Recently I traveled with my aunts to celebrate my mother’s birthday at her beach home in North Carolina. We had a wonderful time soaking in the warm weather and sunshine as we laughed about the “old days”. I listened to their stories about childhood, my grandparents, and tales of ancestors I only knew by name.
Albert and Wilma
Their parents, Albert Neumann and Wilma Schrager, always said that our ancestors came from somewhere in Germany, Austria, and Russia. Imagine my aunt’s surprise when I said that their great grandparents, Ludwig and Justina Neumann, had nine sons and that Ludwig was born in present day Suwalki, Poland in 1860.
Ludwig and Justina
A few years ago I began to research my mother’s family tree and its many branches. After gathering information about my ancestors from my relatives, I went to the Oliver Wolcott Library to uncover a wealth of genealogical resources including these beginner books available for check out; 5th Edition Genealogy Online by Elizabeth Powell Crowe, Long Distance Genealogy: Researching your Family History from Home by Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, and Organizing your Family History Search by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack.
In addition to Litchfield, Connecticut history and local family genealogies in the reference section, the Oliver Wolcott Library offers the Ancestry.com Library Edition on all of its patron computers. This free service is available to everyone and it is accessible 7 days a week during regular library hours. The Ancestry Library Edition features a plethora of historical records from the United States, Canada, U.K., Australia, and Europe. Patrons can search through birth, death and marriage records, U.S. federal census files from 1790-1940, military and war records, land and tax files, immigration and passenger lists, and census records from overseas to find their ancestors. To help keep documents organized, genealogical records and ancestral forms can be printed out at the library for a small fee or saved on your own USB device.
From home, all Connecticut library cardholders with internet access can search genealogical and historical records through iConn at www.iconn.org. iConn is a free digital service provided by your local library and the Connecticut State Library. To enter the site, library patrons only need to input their valid library card number. Patrons can access iConn directly or through OWL’s homepage at www.owlibrary.org. Simply click on the “Library Catalogs” tab and select the “ReQuest ICONN Catalog” link to take you there.
In iConn, searching for ancestors through HeritageQuest Online is easy. HeritageQuest offers U.S. federal census records from 1790- 1930, family histories in books, periodicals about ancestors, towns, cities and regions, Revolutionary War Era Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, Freedman’s Bank, and the U.S. Serial Set. iConn also provides local historical newspapers including The Hartford Courant archives from 1764-1922, American Civil War resources, Connecticut history online, and U.S. and world history resources.
By searching the U.S. Federal census records I uncovered a wealth of information regarding Ludwig and Justina Neumann. In 1910, they lived at 86 Austin Street, emigrated from Russia/Germany in 1889 with their two oldest sons, and they had twelve children of which nine sons were living. In 1920, Ludwig and Justina said they were born in Russia but in 1930, Justina claimed she was born in Lithuania. I uncovered a similar discrepancy regarding “place of birth” within the Wilma Schrager line as well.
After World War I (1914- 1918) and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles country borders within Europe changed. During the Polish- Soviet War from 1919- 1921, the region of Suwalki was enveloped in a fierce battle for territory. In February 1919, the city of Suwalki was given to Lithuania but in July it was granted to Poland during the short Lithuanian- Polish War. In September of that same year, Suwalki was captured by the Soviets, then passed to Lithuania and was retaken by Poland! It’s not surprising that my ancestors were uncertain of their country of origin.
Rose Eckert and Charles Neumann
For me, solving the mystery of my family tree which now encompasses more than one hundred names has been an exciting adventure. Even though I have not yet found the evidence that I am descended from Russian nobility, getting acquainted with my own family history has provided me with a deeper connection to my ancestors as well as an understanding of the historical period of each generation. I still have questions that need answers but in the meantime I can take comfort in the ethnic traditions and tales of my German, Austrian, and Russian ancestors that have endured through the centuries. Although, I am grateful that the Neumanns no longer serve blutwurst and head cheese on the Christmas buffet table.
Me and my brother
To get started on your own family history adventure come browse through OWL’s reference section, search the Ancestry Library Edition or visit iConn.org to find your ancestors. In addition to genealogy books, check out OWL’s assortment of books on Ellis Island and biographies of famous immigrants such as Albert Einstein, John Muir, and Charlie Chaplin.
For assistance, feel free to stop by the circulation desk or call 860-567-8030 to schedule a free one-on-one half hour session through OWL’s Book-a-Librarian program with Adult Services librarian, Audra MacLaren, to help you uncover your family tree.
-Tricia is the Library Assistant and Publicity Coordinator for the Oliver Wolcott Library