Sunday, February 8, 2015

1832: Smidth Family Comes to America; Great Grandmother Born At Sea

Was my great grandmother Wilhelmina (Smidth) Snyder really “born at sea” on 2 Aug 1831? That’s what I’ve been told, but I’m not sure. What do you think?

A little fact mentioned by my grandma Porteous in one of her stories – her mother was born at sea. I’ve often seen that written in relation to Wilhelmina as I researched my Lake County German family history. The most recent was in the story “St. Mary of the Annunciation Celebrates 150 Years” by Tom Wagner, written for the L.C.I.G.S. Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1, July-September, 2014, under subhead PIONEERS AND FOUNDERS on page 27. For many years I’ve wondered if she really was born at sea. This sparked a desire to settle it once and for all.

My grandmother Carrie Snyder Porteous was the daughter of Wilhelmina Smidth Snyder. Grandma grew up on the farm on the Gilmer-Volo Rd. It was the original home of her grandparents Jacob and Barbara Smidth. The farm was a couple miles west of Ivanhoe, Lake County, Illinois close to Volo. They settled in Fremont Township sometime in the mid 1840s migrating from Pennsylvania.

Great grandmother Wilhelmina (Smidth) Snyder’s 1903 obituary has supplied me with many statements and facts to research and verify.

Lake County Independent newspaper - Fremont Library “100 years ago”.
March 6, 1903 --
     The funeral of Mrs. John Snyder on Friday was very largely attended in spite of the stormy weather. The sermon was preached by the pastor of the Ivanhoe church of which was a member. Will Knigge was funeral director. [and then included the obit] Willemina Smith was born on the Atlantic Ocean, Aug. 2, 1831. Arrived at Pittsburg, Penn., when three weeks old.
     Her home was in Pennsylvania until she was thirteen years of age, when she with her parents came across the country to Illinois. They settled on a farm about three miles west of Ivanhoe. Here most of her life was spent. She was united in marriage with John Snyder at Waukegan in 1850. With the exception of one year they lived on the farm which was her early home until two and one-half years ago when they moved to Rockefeller and have since made their home with the youngest daughter, Mrs. W. D. Porteious [sic]. She united with the Ivanhoe Congregational church March 5, 1865. She was always in good standing and regular in attendance until the last few years when her ill health often prevented her from attending. The deceased was a loving christian wife and mother. She died at Rockefeller, Tuesday evening Feb. 24, 1903, aged 71 years, 6 mos, 22 days. Besides her aged husband she leaves to mourn her loss a sister, Mrs. Wm. Ehninger, of Libertyville, and five children, twenty grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. There were two children who died in early childhood. The surviving are: John S. of Ivanhoe; Chas. H. of Gages Lake; Mrs. James VanPlew, of Wheaton, Ill.; George A. and Mrs. W.D. Porteous, of Rockefeller.

My aunt Violet Porteous Chandler identified the great-great grandparents Smith who are Jacob and Barbara Smidth, and great grandparents Snyder who are Wilhelmina (Smidth) and John Snyder. Both sets of images are from the family album that was in possession of my aunt. I wish the images were better, but that is the best I have. I don’t know who in the Chandler family would have the album now. I have had no luck in tracking it down.
About 20 years ago, cousin Ruth gave me some information. She said the name of the ship was Hope. It took me a long time before I found the Brig Hope and its passenger list with my Smidth family on it. Not a lot was online back then. Since this side of the family is German, I first searched the ship under the name “Hoffnung” which means “hope.” I didn't know if it was a U.S. ship or Germany's. It wasn't German. Finally I found the information online under Brig Hope.

This is what a “brig” looks like. This image can be found on a
website for pirates call Brethren Coast <>

The Jacob Smidth family immigrated to the United States, left Rotterdam, Netherlands [ indexed the departure country as Germany.] on board the Brig Hope arriving at the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, sometime in July or August 1832. The date was indexed as July 7, 1832. This conflicted with the birth date I was given of 2 Aug 1831. The July date would have made her born on land, possibly Massachusetts soil.

Looking at the first image below, there are three passenger lists in it. The top is for the ship George Porter which arrived New Bedford on “July 7” and the middle list is ship South Carolina, arrived New Bedford on “July 11.” The last passenger list is for the Brig Hope, but the bottom of the sheet, where the arrival date should be, is cut off, thus on first look, I don't know what the entry date is. It is clear Ancestry’s indexer just took the top date as being for all three lists. The family’s arrival could have been in early August since it seems the dates run sequential.

