Friday, September 23, 2011
How I Found My Swiss Ancestors - My First Journey into Family History.
Pictured Right: My Swiss great great grandmother, seated in the middle with her children. My great grandmother, Lillie Herminnie is at the back right.
PREFACE: I know that my children are not as interested as I am in our family history. It is not difficult to see that they do not share my overly enthusiastic passion for people from the past. Although I may be able to attract their attention with stories of an unusual ancestor who was a WW2 spy, I find that usually as soon as I eagerly attempt to divulge my newest and most thrilling discovery, they all seem to have something which requires urgent attention elsewhere. And fair enough..after all.. they HAVE spent much of their lives being dragged through cemeteries, searching for graves and driving around back streets of small towns in search of old houses, reasonably uncomplaining. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Number three offspring, daughter, Siobhan, announced that, as part of her two month journey through Europe this year, she was planning to spend some time in Switzerland, the home of her maternal ancestors. I was even more excited when she informed me that she would visit the ancestral places where our Swiss forebears lived and take photographs for me.
Imagine my joy, then, on receiving an email announcing that she could 'feel the Swiss blood coursing through her veins.' I was so overwhelmed that I quite forgot to read on to the part which explained why she loved Switzerland. I had visions of at last having someone with whom to share my love of family history. We could sit up together late at night, over a cup of tea, discussing long gone relatives, their occupations, their...and then I read on. " Mum, No wonder you call me your 5 star daughter - you should see the number of Ferrari's and Maserati's here. Even the Police drive BMW's. THIS is truly my homeland!" OK, not quite a family history buff yet, but give her more time in Switzerland and I'm hopeful. I began then to think about my own first ever venture into family history many years ago.......
Growing up I always knew that I my great great grandmother was born in Switzerland. I had in my possession, a newspaper article with a photograph of five generations of mothers and daughters in our family, with my great great grandmother being the oldest and myself the youngest. With this photograph tucked away in a box, I had never though much about it, until one day some years ago, a comment made by a great aunt, aroused my curiosity about my ancestry.
I had always assumed that my 'Swiss great great grandparent's with the surname Nargar, had come to Australia together from Switzerland. Then my great aunt informed me that my great great grandfather was born, not in Switzerland, but in Prussia. This was hugely significant as it meant that the surname Nargar was not of Swiss, but rather, Prussian origins. A sudden need to know more about my heritage, launched me into my first ever search for my family background.
I had no idea where to begin. The only thing I knew about my great great grandmother was that she was known as 'Little Nana' , that she had lived in Maryborough in Queensland, and that her house in Maryborough was named 'Zurich'. I decided that reading the story attached to the Five Generations photograph from the Brisbane Courier Mail, in which I was a young baby, was the best place to start..
As I read the following words in the story below the article, 'Mrs Nargar was born in Switzerland, and came to Australia when she was aged eight.' , I realised that this was a vital piece of information about my great great grandmother that I could begin my journey with. In addition, the article was in recognition of a celebration held in Maryborough for her 88th birthday so I knew her year of birth. Armed with my 2 times great grandmother's age and one more wonderful clue - the age (and therefore the year) that she arrived in Australia, I naively set forth as an 'L' plate genealogist.
If you have ever been warned to beware the 'family anecdote', ( the family castle, royal blood, 'there's a title waiting for you somewhere'....) allow me to add another warning to that excellent advice. Also beware misleading journalism! I spent a great deal of time searching for an arrival in 1875 when it turned out that my great grandmother was actually four years old, and not eight, as reported, when she arrived in Australia.
The first step I took was to read a number of books from my local library, several written by Janet Reakes since I had no experience in researching family history at all. Then armed with the advice to begin with what I knew and work backwards I sent away for a birth certificate for my great grandmother, Lillie Herminnie Nargar, from the Queensland Archives.In those days, the Archives was the repository for Qld Births, Deaths and Marriages pre 1900. No online indexes then! The birth certificate of daughter Lillie, I hoped, would tell me the maiden name of her mother, my great great grandmother Nargar. The Qld Archive staff were extremely helpful as I had only a rough idea of the birth date of my great grandmother. My mother had died quite young and so I had no one to ask questions of, however, a search was undertaken on my behalf and a certificate located. After waiting three weeks for the snail mail to arrive I finally received the certificate, which told me that my great grandmother, Lillie Herminnie Nargar was born on the 1 October, 1888, in Maryborough, the daughter of John Nargar and Barbara Lena [Surname].... disappointment came quickly as I discovered that I could barely decipher the writing which should tell me the surname of my great great grandmother, Barbara. That, of course, was my introduction to one of the many hurdles that are commonplace in the world of genealogy.
After many attempts to read the maiden name of my 2 times great grandmother (and a crash course on deciphering old, faded ...and just 'plain messy' handwriting), I decided that the name was either Maberling or Haberling. Googling both names resulted in my discovering that the surname Haberling had its origins in Switzerland and Germany. Then, to my delight, the name Haberling showed up on a site called Ancestry.com in a Maryborough, Qld, Immigrants from Germany to Australia, Passenger List from Hamburg. Remember, that I was new to family history and unaware that Ancestry.com was also in it's relatively early days ( when the records were almost all related to the USA) and at the time I was very lucky because one of the few other records outside of America happened to be this one record for Immigrants to Maryborough from Britain and Germany. I immediately signed up for a subscription and was rewarded with a complete passenger list for the Haberling family arriving in Maryborough, Queensland in 1871 on board the ship Reichtstag. There I found Jacob Haberling aged 49, and wife Anna aged 42, along with five daughters, Rosine, 14 years, Amalie, 9 years, Bertha, 6 years, Barbara 4 years and Herminnie aged 2 years. Although I had a strong hunch that I had found my great great grandmother along with her family, I knew that I need more information to prove this because after all the news item had placed her arrival in 1875.
