While I have studied French and Latin, I have very little experience with German, and my husband's grandfather's heritage is entirely from Germany. Fortunately, they all arrived in Indiana during the 1800s, so I have been able to go back a few generations using American records. I've played around with German records a little bit, but like I said in my last post, doing research in another country can be very difficult. At some point we will get serious and hire a professional researcher in Germany to help us go further.
The prompt for this week reminded me of one of my early learning experiences with this family on my journey toward becoming a genealogist. As a stay-at-home mom with small children, it took me a long time to feel like I had the time or money to justify a membership with Ancestry. So I used Find A Grave a lot for my research. I had pretty good luck with several people on my husband's side, but there was one relative whose grave I just could not find. His name was William Rudolph.
I did eventually get that coveted Ancestry membership, and finally circled back around to this brick wall. I came to embrace the theory that, while I could not locate a grave for "William Rudolph," perhaps the listing for a "Wilhelm Rudolph" in Fort Wayne might actually be our man. Why hadn't it occurred to me before?? After all, he was born in Germany and arrived in the U.S. as an adult - why wouldn't he continue being called by his German name? I began to investigate him in earnest.
I was quickly able to confirm that William and Wilhelm had the same death date - 2 December 1900 - after locating his death certificate, probate records, and two obituaries.[2,3,4,5]
The death certificate and obituaries held additional evidence - William Rudolph's funeral was at St. John's Lutheran church, and he was buried in their cemetery. Wilhelm Rudolph's Find A Grave memorial was for a grave located at St. John's Lutheran Cemetery. Even better, I learned that St. John's Lutheran church was founded by German immigrants in 1853. Success!
Just in case I needed any more support for my theory, this page from William Rudolph's will shows that William Rudolph and Wilhelm Rudolph were considered to be the same person:
I certainly loved seeing that signature! By the way, if you would like to learn more about old German handwriting, this web site provided excellent assistance for understanding how the above signature should be read as "Wilhelm Rudolph," instead of "Milfulm Butolgf."
It all seems so simple looking backward, now that this little mystery is far behind me, but not realizing that this man's name was recorded by the cemetery in another language really threw me for quite some time. This experience taught me that it is so important to think of our ancestors in their own historical and geographical context. We must consistently take the time to stop, put away our assumptions about how things work now, and put ourselves in their place and time. Of course this German immigrant often went by William Rudolph when operating in American society, but in his German Lutheran community (and in other cases), he continued to be Wilhelm. The use of each name depended on the context.
The best part of this story is that by finally identifying William's burial location, I was also able to confirm that I had found the memorial pages of his first wife, Maria Catharina, and their infant son, Carl Theodor Rudolph, who both died in 1873.[8,9]
P.S. While working on this post, I reached out to the couple who took photos of Maria Catharina Rudolph's gravestone, hoping they might also have a photo of Wilhelm's grave. I learned that, although the cemetery has a listing for our Wilhelm Rudolph, they have not yet been able to locate the grave. The search continues!
1. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 18 May 2018), memorial page for Wilhelm Rudolph (1830–2 December 1900), Find A Grave Memorial no. 136072229, citing St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Allen County, Indiana.
2. "Indian, Death Certificates, 1899-2011," database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 May 2018), entry for William Rudolph, 2 December 1900, Allen County; citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration (Indianapolis), Death Certificates, Year: 1899 - 1900, Roll: 02.
3. "Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999," Allen County, Nowek, Edward - Stahlhut, Charles, Will for William Rudolph, signed 21 March 1899, recorded 13 December 1900, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 May 2018); citing Allen Circuit Court, Allen County, Indiana, Record of Wills number 10, pages 563-4.
4. "William Rudolph," (Indiana) Fort Wayne Daily News, Monday, 3 December 1900, page 4, column 5; Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 17 July 2017).
5. "Rudolph," (Indiana) The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Monday, 3 December 1900, page 6, column 2; Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 17 July 2017).
6. "Saint John's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery," digital image of pamphlet, page two of four, published on St. John Lutheran Church web site; (http://www.stjohnluth.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Cemetery-Brochure.pdf : accessed 18 May 2018).
7. "Indiana, Wills and Probate...," Allen County, Will for William Rudolph, second page (1399 of 2638), Ancestry.
8. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 18 May 2018), memorial page for Maria Catharina Rudolph (19 December 1841–18 March 1873), Find A Grave Memorial no. 136072202, citing St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Allen County, Indiana; photo credit Jeffrey Gay.
9. Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 18 May 2018), memorial page for Carl Theodore Rudolph (1873–13 April 1873), Find A Grave Memorial no. 136072179, citing St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Allen County, Indiana; photo credit Jeffrey Gay.