The Smidth family [of four] is shown on the manifest as three adults and one child. Jacob is 28 and Barbara 32. Jacob is a vintner as is the fourth entry, Johan George Werner age 66. All four are from the same “Country to which they belong” which is Württemberg. [Johan George Werner I’m sure is Barbara’s father. He is shown with the family on the 1850 census.] There’s an eight-year-old child named Fredericka. I believe she is their daughter, but can’t verify as I haven’t researched in Germany yet. You would think Wilhelmina would be listed, but there is no mention of a baby or infant. Was she with them upon disembarking the ship in New Bedford?

Cousin Ruth, who has since passed away, wrote 2 Aug 1831 as the “at-sea" birthdate for g-grandmother Wilhelmina. Clearly this year is not correct since the ship arrived in 1832. If 1831 the actual date, that would mean the Brig Hope was sailing for over a year before it reached New Bedford, Mass., sometime after 11 July 1832. That is crazy. I needed to find the bottom of this passenger list to prove the arrival date.

I searched online some more for the ship, hoping the actual arrival date would be disclosed. I found a transcription on the “Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild” website for the Brig Hope which gives the date of arrival as 2 Aug 1832. [ISTGTM website]. Having that date means there really is a bottom to that image. How else would the transcriber get the arrival date?

Can I be sure of the date? The next thing I did was to find the closest place which holds the microfilm containing the full image. I googled a little more and found it to be up in Madison, Wisconsin. An easy drive, but not in this unpredictable February weather. So I asked a friend of mine who lives up there if he could get me a digital image of the complete passenger list. My family history colleague volunteers at the Wisconsin Historical Society where the film was housed. He was the right source to contact and with luck on my side, he came to my rescue by finding the full passenger list and sent me the following. The circle on the top is the Jacob Smidth family, and the bottom circle is the rest of the page which shows the actual arrival date as “New Bedford, 2 Aug 1832 signed Jno Howland Jr.” [I combined two images.]

Bottom circled New Bedford August 2 1832 – Signed Jno Howland Jr.  

If the ship arrived on 2 Aug 1832, and Wilhelmina’s birthday is 2 Aug 1832, was Wilhelmina really born “at sea?” Was she born at the dock? If she were born on board ship, why wouldn’t she be listed on the passenger list? Could Wilhelmina have been born prior to coming into port and was just not put on the list?

There’s approximately 5572 km from the Netherlands to Massachusetts. At the speed of about 20 km/h that a “brig” could travel— depending on conditions, the approximate length of time of sailing is around two weeks. Therefore, Brig Hope probably left Rotterdam about the middle of July. Therefore, Wilhelmina’s birth could have a July date! More than likely, whoever originally gave the date just picked the arrival date as Wilhelmina’s birthday. Did dates really matter that much back then? I don’t think I will ever know her exact birth date unless an unknown descendent has the family bible with an entry to share.

[additional information from New England Historic Genealogical Society's "NEHGS Ask-a Genealogist" -- 17 Feb 2015]
In addition to a transcription of the passenger list [from the ISTG], you will find that the transcriber has also included a number of notes, including a death of someone who was on the ship. There are no mentions of a birth on board the ship. If Wilhelmina was born in Württemberg, then she would at least have been listed with the mother as “and infant,” if indeed Jacob and Barbara Smidth are her parents. Additionally, in the notes by the transcriber, it does state that this was a copied list, that the signature of Jno. Howland Jr. was not a true signature. So it is possible that information did not make it from the original list.
 [This will take more time to uncover.]

Like I said earlier, I’ve seen this reference of born at sea many times. Eventually it shows up in a census? From reading Wilhelmina’s obituary, it said the family lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 13 years prior to coming to Lake County. I’ve looked for an 1840 census for Jacob Smidth in Allegheny county where Pittsburg is situated, but there are so many heads of family by that name it is hard to pick out mine. Besides, there are only tick marks denoting members of the family which makes it even harder to determine who’s who. I found a couple families who fit closely, but had too many male children too old to be my Smidths.

The first census I found with no tick marks with a little more information was the 1850 census for the Town of  Fremont, Lake County, Illinois, enumerated on 5 Dec., with the number 148 written in hand in the upper lefthand corner

This is my Smidth family. I’m not worried about the spelling differences — Smith for Smidth; Mena for Wilhelmina, etc., genealogists expect it. The country “Germany” as we know it today was not unified until early 1870s, but that doesn’t matter either because I’m pretty sure the place of birth is the germanic state of Württemberg. What did I find interesting, Wilhelmina’s age is shown as 19. Again, age discrepancies are common, and if you do the math, nineteen years from 1850 is 1831 even though we know the ship’s arrival date is 1832 — it’s close enough. It also shows she was born in Penn. That’s interesting... Could whoever told the enumerator be mistaken about Wilhelmina’s birth place? Even though this is also common occurrence, it does cause a little confusion which hopefully will be sorted out with more research.

