Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Family Memories Meets DNA

My sister-in-law was convinced her maternal great grandfather was a mean old man, who left his wife and children in Germany when he came to the U.S. She thought her grandfather Fishtahler had to pay his own way over and that his mother and sisters never make the trip. She remembered stories her mother used to tell of the old man swatting the family cat, which proved all manner of bad things. I found records that shot holes in those memories, but she wasn't convinced until the DNA proved those records must be correct. It's funny how often that happens.

Her great grandfather, Leopold Fishtahler was born about 1854 in Hungary, which was part of the Austrian Empire ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty. (Another issue for my sister-in-law was her mother always said the Fishtahler family descended from Bavarian royalty.) Not long after Leopold's birth Austria was forced to sign the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and a dual monarchy came into existence. While the two countries were ruled by one monarch, the Austrian Emperor, Hungary was allowed its own parliament.

1854 Mitchell Map of Austria; courtesy of Geographicus

Leopold married Elizabeth Grotohville and they had at least four children, though likely there was also an older daughter, who had married a man named Dreaker and already immigrated to the United States before 1899.

Leopold boarded the S/S Willehad on 7 September 1899 in Bremen, Germany, he told immigration officials his destination was his son-in-law, Franz Dreaker, who lived in Philadelphia. Leopold worked as a joiner, or carpenter, and his last permanent address before immigrating was Bavaniste, Serbia.

Wife, Elizabeth, three daughters, and their only son Jacob, had planned to sail aboard the S/S Noordland on 2 August 1905 from Liverpool. Their destination once in the United States was Butler, Pennsylvania, where Leopold lived. Elizabeth and children had last lived in Novi Sad, Serbia, and Elizabeth had $15. For some reason, though, they did not sail on the Noordland.

Novi Sad, Serbia, c1890; purchased from

Jacob successfully made the trip alone, leaving Bremen, Germany, aboard the S/S Cassel on 14 December 1905. He landed in Baltimore on 28 December and was headed to his uncle, Jacob Hammer's, home in Pittsburgh.

Elizabeth and three daughters finally immigrated in 1907 sailing from Bremen to Baltimore aboard the S/S Breslau.

Jacob Fishtahler had moved to Detroit by 1907 and he and his father were painters. When the 1910 census was enumerated Leopold, Elizabeth, Jacob and their daughter, Theresa, lived at 375 Lansing Avenue and Jacob worked as a carpenter in a furniture factory.

The last record I have for their daughter, Rosa, is a 1908 Detroit city directory. She lived at 304 Frederick Avenue and worked as a domestic. The last record I have for their daughter, Johanna, is the 1918 Detroit city directory. She lived with her father at 361 Lansing Avenue and was a seamstress.

Jacob met Elise (who went by Elsie after immigration officials mangled the spelling of her given name) Adametz, an Austrian woman who immigrated in 1906. They married some time before 1912 when their first son was born.

Theresa Fishtahler married Elmer Edward Marvin on 23 November 1916 in Detroit and they were the grandparents of my husband's DNA match -- one only only DNA match with a known shared ancestor:

AncestryDNA match

Elizabeth (Grotohville) Fishtahler was buried on 5 Jun 1922 at the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit according to the cemetery database but no Michigan death certificate has been located even though she died in a period covered by the death certificates available on Her husband, Leopold; son, Jacob; and Jacob's wife, Elsie, are buried beside her.


  1. I spent years looking for my great grandmother's death certificate. She died in Detroit in 1930. I looked for her under the name I always heard her called and saw on records - Celia Cleage Sherman. On the 1930 census she was listed as Anna Celia Sherman and that is how she was listed on the death certificate. I always thought the Anna name was a mistake. I just found it last month. Hope something like that turns up for you.