Family history mystery finally solved

Published 1:16 pm Monday, May 12, 2014

Preserving the Past by Pat Mulso

Let me set the stage for the history of my Hartings family in America.

On Wednesday, March 27, 1850, Mr. W. Hartings had a public auction at Meybreuckshof in Veert, Germany. He sold his whole agriculture business, as well as all the indoor furniture and dishes.

Email newsletter signup

Wilhelm’s first child died when only a few days old and his first wife died just 10 months later. Wilhelm remarried the following year and was blessed with nine children during the next 20 years.

Just eight days prior to the family leaving Germany, their teenage daughter, Johanna, became ill and died. Wilhelm and Mathilda Hartings and their eight remaining children emigrated from Germany to America. Leaving Rotterdam on April 30, 1850, on the Dutch frigate, Maria Elizabeth, and landing in New York City on June 8, 1850.

Wilhelm and Mathilda had some difficulty at the port of entry because their youngest child, Gerhard, had become very ill during their journey. Their detention at the port of entry was irksome to them, being in a strange land and different customs. All the other passengers had left for their destinations and they were left alone, the worst problem being language difficulties.

After receiving permission from the authorities, their sick child, Gerhard, was left in the care of a priest and the family left for their original destination, Iowa.

However, before they reached Iowa, they stopped in Cincinnati. After visiting with friends, they were advised to go by canal boat to Minster, Ohio, where there was good farmland. They followed the advice of their friends and settled on a farm in the parish of St. Rose in Mercer County, Ohio. Wilhelm purchased the farm on June 28, 1850.

After getting settled, Wilhelm went back to New York to get his youngest son, but when he arrived he found that the priest had been called back to either Australia or England and, not being able to reach Wilhelm, it was believed he had taken the boy with him.

A devastated Wilhelm returned to Ohio to tell his family the bad news. Nothing was ever learned as to the exact location or whereabouts of Gerhard. Out of respect for Gerhard, the name has never been used in the family and his memory has never been forgotten.

When one of my great uncles told me the story back in 1969, my heart throbbed and, as a relative and genealogist, I vowed that I would continue the search for our lost Gerhard. Each and every time I worked on family history, I would look for clues of Gerhard’s whereabouts.

For almost 40 years I did this with no possible clues showing themselves, and then in 2008 I found a “Gerhard Hartting” in a census in St. Louis. His birth year was close, he was born in Germany, and it was not uncommon for the name to be misspelled. I thought, could this be our missing little boy, now grown with a family of his own?

I traced his line forward and contacted a living relative. They said they did not know anything about Gerhard, they didn’t know who his parents were or if he had any siblings. We talked over the phone a few times and exchanged emails, but just couldn’t find a way to verify he was our Gerhard. I did check to see that he was buried in a Catholic cemetery. To me, this was another plus in building my case, as this family was Catholic. I had no luck finding a connection but continued to check for new leads each time I did research.

Several months ago, I did a genealogy DNA test myself and was excited when I received the results. I again thought of Gerhard and contacted the person I had talked with in the St. Louis area and asked if anyone in their family had taken a DNA test. The reply was no but she would ask if anyone would be willing to this summer at their reunion. A few days later, I called her back and said, would your husband be willing to take the test if I paid for it? She said she’d call me back.

A day later she called back and said, yes, and I had a DNA kit sent to him. It was returned to Ancestry DNA, and we waited. When the notification came to me, it said there was not enough DNA and the test would have to be redone. I called giving the news and asked if he would be willing to redo the test. I knew I was pressing my luck but couldn’t give up now. He agreed, with encouragement from his wife, and again we waited. This past week the results came in.

And now, for the rest of the story.

With my heart throbbing, I opened the results and could see that his ethnicity was a lot like mine, but as I looked at the first page of his matches, I didn’t see mine.

I began to scan the matches to see if any of them looked familiar. About three-quarters of the way through the second page of 79 pages, there was my name.

We are a moderate match, fifth- to eighth-cousins is the estimated relationship! Wow, after 164 years, we finally know that our Gerhard lived to raise a family of his own!

I called and visited with my new cousins in Missouri and let them know the news. We are planning to get together, and I will continue to research and see if we can find out if Gerhard was raised in an orphanage, where he grew up and if we can trace the other children he had to see if there are other living relatives.

My mom always said if she was to describe me with one word it would be “persistent,” and this time it paid off and helped to solve the mystery.


In other business …

International Museum Day will be Saturday. In honor of this special day, we will have reduced admission. Admission will be $1 for non-members and members may visit free.

The museum will be hosting a four-hour refresher defensive driving class from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 pm. June 9 and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 26. Registration is required.  Please call or stop by the museum to register for the class. The cost is $20 for AARP members and $25 for non-members. This includes an administrative fee for hosting the class. The refresher class is needed every three years after the initial eight-hour class.

Our first bus trip will be June 10. We will be going to Forest City, Iowa, to tour a historic mansion, the 1903 Waldorf Hotel and Heritage Park, along with having lunch. The bus will depart at 8:30 a.m. sharp and return at about 4 p.m. The cost is $55 for members and $65 for non-members. This fee includes the bus, lunch and all admissions. Register early to secure a seat on the bus.

Happy Mother’s Day and remember, what happens today is history tomorrow!


Pat Mulso is the executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library and Village, 1031 Bridge Ave.