to highlight were all first found using this great database.

The first ancestor I received information on at St. John’s Cemetery was Rosalia Fariñas (née Garcia), my great-great grandmother. I actually wrote about her before as part of the #52Ancestors challenge in 2014.

I always wondered why she wasn’t buried with her husband, Juan Fariñas, who is buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. When I asked my grandmother about it, she stated that her grandfather Juan was supposed to be buried with her but a little boy in the family had passed away and was buried at the plot in St. John’s. I suppose there was such a large gap between the two of them passing away (33 years) that the plot in St. John’s had filled up and the choice was made by Juan to get another plot in a Long Island cemetery instead. Anyways, I was intrigued to see who these other people were that were also buried with my great-great grandmother.

The other ancestor I received information on at St. John’s Cemetery was Rosalia’s mother, my 3x great-grandmother, Rosalia Garcia (née Bautista).

Rosalia Garcia - Death Certificate
At the bottom of Rosalia’s death certificate, you can see that her place of burial is St. John’s Cemetery.

As I had figured, they were buried in the same plot together. Knowing it is standard for many plots to just hold 3 people, I figured it was the two Rosalias and the “little boy” – perhaps a kid brother of my great-grandmother that our family never knew about. What I found was interesting and beautiful.

Rosalia Garcia

What I was looking at was one of the most beautiful headstones that I had ever seen – certainly something more than what I thought my Spanish immigrant ancestors could afford. The stone was absolutely stunning and quite frankly looked brand new. No doubt that this is the type of stone that will last hundreds of years without needing any type of restoration.

Another striking thing I noticed was the age of the second Rosalia. Two Rosalias were there just as I had been told, and the first one matched the death date of my 3x great-grandmother. However, my 2x great-grandmother had died in 1933 at the age of 42. She did not die in 1927 and she certainly was not 15 years old at the age of her death. Could this be a mistake made by a mason? Highly doubtful – not with that kind of work. Could the office have made a mistake and my 2x great-grandmother is buried elsewhere? That seemed to be more plausible.

I called the office back. They said, “No, she is there.” Turns out there weren’t just two Rosalias there. There were three. I had never heard of this Rosalia. I had also realized that someone had failed to make sure that my 2x great-grandmother’s name was added to the stone. Through this website, I hope to be able to be that person that finally gets her name up there.

So, who was this other Rosalia? And who was Juanito? Turned out my grandmother was right. There was a little boy buried there (died at just 4 years of age). What happened to them? How were they related to me? Who were their parents? They seemed to be too young to be the children of my 3x great grandmother and to my knowledge they weren’t my 2x great-grandmother’s kids. So, who were they? So many questions…Questions that never would have been asked had I not taken the time to visit them.

My hypothesis was that they were the children of Rosalia’s brother Louis (who I mentioned in my last post about her). Where was Louis buried though? Why weren’t they with their parents? All things I had to look into. Well, I did and I am happy to share what I have found…in my next post.

Until then…keep digging.