A maz(e)ing Genealogy (subtitle:  Proving family stories)

Subtitle: Proving family stories that provide minimal information

Watch the genealogy shows on television. The searches appear straightforward with records obtained in clear chronological order. Occasionally, the host says, “We had to really look for this information.”  Subjects type a name into an online database, usually Ancestry, and a particular record for their ancestor appears.  At a county clerk’s office, the marriage book opens to the exact page with the person’s marriage record. These presentations simplify the process of genealogy. Yes, genealogy can be simple and straightforward. More often, our genealogy path seems more like a labyrinth or maze with frequent dead-ends and no clear way out. The ‘brick wall’ may actually be a hurdle or temporary road block.

Read “The Brick Wall Checklist” for an opinion about brick walls.

person in maze

Source:  http://www.the-burgenland-bunch.org/Newsletter/Newsletter266.htm

“Which begs the question: what is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth? Although considered synonymous by some, it is generally accepted that a labyrinth contains only one path, often spiralling around and folding back on itself, in ever-decreasing loops, whereas a maze contains branching paths, presenting the explorer with choices and the potential for getting very, very lost.” (Source: https://theconversation.com/how-to-escape-a-maze-according-to-maths_71582:  accessed 10 Feb 2018)

Some characterize genealogy as a puzzle with missing  pieces. How do you put a genealogy puzzle together? Read this blog post for some ideas:  Finding all the pieces to the puzzle.  For me, the image varies with each family group/ person and the specific goal.

I have been doing genealogy for over 20 years. Last year (2017), I started a Genealogy Do-Over by carefully reorganizing and reviewing files. Each file contains multiple records and notes. This year, I focus on my mother’s family (Tucker-Maurer) with forays into my husband’s family lines (Ellerbee-Simmons and Johnson-Reed). The person of the week is Rosina Maurer, sister of my great grandfather, Herman Maurer, and the maze that I found myself in.

The first rule of genealogy is “Start with what you know.”  In this case, I started with a handwritten family history by my great-aunt, Viola Maurer Tucker, written in the early 1980s.  [1]

“Valentine & Katherine Maurer had 5 children:  Herman, Katherine, Joseph, Rose, Edward. . . . Rose married Jacob Smetz.  We lost track of them after Herman (our father) died.  They had 2 or 3 children and lived in New Jersey.”

With these minimal clues, the search began with the first record found for Rose –  1892 New York State Census, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York: [2] 

Page 3, column 1, lines 13-17: Valentine Maurer, 65, b. Germany; Annie Maurer, 64, b. Germany; Rosie Maurer, age 24, b. U.S., box maker; Joseph Maurer, age 23, b. US, brass worker; Edward Maurer, age 17, b US, mechanic.

New facts: Rose, a.k.a.  ‘Rosie’, born about 1868, single and living with her parents in 1892.  Disclaimer:  Still lost in the maze of 1870 and 1880 census records for this family. I haven’t yet done an exhaustive search in these records.

gg62755812Keep chronological journal, handwritten or computer-based, of when and where you find information even if information is conflicting or negative. This journal / research log will keep you from retracing your steps later. Transfer appropriate information to your family tree. On family tree, write notes about conflicting and negative information.

With this basic information, I am now ready to enter the maze to find Rose/ Rosie Maurer Smetz. First, I went to Ancestry’s online database and typed “Jacob Smetz” as Rosie’s spouse.  No records found for Jacob Smetz or any children.  A dead-end, return to entry point.

Next, I remembered a document already in my files -probate record for Anna Katharina Maurer, Rose’s mother, who died in 1899: [3]

Anna Kathrina Maurer probate pg 2_crop

Probate record for Anna Katharina Maurer, 1899.  Last paragraph on page 2.

 Did Viola have Jacob’s name wrong?  Try another direction.  Begin again with 1900 census. Changed Jacob’s surname to ‘Schnitz’.  – no results!!! Changed residence from New York to New Jersey. Again, no results! Back to entry point. Record each direction and results in journal.  This feels like a roadblock, so I end here to return later.

Start over.  Review available information again before entering the maze.  From the probate records, I saw, for the first time(?),  ‘Rosina’.  Try  ‘Rosina’ again with both ‘Smets’ and ‘Schnitz’.  Nothing found on Ancestry website. There have to be records for this family!

Try another strategy using Family Search online genealogy.  At last, a record found:  Marriage record for Rosina Maurer and Jacob Smets,  27 November 1895, Manhattan, New York. [4]

Jacob Smets, Marriage, 27 Nov 1895, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States; New York (City), New York, male, 34, single, white, birth year (estimated) 1861; birthplace: Elimpt, Germany. Father: John Henry Smets. Mother: Gertrude Corzilius. Spouse: Rosina Maurer, female, 28, single, white, birth year (estimated) 1867, birthplace Brooklyn, N.Y. Father: Valentine Maurer. Mother: Ann Catherine Corzilius.

