Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My First Rat Hole: Discovering a Historic Mill

For many years I researched my husband's family as Dad was taking care of the Jennings-Muir and Lange-Schalin families.  I found researching people who came from eastern and central Europe to be a great challenge 12 years ago and didn't get very far.  I'd put the project away and come back a few years later. Each time I did there were more records available online and I'd make a little more progress before hitting another brick wall. Last year I tried again and went down my first research rat hole.  At the end of a week of research I ended up at the Zirkle Mill in Forestville, Virginia, way back in the 1760s! Here's how I started in Austria and ended up 100 miles from where I live today. The trip went through Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and parts of Tennessee.

Photo courtesy of Karen Gallagher

My husband's maternal grandmother was Elise Marie Adametz. She was born in 1887 in Wartburg im Mortzal, Styria, Austria. In 1906 Elise immigrated to the U.S. She traveled alone and arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, aboard the North German Lloyd Line's S/S Chemitz on 3 May 1906.

North German Lloyd Line's S/S Chemitz in 1906

During her arrival processing, the Customs official wrote her first name down as Elsie instead of Elise and she was Elsie forever after. She traveled to Pittsburgh and in 1910 she was working as a servant in the home of Marcus and Rachel Rich on 5621 Northumberland Avenue. Mr. Rich was a manufacturer of men's clothing.  The family had three daughters and two servants.

5621 Northumberland Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Google Streetview

By 1911, Elsie had married Jacob Karl Fishtahler and was living in Detroit. Elsie wrote home often and in 1910 her sister Katherine Mary Adametz decided to join her in America. She arrived in Baltimore aboard the North German Lloyd Line's S/S Rhein on 13 May 1910. In 1922 she married James Pearn Easterly in Detroit.

James Easterly was from Greene County, Tennessee. My mother-in-law always said Aunt Kate married a "hick from Tennessee." It turns out that "hick" had an interesting family history.  His great grandfather, George Easterly, Jr. was born in 1781 in Forestville, Virginia.  George's grandfather, Conrad Easterly, was born in 1718 in Baden, Germany. So both the Easterly and Adametz families were Germanic! In Germany the last name was spelled "Oesterle."

Conrad Easterly married Catherine Zirkle in 1746 in Philadelphia. She was a sister of Andrew Zirke, who founded the mill.  This is the Zirkle mill today.  The Zirkle Mill Foundation has been established to raise money to restore it. 

Zirkle Mill, Forestville, Virginia. Photo courtesy Zirkle Mill Foundation

I'll tell you more about the history of the mill in a future post.


  1. That 'rat hole' has led you in interesting directions! Love the photo of the mill.

  2. Colleen, my husband and plan on taking a day trip to see it. The Zirkle Mill was a great find. Thanks!

  3. Do you have any photos of James Pearn and Katherine? He is my great great uncle. My grandmother is an easterly. Do you all have any old easterly family photos?