Johann Heinrich Kaiser and Anna Katherine Schleicher/Sleiker immigrated to the
when their daughter, Sophia Elizabeth Kaiser was three years old. Henri saved the money for the voyage and stored it in a box that was approximately 8" x 5" x 5" tall. The night before they were to sail, someone broke into their home and stole the box and with it the money for their passage. Henri borrowed the money the next day from a friend, they paid their passage and set sail for United States . America
Upon landing in
, they immediately left for New York where they both lived out the rest of their lives. They are both buried in Ft. Smith, Arkansas . Ft. Smith
How I Used the Story
|Sophie Elizabeth Kaiser, age 14|
Where did they live before coming to the
? United States
What year was Sophia Elizabeth Kaiser born?
Where was Johann Heinrich "Henri" Kaiser born?
Every time I asked the questions, my grandmother and her sister, my gr-aunt would get in an argument They all agreed on when their mother, Sophie Elizabeth Kaiser was born:
27 April 1873. But the "where" was another conversation.
Auntie Marie said that her mother was born in
. My grandmother said her mother was born in Russia that became a part of Germany and my mother added to the mix by stating that her grandmother told her that she was born in Russia . My mother also said that her grandmother [Sophie Elizabeth Kaiser] told her that she was born in the same place as her father. Poland
I listened to all of them and drew this conclusion: that Sophie Elizabeth Kaiser and her father were born in that northern part of Germany that changed hands over time--that part that was sometimes Germany, sometimes Poland, sometimes Prussia and sometimes Russia.
I looked at maps and on lists of old German towns. I looked for Kaisers and Sleikers (because that was how my Grandmother had spelled her grandmother's name.) I could not find them.
|Johann Heinrich "Henri" Kaiser Confirmation Certificate|
22 March 1822, Privalnaja, Russia
Just a few weeks after this, my sister happened to ask a friend of hers who is an immigrant from the
if she might know the name of the town on the confirmation certificate. When she saw the certificate, her friend recognized it right away as Privalnaja. Privalnaja was the Russian name for the town, but the Germans who settled there called it Warenberg. Ukraine
Johann Henri Kaiser, Anna Katherine Schleicher/Sleiker and Sophie Elizabeth Kaiser were all Volga Germans.
Search Amazon.com for Volga Germans
My Error: Focusing on the Story, Instead of the Documents
If I had looked at my documents and not let the story interfere with my thinking, I might have found Privalnaja sooner and thus learned years before I did more about Henri and where he came from.
What did my documents say?
® SS Lessing Passenger List,
27 Sep 1876: Henri Kaiser--from Russia
® Henri Kaiser's Declaration of Intent--renounced allegiance to the Csar of Russia
® 1900 Carroll Co, Arkansas Census Henri Kaiser--born in
® 1900 Carroll Co, Arkansas Census-Bettie [Sophie Elizabeth] Finney--born in
, both parents born in Russia Russia
® 1910 Pope Co, Arkansas Census-Sophie E. Finney--born in Russ-German, both parents born in Russ-German
® 1920 Garfield Co, Oklahoma Census-Sophie E. Finney--born in
® 1920 Major Co, Oklahoma Census-Myrtle [daughter of Bettie] Hammons, mother born in
® 1930 Major Co, Oklahoma Census-Sophie E. Finney--born in
, both parents born in Germany . Germany
I had 6 documents stating that the Kaisers came from
. I had 2 documents stating that they came from Russia . Both of the latter 2 documents are censuses and the information could have been provided by anyone--even a neighbor. Germany
Of the first 6, 4 are also census records and the information could have been provided by anyone. But the first two both say "
." These are also the documents closest to the time they immigrated, which are generally more accurate than information provided over time. Russia
Instead of following the actual facts/data that I had, I made an assumption about what "
" meant on all of these documents. Russia
Family stories are important. Most of the time they have some truth to them. But they are clues to our research. They should not drive our research in a quest to "prove" them.
What I Learned
I learned that family stories contain "kernels of truth," but are also subject to years of misinterpretation. Remember playing the "Gossip Game" when you were a kid. It's like that.
I learned that I should follow the documents first, then add in the family story.
I learned that the old joke was true--the one about the quarter. A man was under a street light looking for a quarter and a policeman stopped to ask him what he was doing. He replied, "I'm looking for a quarter." So the policeman began to help him look. After a while, the policeman said, "Are you sure you lost it here?" And the man replied, "No. I lost it over there, but the light is better here."
Sometimes we think the "light is better" in the stories.
If you have Volga German ancestors check out these websites:
There are also several Germans from Russia Societies:
Author of Genealogy Cheat Sheets