This record opened the 1900 census for Jacob and Rosa Smets in Stonington, Connecticut [5]:

Jacob Smets, head, 26, b. June 1864, Germany. Rosa Smets, wife, 33, b. Nov 1867, New York, mother of 3, 3 living. Gertrude Smets, daughter, 4, b. Oct 1896, New York. Joseph Smets, son, 2, b. March 1898, New York. Arthur H. Smets, son, age 11/12, b. July 1899, Connecticut.

Jacob & Rosa apparently moved from New Jersey to Connecticut, about 140 miles,  between April 1899 (date of her mother’s probate) and June 5, 1900, date of 1900 census.  Arthur, their youngest son, recorded as born in Connecticut in August 1899, so the family moved during Rosa’s 5th or 6th month of pregnancy. I now have the names for 3 children and an interesting twist.  Why did they move to Connecticut? Jacob’s listed occupation as a weaver in a velvet mill probably answers that question.

The 1900 census led to the 1910 census for Jacob & Rosina Smets in Brooklyn, New York [6]:

Jacob Smets, head, 48, M1 [1st marriage], married 14 years. b. Germany; immigrated 1891, naturalized citizen. Rosina Smets, wife, 42, M1 [1st marriage, married 14 years, b. New York. mother of 4, 4 living. Gertrude Smets, daughter, age 13, b. NY. Joseph Smets, son, 12, b. NY. Arthur Smets, son, age 10, b. CT. Robert Smets, son, age 9, b. NY. Anna Dale, lodger, 70, b. Ireland. Henry Ryder, lodger, 65, n. NY. Murphy, lodger, 19, b. NY

Another child, Robert, born in 1901 in New York. Jacob & Rosina moved from Connecticut back to New York before Robert’s birth in 1901.

Circled back to Ancestry website, and found Jacob & Rosa in Brooklyn, New York, per 1905 census. [7]

Jacob Smets, 39, no. of yrs in U.S. = 15. Rose Smets, 36. Gertrude M. Smets, 8. Joseph Smets, 7. Arthur H. Smets, 5. Robert Smets, 4.

This again confirms their move from Connecticut back to New York.  It’s  late at night and I am stuck in the maze.  Time for bed!


Source:  Genetoons Genealogical Cartoons  (https://ancestralfindings.com/genetoons-cartoons-2/

Still in the maze but making progress. Continued to circle around the Ancestry database and discovered another opening:

1920 Census [8]—South Brunswick, New Jersey:  Jacob Smits [Smets], head, 58, immigrated 1892, NA YR: 1897. Rosina Smits, 52. Gertrude Smits, 23. Joseph Smits, 21. Anthon [Arthur] Smits, 20. Robert Smits, 18.

The family did live in New Jersey! Followed the tracks of Jacob and Rosa’s children with some success (to be reported in a later post).

Another opening: 1930 Census[9]—South Brunswick, New Jersey!  Jacob & Rose Smetts.  Changed surname spelling again:   Jacob Smetts, head, 64, b. Germany.  Rose Smetts, wife, 55, b. NY.  Herbert Dorer, Boarder, 32, b. Switzerland.

Changed direction to Find A Grave for Smets/ Smetts. Many possible detours (i.e. names) but no entries found for Jacob, Rose, or any of their children.

Changed direction again – to Newspapers. Com website. Nothing found for Jacob or Rosina Smets.  Then, three large openings in the maze after using ‘Smetts’:

24 July 1930 Central New Jersey Home News:  “ Letter of admin to Rose Smetts for estate of the late Joseph Smetts, who died. . . July 12.” [10]

17 Dec 1936 Central New Jersey Home News:  Obituary for William J. Smetts, “William Jacob Smetts, husband of Mrs. Rose Smetts.” [11] 

According to German naming traditions,  first names given at birth were rarely used and people were usually known by their 2nd name.  Could ‘Rosina’ be her middle name?  If so, what is her first name??

9 July 1949, “Henry Renk attended funeral services for Mrs. Rose Smetts. . . “  [12]

Possible clear path out of the maze, except for the mention of Henry Renk. What is his relationship to Rose?  Definitely a  BSO to be explored another day!

Retraced steps back to Ancestry website, searching now for  ‘Rose Smetts’.  Another opening:  1915 census – Frankling Twp, Somerset County, N.J.[13]:

Smets, Jacob, 46, b. June 1865, Germany. Rosina,  40, b. Nov 1874, New York.  Gertrude, 17, b. Oct 1896, New York. Joseph, 16, b. Mch [March] 1899, New Jersey. Arthur H., 15, b. July 1900, Conn. Robert, 14, b. June 1901, New York.

Retraced steps (again!) to  recheck for page numbers of newspaper entries (forgot to record these earlier).  Looked around the location one more time and discovered a previously overlooked item:

Death notice for William J. Smetts, 14 Dec 1936:  “son, Arthur H., died November 18 [1936). . . daughter, Gertrude Anderson.”. [14] 

At last, a clear path out of the maze!  Some areas (residence in 1870 , 1880, 1940) remain just out of reach.

Looked over the top of the maze walls, using a broad search term: “Rose Smetts died 1949”.  Found:  Obituary for Mrs. Rose Smetts[15]:

Maurer_Rose_mSmetts_death notice

Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, New Jersey, 6 July 1949, p. 2, column 3

Exit point of the maze.  Now, the final test question:  Was information given at the entry point proven?

