Monday, September 3, 2012

Brick Wall Breakthroughs: Theresa Kommer Schmidt Kneisel

For a long time, my storied ancestor Theresa Kommer Schmidt Kneisel has represented a brick wall in my research: No death certificate or obituary that I could locate, no indication on the ship's manifest as to her town of origin, and the added problem of having a husband named "Schmidt" - hardly an unusual name. But recently, I noticed that I had her death date incorrect in my records. I had a date of 1900, but noticed she was listed in a town directory as late as 1908, and a biography of her son Charles published in a town history gave a death date of 1908. I realized that if I had made an error with such a simple fact, I had not even begun to do my work on Theresa, and decided to go back and start pulling together more facts about Theresa.

I decided to start with the most interesting place: The trial of Joshua Wilson, the Stockbridge Indian who murdered Theresa's husband Joseph, my great-great-grandfather, in 1863. I contacted the Cofrin Library Area Research Center, which I have worked with in the past to retrieve old wills and divorce records. The Archivist told me that yes, there were still court records from that era, but asked if I could pin down the trial date more precisely as those early records were not indexed.

I knew I had seen a trial date somewhere, but had unfortunately noted neither the date nor the source, so I ran different google searches, looking for it. I didn't immediately find the trial date, but I ran across this post on the Fox Valley Genealogical Society's web page:
Anton Joseph SCHMIDT born Apr 20 1827 Austria, murdered Jan 3 1863 Greenville, Outagamie Co., WI married Theresa KOMMER born Jun 24 1827 Austria, died Nov 16 1907 Grand Chute Township, Outagamie Co., WI. Had children Joseph, Anton, Catherine Elisabeth Louisa, Charles, Frank. Johann Andreas SIEGERT born ca. 1804 Austria, died Jan 19 1887 Greenville, Outagamie Co., WI, married to Elizabeth Louise KOMMER (sister to Theresa) born Feb 2 1810 Austria, died Apr 22 1890 Appleton, Outagamie Co., WI. 
That's odd. I don't have any notes about Theresa having had a sister. The thought had occurred to me, of course - people often immigrated in groups - but I never found anything in my search for other Kommer family members.

I took a look at Theresa's family on the 1860 census, and much to my surprise, there were the Segerts - right next door.

1860 Federal Census, Greenville, Outagamie Co, Wisconsin.

They're right next door in 1870 and 1880, also.

I took a look at the ship register for the Adler, the ship on which Theresa and Joseph Schmidt emigrated, arriving on 31 July 1858. Although I didn't find the Seigerts aboard that ship, when I looked for the family to locate their year of emigration, I found they had emigrated aboard the Helene, also from the port of Bremen, arriving on 11 August 1858 - less than two weeks later.

I finally went ahead and searched for Elizabeth Segert in the Wisconsin death and burial records on Family Search. I had no trouble finding her: Spouse: Andrew Segert. Parents: Martin and Margaretha Kommer. Place of birth: Zieditz, Bohemia (Czechslovakia).

Although I have not firmly tied Elizabeth Segert to Theresa Schmidt, it is incredibly likely that they were sisters - two women with the same maiden name, who emigrated within two weeks of each other, and who lived next door to each other for at least twenty years. A close look at both families may prove the connection.

I realized, of course, that the person who made the post on the Fox Valley Genealogical Society website might have the information I needed, or other information that might prove useful. I contacted her and received not only a warm reply, but also an offer to send research materials as well as family photographs. I received a thick sheaf in the mail this past week, and it is going to keep me busy for quite some time.

I sent this information off to my cousin Scott, who forwarded me some emails he'd sent me two years ago about that very post - which I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing. Remembering how it went with the photo album at around that time, I suspect I was overly focused on Theresa and information directly about her. It was yet another reminder to me to cast a wide net when searching - the critical bit of information is often not where you're looking; sometimes, it's right next door.


  1. Nice research, nice article! Thanks for sharing your discovery in the COG, Jessica!

  2. Thanks for sharing your discovery! It reminded me of when I found in the 1920 census that my grandmother had a brother she never told me about. You just never know what the records will reveal.

    1. That's amazing! I bet there's a great story behind that brother - good luck finding it!


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