The Smidth family, cousin Ruth said, lived in the Pittsburg [area] for over 10 years before coming to Illinois about 1845 based on information in the obituary. That would satisfy Hannah’s birthplace as Penn. and being shown as 12 years old which puts her birth date about 1838 well after their arrival in the U.S. and before their arrival in Lake County. [Johan] George Warner, 85, is listed as farmer, born Germany. I would suspect he is Barbara’s father. Fredericka is not shown in the family unit. Did she marry prior to this census? She would have been about 26 years old in 1850. Maybe she died prior to moving to Illinois? Or since she was only eight years old in 1832, was she just traveling with the Smidths, but belonged in another family already in the U.S.?

When searching censuses on, I always check a couple images before and after the one I need just to see if there are relatives living close by.  Well, as suspected I found a Snyder couple at the bottom of the previous page with #147 written on lefthand side, and enumerated 4 Dec. Who do you suppose was at the bottom of the census page…my grandma’s parents — the newlyweds Wilhelmina and John Snyder! 

Wilhelmina enumerated twice — what gives? The enumerator is the same person on both pages, wouldn’t you think he’d notice? The “Married within the year” column wasn’t checked on either page. I know they were married by then, too.

John and Wilhelmina were married in Lake County, Illinois, 22 September 1850. This can be found online at the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900. The date on the 1850 census page is 4 Dec 1850. They are newlyweds of about two months. There is no other explanation for Wilhelmina being listed twice other than she may have been visiting her parents that next day. Probably the enumerator just didn’t pay attention even though his name was on both pages. Here on this page image, Wilhelmina (spelled Wilmina) is shown born in “Penn,” but is now shown as age 17! Don’t you just love it?

The 1860 Federal census for the Town of Fremont shows Wilhelmina (Mena) 37, again born in “Penn.” I know the names and spellings can change from document to document and we can see it here because husband John is now Jacob! Also dates and ages don’t seem to mean much seeing Mina was both 17 and 19 in 1850 and is now 37 in 1860 when she should be age 27.

The names of three children who had died young [see 1900 census later on]; this was new information for me. By now, Mina’s sister Hannah married Wilhelm Ehninger and is listed in the family above the Snyders; they are neighbors. I see a Jacob Smith above the Ehninger’s, he could be Mina’s father, but the woman listed — Ann — could that be Barbara or a new wife? I did a quick search and found an Anna Barbara. It is conceivable Barbara is now going by her first name. [Here’s another research opportunity because I haven’t found the vitals on Mina’s parents yet.] Three times great grandfather George isn’t listed with the family. Did he pass away? I have no vital information on him either.

The 1870 Federal census for Fremont shows Mina 37 [finally the right age for birthdate given earlier], but now born in Germany! My grandmother Carrie is nine months old. Wilhelmina’s mother Barbary [Barbara] is living with them so great grandfather Jacob has passed sometime after 1860 census. The Ehningers are still in the next farm over. I think John and Wilhelmina have moved to the original Smidth house, based on the position of family entries in the 1860 census. According to Wilhelmina’s obituary, she and John moved into her “earlier home” after a year of marriage. This is the house grandma Carrie grew up in. I believe it is still standing. There is another Smith family below the Ehningers, but I have no idea who they are. 

Next, the 1880 Federal census for Fremont shows Wilmina [Wilhelmina] 64, born in Germany and her parents both born Württemberg. Shouldn’t she be 47? Grandma Carrie is 11 years old and great-great grandmother Barbara is 82 and is living with daughter Anna [Hannah] Ehninger on the next farm over.

Since there is no 1890 census, the last census we find Wilhelmina on is the 1900 Federal census for Fremont Township which shows her and John, 75, with son George, 38. On this census she is entered as born “At Sea” and her birthday is shown as Aug 1832. She is shown as 67 years old [close enough], married 49 years, with eight children being born alive and five children still living. The three who died young were Jacob, Ann, and Hannah. [Here is another research opportunity.]

Well, I know Wilhelmina was born in 1832 not 1831. Other than that, I think I’m back at square one. What do you think?

NOTE: I have hardly begun researching this family. I had started many years ago, but got discouraged not knowing how to go about looking for my Germanic families' history. There is so much to learn and I am sorry I didn't continue a long time ago.
Looking at the headstone image: Wilhelmina (1832-1903) is buried alongside her husband John (1815-1908) in the Ivanhoe Cemetery [arrow on far left]. Their son George A. who died 1930 is buried in the family plot, too. The far right two arrows show where their two of the three young children Jacob and Ann who died before the 1870 census [see 1860 census image]. I have no information on their third child, daughter Hannah, yet. Looks like there is enough room for a grave between George and the child’s headstones.

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