“Rose married Jacob Smetz.  We lost track of them after Herman (our father) died.  They had 2 or 3 children and lived in New Jersey.”

“Rose married Jacob Smetz” – Rose married William Jacob Smetts.  Proven with spelling variations of Jacob’s surname.

“They had 2 or 3 children” – Jacob and Rose had 4 children, 2 of whom died between 1930 and 1940.   Proven plus one.

“lived in New Jersey” – Jacob and Rose moved to New Jersey between 1910 and 1915.  Both of them died in New Jersey.  Proven.

If you are interested, view Rose’s life summary: Maurer_Rose_Timeline2



What began as a routine task soon became an intriguing and frustrating study. I often run into name variations but there seemed to be more twists and turns than usual for Rose’s family. Maybe I just wasn’t picking up on clues. I originally viewed this as a zig-zag path with many choices of direction. Then, I realized that I was going in circles. The concept of a maze seemed more fitting as I reached dead-ends and had to retrace my steps. Before starting my Genealogy Do-Over, I rarely followed through for the siblings of my direct ancestors.  And, I stopped quickly when I could not access readily available information.

What helped:  handwritten family history provided by great-aunt Viola, even with its minimal information. Tools and techniques learned during the past year. Slowing down and documenting everything.  Searching for additional information before finishing this post.

What didn’t help:  early frustration when surname variations didn’t produce results.

What I learned:  Go back to original data, even when you think that you have learned everything you can from it. Thorough documentation takes more time but helps by forcing review of information more than once. It’s OK to put research aside for days, weeks, or months.

Footnotes/ Sources:

[1] Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker, “Maurer-Tucker Family History,” p. 4 ; MS, 1800s to 1980s, Huntington, Suffolk County, New York; privately held by great-niece, Susan Mercedes Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2017. Carbon copy of original document created ca. 1975-1980 sent to Ms. Ellerbee by her great-aunt.

[2] New York State Department of Health, “New York, State Census, 1892,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded 31 January 2018), entry for Rosie Maurer, age 24; citing New York State Education Department, Office of Cultural Education, Albany, New York; 173 Hopkins Street.

[3] Probate record for Anna Katharina Maurer, p. 2.  Kings County, New York, Probate case files, Anna Katharina Maurer; “New York, Kings County, Probate Administration Records.,” digital records, Author: New York. Surrogate’s Court (Kings County)., Ancestry. com, New YOrk, Wills and PRobate Records, 1659-1999 (www.ancestry.com: accessed & printed 20 May 2016); names children, confirms date of death.

[4] “New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940,” database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24C2-M4S : 10 February 2018), Jacob Smets and Rosina Maurer, 27 Nov 1895; citing Marriage, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York City Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,493,451.

[5] “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M97F-TCG : accessed 10 February 2018), Rosa Smets in household of Jacob Smets, Stonington township (excl. Stonington borough), New London, Connecticut, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 488, sheet 7A, family 166, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,150.

[6] “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M5S9-VNK : accessed 10 February 2018), Rosina Smets in household of Jacob Smets, Brooklyn Ward 30, Kings, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 1098, sheet 7B, family 151, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 985; FHL microfilm 1,374,998.

[7] 1905 New York State Census, Kings County, New York, population schedule, Brooklyn, enumeration district (ED) Assembly district A.D. 07, E.D. 22, p. 18, lines 1-6, Jacob Smets; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded, printed 10 February 2018); citing New York State Archives, Albany, New York..

[8] 1920 U.S. Census, Middlesex County, New Jersey, population schedule, South Brunswick, enumeration district (ED) 71, p. 5A (penned), dwelling 59, family 60, Jacob Smits [Smets] 58; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded, printed 10 February 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication T625_1057.

[9] “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, Family Search (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X4XG-DQN : accessed 11 February 2018), Rose Smetts in household of Jacob Smetts, North Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 63, sheet 2B, line 100, family 50, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1367; FHL microfilm 2,341,102.

[10] Letter of admin for Joseph Smetts.

[11] “William J. Smetts,” Obituary, Central New Jersey Home News, 17 December 1936; online images, Newspapers.com (http:///newspapers.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 10 February 2018).

[12] “Henry Renk attended funeral services”, The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey”, local newspaper (9 Jul 1949): p. 7; PDF images, (http://www.newspapers.com  :  accessed 10 Feb 2018), key word Mrs. Rose Smetts.

[13] 1915 New Jersey State Census, Somerset County, New Jersey, population schedule, Frankling Township, p. 1A (penned), Jacob Smets 46; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 16 February 2018); citing New Jersey State Archives, Trenton, New Jersey, reference no. L-14, Film 58.

[14]“William J. Smetts”,” death notice, The Central New Jersey Home News, 14 December 1936, death date, death of son, funeral information; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed, downloaded, printed 16 February 2018); citing The Central New Jersey Home News. p. 17, column 4.

[15] “Deaths: Smetts- Rose Maurer”, Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, New Jersey, 6 July 1949, p. 2, column 3. accessed, downloaded & printed 23 Feb 2018 from Newspapers. Com.

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