Having a maiden surname for my great great grandmother meant that I could apply for a marriage certificate and hopefully discover the names of her parents. I knew from my great grandmother's birth certificate that at the time of her birth, John and Barbara Haberling had one child, Florrie Barbara, so I guessed the date of their marriage to be between 1884 and 1887.
While I waited for the certificate to arrive by mail, I googled the Immigrant Ship Reichtstag. I discovered a book written by Penny Manderson entitled, 'The Voyages to Queensland of the Reichstag' which was one of a series of books she had published. I contacted the author who was interested to hear of a Haberling family who had arrived in 1871 on the Reichtstag. Interestingly, Penny informed me that a family with the surname of Heberling had arrived on the same ship and that a passage about this family was written in her book. She had been given this information by a descendant who lived in Maryborough. Together we wondered if this could be the same family. Still not even knowing whether this family was my own, I purchased the book written about the passengers on the 12/11/1870 -9/3/1871 journey of the Reichstag from Hamburg to Maryborough, Queensland, Australia.
Now, no longer new to family history research, I am familiar with the confusion caused by name changes,and the many and varied reasons behind the changing of spelling, or even entire surnames. Years ago, however, I had none of the knowledge or experience that I possess today, and as I waited for the arrival of Penny Manderson's book I began to feel with a sinking heart that I had found the wrong family. Then suddenly one day, my High School German came back to me and in a moment of sheer exhilarating realisation.. I remembered the umlaut! The letter 'a' written as ä in German, is pronounced as 'e' is in English (eh). Häberling would have been pronounced as Heberling in German. I think that was the moment that I experienced my first of many to come, 'genea hunches'. I also silently thanked my mother for encouraging me to learn the German language at school against the popular trend towards French.
Penny Manderson's book finally arrived, and from the paragraph in 'The Voyages to Queensland of the Reichstag' I learned that Jacob Heberling had been a bootmaker and that the Heberling family had lived in Zurich, Switzerland.
I decided to write a letter to the Archives in Zurich. While I hopefully waited for a reply, the marriage certificate arrived for my great great grandparents, John Nargar (that surname is another story) and Barbara Lena Heberling. Excitement mounted as I read the names of great great grandmother Barbara Lena's parents. They were Jacob Heberling and Anna Bosshard. Jacob and Anna were the same names as those on the passenger list of the Reichstag.
Even more exciting was that one of the witnesses to the marriage was Minnie Heberling.I felt that this could not be coincidence that the Haberling family on my passenger list ( from Ancestry,com) and the Heberling family in Penny Manderson's book, had both had arrived with daughters named Barbara and Herminnie and that here on my great great grandmother's marriage certificate, the witness was a Minnie Heberling. As I read the name of the second witness a memory came flooding back to me. My mother had told me as a young child that we had relatives by the name of Proctor in Maryborough. I possibly only remembered this because I also had a best friend by that surname as a child. The name of the witness was Willie Proctor. I wasted little time in applying for marriage certificates of the other Haberling/Heberling girls to see whether any of them had married a Proctor. I also sent for a death certificate for my 3 times great grandmother Anna Heberling hoping to find the names of her parents.
The post heralded an exciting arrival at this time. ( NB:This story may seem as though I found my ancestors fairly quickly however, most of this research was done via old fashioned letter writing and visits to Family History Societies. Some time had passed before I received my letter from the Archives in Zurich). Then the reply I did get from the Archives was written ...in GERMAN! It was some time since I had spoken German but between my rusty knowledge of the language and a helpful German/English Dictionary, I translated the letter below.
Summarised, the letter told me that there were two Jacob Häberlings (Aha! there was the umlaut over the 'a') found in the database. In the Register for Ottenbach, Band 1, (Staatsarchiv Zurich: E 88, 19, S 304) was a marriage between Jacob Häberling (18.12.1785) and Anna Ryser (29.8.1784) in Sumiswald in the Kanton of Bern, which took place on the 4 February, 1808. The family lived in Affoltern, Emmental, Bern. I was also given a birth date for one son, named Jacob Häberling born 10.4.1822.
Quickly working out that if my Jacob was aged 49 years when he arrived in Australia on the Reichstag, then he was born in -1822! I was feeling somewhat like a detective by now and hooked on the 'hunt'.
When a marriage certificate arrived confirming that Herminnie Adelle Heberling had married Willie Proctor on January 2, 1885 and that Herminnie's parents were Jacob Heberling and Anna Bosshard, I knew for certain, that I had found my Swiss family. I knew that the surname is really Häberling and that indeed my great great grandmother Barbara Lena Häberling had arrived as an immigrant aged four years, in Maryborough, Queensland, with her family on board the Reichstag in 1871.
As any passionate family historian will guess, I was by this time completely addicted to finding ancestors. From that first curiosity about my Swiss roots I have added many branches to my family tree but none so special as my Swiss family of Häberlings who I have now traced back to Christian Häberling born in 1527 in Ottenbach, Zurich, Switzerland. I have also traced the Ryser family through many generations to Xander Ryser who was born in Ottenbach in 1546. With the help of the Maryborough District Family History Society I have added many other family names to the sagging branches of my Swiss family tree. And I'm certain you will agree that there is no greater feeling than when the branches of the family tree are weighed down with fascinating ancestors.)